It is doubtful that anyone in any industry truly enjoys writing a new business proposal. Then again, it beats the alternative and it is absolutely essential in the process of securing work in many, many fields – including PR. That was the focus, in fact, of my guest lecture today at the invitation of Central Michigan University and professor Richard Ren. It is a topic of vital foundational importance for future professionals and one with many, many considerations.
First, I am often asked, how do you even attract potential clients? The answer is simple: do an outstanding job for the clients you already have. In a referral business, as with any professional service industry, new business opportunities most often come your way through those with whom you have strong business relationships – those based on trust, transparency and mutual respect. That can mean current and past customers as well as former colleagues, vendors, even competitors. It’s just one more reason why treating people the right way is the right thing to do. We can all point to companies out there who have not operated that way over the years and now are struggling to survive both a bad reputation and dwindling referral sources.
Once a new business opportunity presents itself, we discussed in senior-level JRN 556, it is vital not to “charge ahead” but, rather, to first and foremost: listen. What are this potential client’s goals and business objectives? Are they realistic? Can you do the job? And, as importantly, are they a good cultural fit with your organization, especially in terms of ethics, modus operandi and mutual respect? I relayed the story of a law firm prospect that wanted us to cut our hourly rate significantly in order to meet their budget. When we suggested we instead cut scope and number of hours as our fees were not negotiable, they balked. That told us they were not a good fit for our agency and we walked away.
And then there’s the Request for Proposal – the dreaded RFP. My advice there was to make sure before spending the time and effort, to conduct appropriate due diligence into whether a particular RFP is on the “up and up” or just for show to, for example, appease a Board. Over the years, we have found, too many RFPs are a formality with the eventual winner already chosen. If someone familiar with the process or particular entity can tell you otherwise, only then is it worth taking the time and making the effort.
Put simply, while the PR proposal will always be with us, the amount of time, detail and creative product put forth by you within its pages should always be predicated on potential future rewards and transparency between all parties. Stephen Stills once famously sang, “Love the One You’re With.” Here, I would argue, it’s best when you “Know the One You’re Pitching” – at least as much as possible.