Diary of a PR Amateur

Early Returns

May 21, 2010
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Well, just as I expected, all those strange-named agencies responded to the RFP. But shockingly, all the big-name firms did not respond.

But the important thing is that each of the strange-namers gave us some terrific ideas, and we plan to use all of them.

“All of them?” you ask.

Yes, all of them. As time has gone by, my strategic philosophy has continually evolved, and so even though a couple of months ago my philosophy focused on major blitzes, followed by unusually long periods of quiet, my view has changed.

I now believe in the throw-as-much-garbage-as-possible-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach.

For that reason alone, these creative ideas from the strange-namers will come in handy.

Meanwhile, I’m scheduled to meet with the new agency on Monday. I hope they’re ready for me …


The Sound of Agency Wheels Spinning

May 17, 2010
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Well, I tried to send out the RFP (request for proposal) to my long list, so that I could start weeding through all the responses (I expect all agencies to respond, of course, given how cool (my company) is.), but my bosses said they want to see my plan of action before I send out the RFP.

“How can you create an RFP if you don’t even know what the strategy is?” said our CEO.

“Well, this isn’t really an important part of the process,” I responded. “This is just the first step, to separate the men from the boys. You see, if an agency isn’t interested, it won’t respond. That saves me some work later.”

“But if they aren’t responding anyway, how does that save you work?” asked my boss, our VP of marketing.

“I’m not talking about practical work, I’m talking about brain work,” I explained, trying very hard not to roll my eyes at his ridiculous question.

I began to walk away, quite clear that I had won this battle, when suddenly …

“So just get us the plan, and then you can send out the RFP,” said my boss.

Well, I guess I had no choice, so I did put together the plan, largely based on the one I had created two years ago. It had a healthy dose of marketing lingo, but what makes my plan-writing special is that I know precisely how much lingo to use without sounding like I’m just throwing buzz-words around.

And that’s very important, readers. You always have to know how much lingo to use without using so much that you aren’t believable.

Because remember, we are in the credibility game.

So I typed out the goals, audiences, strategies and tactics, with a nice amount of expectations (without too many, of course – gotta under-promise and over-deliver, right?!) and a sprinkle of measurement mixed in. For me, it wasn’t so special, but I already knew my bosses would be impressed.

They looked it over and gave me the go-ahead to send out the RFP. I’m very excited, particularly about those strange firms I am sending it to just for the sake of seeing their strange responses.

Two hours later, when I was about to click “send” on the email, my boss came into my cube and told me to stop everything I was doing. He sat down on the corner of my desk and explained:

“Joe, our chairman has told us that he’d like to use a particular PR firm, so we’re going to move ahead with his recommendation.”

“But I already sent out the RFP,” I said, subtly clicking my mouse as the cursor rolled over the “send” button in my Outlook.

“Joe, this is coming from on-high. There’s really nothing we can do,” he said.

“Well, what do you suggest?” I asked, putting the pressure on him. After all, why should I always have to be the one to come up with the solution?

“I’ll tell you what, Joe,” he said. “Why don’t you still run through the process. The other agencies might be able to come up with some good ideas that we can use, even if we’re not hiring them. Also, this agency may not want the business, or they may have a conflict. But don’t tell the other agencies that we are 90% sure we have selected another firm. We have to keep them all hungry so they provide us their best thinking, whether or not we have any intention of even selecting one of them.”

“Got it, boss,” I responded.

The Long List

May 13, 2010
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Well, now that my bosses have given me the green light to hire an agency (once I have put the plan together), it’s important to already begin putting together the list of companies I will be reaching out to with the RFP (request for proposal, if you didn’t know). So here’s the list, as well as the reason why I am including each one:

1. Equals Three Communications – I got this clever message-in-a-name very quickly. You see, the idea is that this agency thinks it is able to make 1 + 1 = 3. So much so, that they called themselves what they called themselves. I wonder if they will be able to make a small budget equal big results …
2. Vitamin – Well, I guess they consider themselves a “Vitamin” for my communications needs. Vitamins are good for you, so maybe this firm will be good for (my company) …
3. mPRm Public Relations – What a dumb name. I’m going to invite them, just so I can see if they submit proposals as dumb as their name. After all, including them doesn’t cost me anything.
4. eLuminate PR – Ah, they must be really good at online PR, because they have a little “e” in their name.

I’m also going to invite some of the big boys, who are so well-established that they don’t need explanations. They are:

1. Weber Shandwick
2. Fleishman-Hillard
3. Hill and Knowlton
4. Burson Marsteller
5. Ruder Finn
6. Edelman

So that’s the long list. We’ll see who makes it to the short list.

But first, I have to put this plan together. Now, if I can just find the plan I put together two years ago, that’ll be a good start. Then, I only have to make a few minor adjustments …

Selection Process

February 22, 2010
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I’ve been in this business long enough to know how to approach an agency selection process. It’s simple. Send out the RFP to as many agencies as possible with an impossibly-short deadline. Then, whichever ones come back, invite the agencies that wrote the three best-looking documents. In the finals, select the agency that seems to have the best chemistry with you.

So that’s what I did. I sent out the RFP with a deadline of the next day for submitting responses. I sent it to 26 agencies and two responded on-time. So I sent them an initial document outlining what I was looking for. Here’s what it said:

Cogratulations! You’ve made it to the finals! Now, we will meet to talk about what specific things you can do to help (my company). Please be ready to present your full plan of action for the next six months to my management team in one week. You should not limit yourself regarding budget. Public Relations is a priority for (my company). You will have one hour to present, plus 15 minutes for questions following your presentation. Your account team is expected to be present for the meeting. (my company) believes in the importance of chemistry, so we want to meet the team that will be working for us, should we select your company.

Please feel free to call me with any questions prior to the presentation.



Now, you may not realize this, but there was only one important sentence in that brief. It is the last one. I’m not interested in working with an agency that isn’t interested in asking questions. I don’t want a know-it-all agency. I want an agency that will serve as my teammate, except for those times when they don’t get the job done. Then, I’ll come down on them like a sledge-hammer.

Hey, that was just a joke. But the work I need the agency to do is not a joke at all.

Here We Go!

February 15, 2010
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Well, I gave my agency notice yesterday. They were just not getting the job done, and I think I gave them enough time. If you can’t get results within a month, you are NOT the agency for me. So, I’m initiating a search for a new agency.

The way I see it, agencies are going to be begging to work for me. I mean, think about the following factors:

1. My company is public, and agencies love having public companies on their roster.
2. We are in a cool industry, and agencies love to be able to pitch stories related to cool industries. Plus, they like to tell their friends about it. Conversely, can you imagine a person wanting to tell his or her friend that he or she works on something boring? So by being in a cool industry, I am actually going to get my agency people talking about my company at cocktail parties, social events, etc. In fact, it’s not a complete stretch to think that my agency may do the work for free, just to be able to say they work with us.
3. I’m a reasonable client – not too demanding, but demanding enough. Agencies love that kind of balance in their clients.

So I will be sending an RFP (request for proposal) to the top PR firms around. I’m looking forward to seeing their responses. And I think I’m going to give it a really tight deadline, so I can see who’s really hungry.

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