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Photo: courtesy of

Photo: courtesy of

A question was proposed in a Facebook chatroom about how much time do we spend on proposals. (Thanks Jackie, excellent question). The responses varied from an hour to up to 10 hours, depending on the content.

That got me thinking – what we should really be discussing is the definition of these documents.  In my view, a proposal is more of a capabilities presentation.  Once we’ve met with a prospect and decided we like each other enough to move to the next step, we prepare a written document that details the service offerings you might expect from our firm based on our discussion, our firm’s business and account service philosophy, bios of the team and perhaps a case study or two.  That’s it…no ideas of the specifics we would do.  That comes later, once a budget has been approved and we have a contract in place.

And we’d call that a plan.  The plan outlines all the objectives, goals, expectations and scope of work to accomplish them.  We also discuss how we’ll measure our success.  But none of this gets done until we have a contract in place and have received the first month’s fee.  We’ll require some additional meetings with the client and members of their team before we can put the plan together.  We expect to get all that done within 30 days and will implement immediately upon approval.

Now RFPs, well, that’s a whole other discussion.  Depending on the issuing organization, we bend the definitions a bit.  Government agencies require a combination of “proposal” and “plan” to be considered for the work.  Corporate RFPs, although many ask for specifics, allow for a bit more flexibility (and creativity) in the response.

Getting new business is not an exact science.  And sometimes we may have to give away a bit to get a lot in return.  Hopefully our prospective clients understand that what they are hiring is our experience and understanding of HOW to do this work.  Our ideas are created with you in mind and we want to give you the best we can offer.

Abbie S. Fink
Abbie S. Fink
Vice President/General Manager Abbie has been doing public relations her whole life…from organizing a picket line in 6th grade to organizing client communications today. She’s passionate about a lot of things, you’ll see. Check out Abbie's full bio


  1. You’re lucky, Abbie. In our market (San Francisco/Silicon Valley), it’s generally a 3-5 step process: initial call; discovery meeting (capabilities); written proposal with ideas; second meeting to present the proposal; and more and more prospects in this market then add a final step of “assigning a challenge” to finalists with a final presentation. I agree with you that clients should pay for ideas but less and less is that the case in our very competitive market. Cheers, David

    • David — there are times when you know the only way to get the business is to give away some of your ideas. It is then that we have an internal discussion regarding how much, how many and how serious the prospect is in hiring a firm. And in a lot of cases, it comes down to gut instinct.

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