Silence is not golden
June 27, 2012
#MediaMonday – Kacie Talamante
July 2, 2012
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Many agencies simply will not respond to an RFP.   Quite honestly, I don’t blame them.

In the public sector, the RFP process is typically dictated by state laws and city ordinances.

Even though we know it in advance, there are some drawbacks to the RFP process.


  • We’ve seen it happen, mostly in the private sector, where an agency is not selected, but somehow, the ideas they submitted in their response are implemented by the would-have-been client.
  • We have discussed with procurement officials for years that purchasing professional services is a much different animal than purchasing widgets.  Our stand against “low bid wins” often falls into an audio void, even though “you get what you pay for” is how it often turns out.
    Things have changed some over the years as our own messaging has been heard and in many cases taken to heart -- literally.  We believe that communicating the correct message, whether it is on behalf of a public agency, a private company or an individual, is vitally important to the success and survivability of the entity.  We say, “If you were having a heart attack, would you shop price for a heart surgeon?”  Likely not.  We’d say the same thing about shopping for a PR agency whose expertise can help determine whether or not an entity survives.
  • What about the current contractor?  We always ask the question regarding public-sector RFPs:  “Who is your current PR agency and are you happy with them?”  The standard response is: “It is company X, and everyone has an equal chance to win the contract.”  In the private sector – if the client is happy, they do not make an agency change.  In the public sector – sometimes they do, even if the agency is doing great work and the client is happy.  It doesn’t always make sense.
    And on top of that – really not everyone has an equal chance.  A one-man band does not have the infrastructure or resources to handle some of the bigger jobs that require depth, staffing and a stronger physical presence.
  • The budget.   Most RFPs do not include the budget.  Instead, they request the bidder to tell the prospective client what it would cost to provide the services requested.   The bidders are then left to determine on their own how much they should charge – even though the requesting entity already knows how much money it has to spend.  There’s a big difference between a $10,000 program and a $100,000 program.  Proposing the latter with the former’s budget means nobody wins.  It’s unrealistic and backwards thinking.

I’m sure we’re not the only ones with RFP nightmares.  For us it’s a recurring dream because we’ll do it again.

Scott Hanson
Scott Hanson
President Scott is president of HMA Public Relations and a founding member of the Public Relations Global Network. He’s a Phoenix native, husband, father of two and a fan of all sports and a participant in some. Check out Scott's full bio


  1. Here’s my new pet peeve, and how many PR professionals are also facing the same challenge? Our prospects have a discovery meeting with us; then ask for a written proposal; then there is a second meeting to present the proposal. And then there is a third “test” (!!!) with additional questions and in essence a second written proposal. All of these presentations involve in-person meetings to present – many times by flying to another locale of course at our expense, not the client’s. We’ve even had to do a third proposal for another client – who subsequently after hiring us decided they didn’t have the budget to go ahead. I think this economy (and the fact that decision makers are often inexperienced) has bred bad manners, a desire to get free ideas and overall an unprofessional approach. On the other hand, one prospect this year offered to pay us for our proposal. That was welcome! Cheers, David

    • It’s rare when a prospect offers to pay for the proposal. Good if you can get it — even though we should get it.

      • One of my favorite episodes on Mad Men was when they were pitching Honda Motorcycles — they were actually given a modest budget to develop the creative for the pitch. Whole time I was watching it I kept thinking it would be nice if that option was offered in today’s biz dev environment.

        • Brock Barnhart says:

          Oh my, It would be a blessing if for all the chasing that we do if we got paid for it. :)Much time is spent proposing…indeed. Great blog Scott!!

  2. Ken Jacobs says:

    Scott, in light of what you’ve cited above, plus all the unmentioned RFP-related horror stories, why do you keep participating? What’s your ROI?

    • Ken,

      We do a lot of work in the public sector — so we have become quite good at responding to government RFPs. When it comes to private sector RFPs, we often decline to participate — unless we can get answers to the many questions we typically have.

  3. Aaron says:

    I agree with all!!! We’re starting to re-think RFPs altogether!

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