Navigating the maze: six questions to ask when assessing PR proposals

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Our last blog covered six key questions that organisations should ask at pitches from PR and communications consultancies.

In addition to the questions that should be put to consultancies during pitches, it’s also important that an organisation asks itself certain questions when deciding which is right the consultancy for them.

These include:

1.  Who best responded to the brief?
After listening to all the presentations and receiving the proposals, ask yourself which consultancies showed they understood your needs and actually responded to the brief they were given.

After all, if they can’t listen now, they probably won’t be able to later.

It’s a very good discipline to go back to the beginning and remind yourself of what you set out to do, as all sorts of red herrings can be raised by consultancies during the pitch. Some of them may be worth including in your strategy, but generally you should always assess consultancies on what you asked them for, not on what they want to do.

2.    Are we being sold services we don’t really want?
Again, consultancies may well offer services or activities that you hadn’t previously considered or asked for.

Ask yourself whether you really want them and whether they represent a sensible use of your communication dollar. Find out the true cost, and assess how well the suggestions fit into what you are looking for.

Take a cynical view of any response that focuses on different approaches and plays down what it was you asked for. It could simply mean that the consultancy is pitching to its strengths, not your needs, and knows it is not very good at what it is you want.

3.    Is the proposal a specific response to the brief, or a one-size fits all approach?
Assess whether the proposal is pretty much a pro-forma response that the consultancy may use for all proposals.

There will always be some commonly used boiler plate responses that appear in most proposals, but look for specifics that apply to your needs and ask yourself whether the response deals mainly with generalities and non-specifics instead.

A lazy response might be an indication of their work ethic, or their lack of enthusiasm for your work.

4.    Will the consultant fit in with the team?
As part of your considerations, assess how well you think the consultant who will be responsible for the day to day running of the account will fit in with your team. They may not be your employees, but they should be assessed in much the same way and add knowledge and value to the communication team.

Don’t choose consultancies simply because you like the principal, who may not even work on the account. Choose them because the people working with you will become part of the team.

5.    Has the consultancy demonstrated the knowledge and experience you are looking for?
We have said before that consultancies are probably more experienced in preparing pitches than organisations are in assessing them. However this is not the skill that you should be buying.

It gets back to assessing how well a consultancy has responded to a brief; the answers to the questions you asked; experience and knowledge; its present talent; and taking the time to independently check credentials and claims.

6.    How generous are they with their time and knowledge?
Do the people you have met from the consultancy give the impression that they are enthusiastic to help, and are generous with their knowledge? Or are they more like sponges soaking up the information you give them but giving little in return unless you squeeze it out of them?

Consultants who are happy to share their knowledge with you from the outset (such as naming their contacts and experience) are likely to carry this approach through to when they are working for you, and give you a better return on every hour worked.

Consultancies that are less willing to do so are likely to be more interested in what they can charge you than focusing on giving excellent service.