6 Important Tips You Need to Know Before Responding to a Request for Proposals

Oct 16, 2023

As a PR pro, you’ve likely received a request for proposals (or RFP) before. You might’ve received one from a contact at a company in your niche, or maybe it’s a totally cold RFP from a brand you haven’t heard about.

However the RFP comes your way, you must carefully consider whether you’ll respond and try to secure the client. Because responding to an RFP can be super time-consuming, you need to make sure the time and effort are worth it to land the potential client!

Let’s dig into all things RFPs: what they are, how to know when one is right for you, and which red flags to look out for when a new RFP hits your inbox. 

What Is a Request for Proposals (RFP)?

A request for proposals (or RFP) is a formal document companies use to ask for specific information from PR agencies they’re interested in working with.

Companies turn to RFPs to gauge how well each PR agency understands their needs and can execute a project. If a company is considering multiple PR agencies, RFPs can help them decide which one to work with.

RFPs help PR pros learn about a prospective client’s goals early on in the process. They also ensure you’re accountable for those goals if and when you start your partnership. RFPs outline a company’s benchmarks to measure success, which will help you decide whether you’ll respond.

A company should give you as much information as possible so you can craft a proposal that answers their needs. That doesn’t mean you should give away a ton of info in your response (but we’ll get to that later)! 

A typical RFP includes:

You need to vet every RFP you receive to decide whether you’ll respond to the request. I hosted a masterclass inside The Agency Accelerator that goes deep into how to vet RFPs!

When Should You Respond to a Request for Proposals?

Receiving a request for proposals is always exciting, but if you’re new to PR, it can be tricky to figure out if it’s worth responding to. Here are my three best tips for knowing when to answer an RFP.

#1: Your Response Won’t Give Away Your Entire Strategy

Never give away details of your PR strategy in your proposal — regardless of whether you’re responding to an RFP or sending a proposal or capabilities deck to a potential client.

The work isn’t guaranteed, and once that company has your strategy info, they can do whatever they want with it. 

Plus, responding to a request for proposals can be a drain on your time and energy. Use a proposal template (or reuse a previous proposal) to protect your time and reduce the likelihood of giving away too much information.

Invest your time and energy into developing a customizable proposal template you use for RFP responses and one-off proposals.

You can even use our plug-and-play template in The Agency Accelerator!

#2: You’ve Been Specifically Invited to Submit a Proposal

Green flag alert: an RFP hits your inbox, and it’s clear the company only contacted a handful of agencies for a response.

This shows that the company is serious about working with top-tier agencies in their niche and has already narrowed down potential candidates!

You’ll know you’re working with a client who takes PR and your value as a PR pro seriously. They’ve done their research, and sending a request for proposals is their final step in making their decision.

Open RFPs are like cattle calls: they just want as many responses as they can get…even if it’s a major waste of pretty much everyone’s time. They’re far too competitive and vague to be worth your energy!

Related: How to Explain the Value of PR to Your Clients

#3: You Really Want the Business or Already Have Contacts at the Company

If you’re considering responding to a request for proposals, make sure the company is worth the time and energy! Ask yourself questions like:

  • Are they a key player in your niche?
  • How will getting this client help you grow your agency? 
  • Does taking on this client push you closer to your goals?

Even if you’re familiar with the company, do some extra research. Check out their social media and website. Make sure they have their assets in order. It’s also a good idea to take a step back and get a good look at your chances for success. Having a personal contact at the company is usually a good sign!

When Is Responding to an RFP Not a Good Idea?

Don’t get swept up in your curiosity when you receive a new request for proposals and totally miss the red flags. Here are three signs that responding to an RFP isn’t a good move.

#1: Your Services and Expertise Aren’t the Right Fit for the Client

If you receive an RFP you know isn’t right for you, it’s a clear no.

It could be a mismatch in the services you offer and what they’re requesting. Maybe it’s your pricing vs. their expected budget or even your niche! You deserve to work with clients who light you up and let you work in your zone of genius.

It can be especially difficult to turn down a request for proposals if you’re new to PR, but taking whatever comes your way isn’t the right strategy to grow your agency. Not every client or project is right for you, and that’s okay! It’s better to niche down, say no to what doesn’t fit, and work with clients who align with your values.

My mini-course Lead to Landed can help if you’re struggling to secure clients!

#2: The Business Just Isn’t Worth the Time and Effort

Responding to an RFP isn’t like sending a proposal to a client you’ve already met for a discovery call. Other agencies are also submitting proposals in response. You’ll be competing against other qualified PR pros and may not make the final cut.

Before you say yes, check in with yourself to see if the request for proposals is worth the time and energy you’ll spend on it. Ask yourself:

  • Will this client be worth that extra effort? 
  • What’s your return on this investment of time and energy? 
  • How difficult and time-consuming will it be to create a proposal that fulfills all the RFP’s requirements, even if you’re using a custom template? 

Related: 4 Questions to Ask a Client Before You Start Working With Them

#3: When the RFP Doesn’t Clearly Outline Key Details

If the request for proposals is missing details or is unclear in places, run the other way and don’t look back! This is the biggest red flag for RFPs.

Companies use RFPs to vet potential agencies — they should take the time to be thorough and write a detailed, targeted RFP first. What does it say about your potential partnership that they didn’t make the effort to show how much they value PR? Keep in mind that miscommunications can set you up for misaligned expectations down the road, especially when it comes to budgets.

We dig into all the little details that need to be in RFPs, plus how to make sure you meet all the requirements, in my RFP masterclass inside The Agency Accelerator

Also, watch out for requests for free tests. A potential client may want to do a free PR test pitch with the media as part of the RFP. This is a huge no. I mean, they’re missing info in the RFP, but they want you to do free work? I think not!

Your time is valuable, and any client you may work with needs to understand that. 

Responding to a request for proposals can be super time-consuming. It’s not always worth the effort. You need to know the red and green flags for RFPs so you can make an informed decision whenever a new RFP hits your inbox.

Your time is valuable. You deserve to work with companies that will help you grow your agency, achieve your goals, and uphold your values!