What makes a good Public Relations proposal? 

Published: Mar 01st, 2023

Updated: Jan 17th, 2024

For an agency, a request for a proposal presents an exciting opportunity to showcase skills, creativity and experience. But to win the business, a proposal must be compelling. 

Request for proposals (RFPs) arrive in PR agency inboxes in all shapes and forms, varying from short-term projects to multi-year retainers. Budgets vary too. For an agency, a new RFP presents an exciting opportunity to showcase skills, creativity and experience. It’s a chance to take on interesting new work and, of course, earn a few pennies.

But to win the business, a compelling proposal is needed – a good one will hopefully earn you the opportunity to present your ideas in person. That’s the objective. Whatever the nature of the RFP, the scope of work or the budget, there are core elements that should underpin all proposals by PR agencies, even if the turnaround time is very tight.

Getting started on a PR proposal

Before starting on a proposal, it’s necessary to understand the brief. Identify the business priorities, along with the PR objectives, deliverables and other KPIs. If these are not clear in the RFP, ask. Usually, companies provide a window for questions about the work and are happy to explain.

When talking to the would-be client, see how the project it fits into the long-term business strategy. Whatever the nature of the work, try to get an indicative budget because this will help determine the scale of the proposal and the work to be done.

Moving on to the proposal itself, this should include sections covering agency credentials, the brief, situation analysis, insights, strategy, messaging, tactics, working process and a budget.

Credentials – Building confidence in your services

Credentials help to introduce the agency, its areas of expertise and experience, the scope of its business – national, regional or global – and the range of services provided. They help to build confidence with the client.

Given that the bread-and-butter of PR work is media relations, the credentials should demonstrate a strong familiarity with the media – a deep understanding based on experience. Include also other specialisations such as public affairs, crisis communications, internal communications and social media.

Through its credentials, an agency needs to demonstrate that it has the capabilities and experience to deliver on the brief, not just to a high standard but with a work process that is smooth and stress free. Even if the outcome is good, clients don’t want heart attacks along the way. Relevant case studies and, better still, client testimonials can play a key part here.

Team bios are part of the credentials too. At Sapience, we make sure this is the team that will actually work with the client – that may sound strange, but it’s not uncommon for agencies to change the line-up when the work starts. It matters too, because the efficacy of the agency-client relationship depends largely on building a good chemistry as quickly as possible. Tailor the bios so they are relevant to the client.

For lengthy proposals, presenting the credentials in a separate document (Word or PowerPoint) makes sense. They can be reviewed separately. Reading a lengthy proposal takes time, so wading through the credentials first – important though they are – can dilute the impact of the proposal itself.

For shorter proposals, the credentials generally go at the front or can be split so that the team bios and case studies go at the end.

The PR Brief

This section will present your understanding of the brief, what the potential client wants from its PR agency. What follows in the proposal needs to address the brief.

Understanding the brief clearly matters, but understanding the company, its business and the environment it operates in is critically important too. That’s why a situation analysis is important and forms the basis of the proposal’s narrative.

Situation analysis – Understanding the business

The situation analysis should look at the industry sector – its current situation, what’s new, latest trends, regulatory environment, factors that are influencing it and the outlook for it. Ideally it should include proof points with attribution. It should be current and demonstrate understating of the industry.

The situation analysis should then look at the potential client’s position in the sector. Where does it stand within the sector in terms of market perceptions, media coverage and so forth. Doing a SWOT analysis – looking at its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats – is a good approach.

Honesty in how this is presented is important, but if you are looking at a car-crash, it’s wise to go easy on the language – besides, there’s always a way to make things better. Having empathy with the company’s situation is essential. In our experience, good companies do not object to honest, meaningful feedback.

The situation analysis can go on to include competitor analysis and, if the brief requires it, the situation of the sector in other markets. For example, if the brief is on cryptos and multi-national, it would need to look at the regulatory environment for cryptos across different jurisdictions.

The situation analysis shows your understanding of the sector, providing insights and seeding ideas that feed into addressing the brief.

Insights on the business

Having done the analysis, it should be possible to draw some insights on the company, its business and the way forward. In this section, you – the agency – can share your thoughts on the company’s positioning in terms of PR.

These insights based on research and PR experience will arguably be the most interesting part of the proposal for the company. After all, everyone likes navel-gazing. Hopefully, the insights can offer something to intrigue, prompt fresh thinking or simply reaffirm what’s already in place.

It’s not always necessary to come up with a big idea, for example for a campaign, but what is necessary is a strategy and the insights feed directly into this.

Strategy – Shaping the PR tactics

Prospective clients often tactically, rather than strategically, and that’s understandable. But for an agency, it’s important to have a more strategic view so that the proposed tactics can fit into the bigger business picture. At Sapience, we have never had a client complain about strategic thinking or having an over-arching PR strategy that strives to align with the business.

A strategy can comprise just 4-5 bullet points. Brevity works well. Clear messaging will nearly always play a part. The strategy might include distinctive ideas within thought leadership or an educational approach, clarity in messaging or new messaging, targeting specific audiences or media types, social media outreach etc.

Strategies vary, but the tactics then used should fit within it.

Messaging – The first step

The first step in any project or retainer work is a kick-off meeting. This is important for a multitude of reasons, but a key area of discussion will be the client’s messaging. At Sapience, we look to review the messaging either in this meeting or in a separate one if needed. If need be, we’ll do a refresh/revamp of it or a complete workshop to develop it.

Depending on the nature of the brief, we recommend including a section offering media training at this point in the proposal or having it as an optional extra at the end. A company spokesperson may be good at doing interviews, but regular practice is important.

Tactics – Multiple PR strategies

The tactics should align with the broader communications strategy. Tactics can take all shapes and forms. The PESO (paid, earned, shared and owned) approaches to media will have a role to play. Shared media refers to social media, while owned media refers to the client’s website. And, yes, not all clients will want paid media, but some will consider it.

The tactics might include thought leadership, such as bylines, speaking events, market commentary and interviews.  All of these can be used directly or repurposed for earned, shared and owned channels. Corporate news can be disseminated in the same way – including targeted media distribution at scale. All of it can supported by infographics, video and interviews.

In going through the tactics, the client will want to feel confident that what’s promised is deliverable. Good agencies will have the experience and media connections to know what works and what doesn’t. At Sapience, we work closely with the media across a range of sectors throughout the day, every day of the week, so we know what works.

Remember not to over-promise. This is a temptation with regard to media interviews and coverage. But failure to deliver will upset the client.

More tactics – Creative PR initiatives

Other tactics will include more creative initiatives, which all prospective clients will be interested in seeing, even if they ultimately look to do something different. Such creative ideas can include white papers, surveys, forums and conferences, media tours and briefings, petitions, awards and other events.

Community and employee events should be included if part of the brief, perhaps to illustrate diversity in the workplace, employee value proposition or show how the company is purpose-driven.

The tactics toolkit is a big one and there are plenty more new ideas in the imagination waiting to be untapped.

PR Process and Budget

It’s helpful for a potential client to understand how its relationship with the PR agency will work. So, a section looking at the work process is worth including. This would show how the team operates, a typical schedule for regular calls and meetings, response times, expectations both ways and other working practices. Of course, this process will evolve as the relationship progresses.

Depending on the nature of the proposal, providing a timeline of work for the first 90 days or 6 months can be a useful way to show what the client can expect for its money.

And that leads on to the budget. Normal practice is to provide an indicative budget for the work outlined in the proposal. This is negotiable but will give the client a sense of what’s possible.

Back to the beginning

Sometimes it’s worth putting case studies at the end of the proposal in an appendix. This will reduce “clutter” in the credentials and allow the client to get to your ideas more quickly.

Most proposals are in a PowerPoint format. If the proposal runs to 25+ slides, consider inserting an agenda slide at the start. As well, it can be helpful and a nice touch to write a foreword to set the scene and help the prospective client navigate the deck.

Et voilà, that’s all there is to it.

If you’d like to find out more about the kind of theory and information included in our PR proposals contact us or call 0203 327 8422.

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