Lack of time, “RFP shopping”, unclear budgets details and limited information about the deliverables makes taking part in a pitch in India a nightmare.
Pranav Kumar, managing director for HyperText, says that, “ If we were to outline some of the challenges facing RFPs in India, these would be: the depth of the brief and most importantly, the lack of clarity on budgets. In some RFP situations, response times are unreasonable. I get it that clients want to suss the market out by leaving the pricing either arbitrary or not mentioning it at all - but in an ideal world, I don’t see why budgets can’t or shouldn’t be specified. It’ll help agencies qualify opportunities better and will save everybody valuable time. After a great presentation, the last slide -on the budget- is always the contentious one and here’s what typically happens: “We love your ideas and we think you’re an awesome agency, but…” That’s what we always hear!”
The RFP Wishlist
- Set clear expectations – with long/short term business and communication objectives
- Deliverables, including whether they want an agency for strategic ideas or pure execution
- Transparency on the selection parameters and the weightage given to each
- Opportunity to discuss and clarify queries
- Budget – Or at the least, provide a range
- Feedback on why the agency was selected or not selected
Deepshikha Dharmaraj, chief marketing & growth officer, Genesis Burson-Marsteller, points out that, “ Some companies are, unfortunately, also known to do a great amount of "RFP shopping" where they generate fresh ideas through a pitch process but ultimately end up recruiting the most affordable or incumbent agency, who are then given the task of executing the sourced ideas. Such companies end up losing credibility and agencies don't consider them to be serious in their approach to PR.”
Jaideep Shergill, co–founder, Pitchfork Partners, agrees that, “ A large number of RFPs are not genuine and the other bit is that several are pre judged and not transparent. Essentially, if one can remove the fiery two categories then you're probably left with a third which are genuine, well managed and have clear outcomes.”
Tapping into the need for negotiating the pitch process between in-house PR leads and potential agency partners, Pitchfork Partners offers drafting and running full-scale RFP processes for clients as a business service.
From a client’s perspective, for many companies PR is not on their immediate radar which would account for the poor quality RFPs. Client sides PR pros we spoke to also talked about mid-cycle budget cuts making it a tough call at times to maintain budgets that allow for quality PR work.
Indian vs. International RFPs
RFPs in India tend to still be about media work and not strategy. While internationally RFPs would clearly mention budgets-again this doesn’t really happen in India.
Papri Dev Sharma, managing director, Zeno Group India says that there are good and bad points to international and Indian RFPs. She points out that, “ the good point is – it’s very local usually so you are dealing with defined boundaries, the bad – it’s that rare almost non existent Indian RFP that tells you budgets that agencies should allocate or work with. This creates fairy tale submissions on scope of work and ideas and a mismatch of expectations and effort.”
Dharmaraj says that, “Referring to global hubs such as New York, RFPs tend to be more strategy-led and campaign-driven. Since the cost of signing on an agency can be expensive and involves many stakeholders, the process tends to be more transparent and less hinged on interpersonal relationships between clients and agencies.”
Adds Dharmaraj, “An ideal RFP should clearly articulate the long term and short-term business and communication goals of the company, followed by details of the expected deliverables, agency selection parameters and the budget. Further, the client should set up a call or meeting where the agency can ask any questions for clarification. Since we are also talking of an ideal world, it’ll be a fairer process in which firms are compensated for their time and effort.”
While compensating for pitches is not likely to happen in India anytime soon, there is a move towards evolving the role of PR. If PR firms took a call not to enter pitching processes that don’t specify budgets, it may help to change the situation.
Kumar agrees saying that , “I really think it’s for agencies to set the standards as well here and accept a certain level of brief or RFP.”
PR in India is at a tipping point where its power is being recognized and its up to PR professionals to evagalise its role and make a pitch for better RFPs.