RFPs Call for Research and Evaluation – Six Factors for Winning RFPs
As the election year progresses into 2013, a new Congress will be seated and budget considerations will be debated and decided, hopefully. Millions of dollars for public relations services will be up for bid from many federal agencies seeking to communicate with and educate constituencies.
Almost every major Request for Proposal (RFP) issued to PR agencies contains requirements for research and evaluation. Since the RFP owners must select the agency that offers the best combination of talent, value and resources, they look to research and evaluation as both a sword and a shield to pursue PR success and protect against failure. According to Mark Weiner, CEO of PRIME Research, “While this may be a positive development for PR research companies like PRIME, the implications for most PR agencies are profound because only a handful offers professional in-house research and evaluation capabilities. How do others compete?”
Lacking in-house expertise, many agencies partner with an outside research firm to avoid costly overhead and provide a “research when you’re ready” solution. Many research firms outsource and “private-label” their services enabling agencies to provide credentialed research expertise to attract RFPs, facilitate winning responses and fulfill the assignment if won. Here are six factors to consider:
- Take inventory: Not every agency requires in-house expertise. Consider what you can and cannot offer using existing resources. Account teams may be capable of handling activity reports, monitoring and simple media tabulations.
- Determine the kinds of research to offer: Surveys, focus groups and media analysis are common. Each category offers options for selecting a service provider.
- Discover your “best fit” partner: Select a research provider through an RFP of your own or identify partners based on expertise, price, geography, and client references.
- Position research offerings: Decide if your research must “neutralize” or “leapfrog” the competition; position accordingly including service descriptions and application scenarios of research-based client solutions and performance enhancement.
- Identify a research liaison: An in-house Ph.D. or statistician is not required but, at minimum, identify and groom a “research maven” from among existing staff. Conferences and papers available through the Institute for Public Relations (www.instituteforpr.org) help nurture experts-in-training.
- Position offerings credibly: Don’t over-promise your research capabilities. It seems that every agency boasts of “generating ROI” when, in fact, it’s very difficult to deliver. Establishing a transparent partnership with an outside research firm enables you to piggy-back on your partner’s esteem and credibility, thus positioning your research-based opinions, analyses and recommendations as objective, experience-based, and free from vested interests.
Even large agencies recognize that certain aspects of research and evaluation do not require in-house media monitoring, content analysis and surveys. They outsource the “back-office” work, focusing instead on interpretive analysis, strategic guidance and client relations.
“To level the competitive landscape, smaller and midsize firms should plan now to incorporate research and evaluation into their service portfolio,” said Weiner. “While it may require an investment to compensate the research firm for its up-front contribution, there are other considerations, chiefly “the cost of opportunities lost,” ranging from RFP elimination to helping clients improve performance, increase efficiencies and avoid calamitous cost.”
With so many options available for research and evaluation, why wait? The RFP season is here: opportunities abound. But, the recent economic climate, though improving, may still foster tougher times. RFP reviews will be more competitive; budgets may be refreshed but smaller, and winning, more rigorous.
In this environment, the question of ROI is as critical to answer as it can be difficult.It’s becoming more important than ever for communications professionals to ensure—not just measure—PR’s unique contribution to business. You may not be able to do anything about the past, but there’s still much you can do to affect the future.