Selecting a public relations firm or counselor is one of the most difficult business-related choices most advisors will have to make. Fortunately, there is a time-tested method that makes the process easier.
Most have probably heard about the RFP, or request for proposals. Most commonly used in government circles, an RFP is a brief document that's issued that essentially details the products or services the issuer is looking to source and invites qualified providers to bid in the form of proposal. Even though most advisors have probably never used one, they can be a great way to source consulting help, including a qualified public relations counselor.
Quite simply, all you need to do is put together a brief document that usually spans no more than two or three pages outlining the services you're seeking from a PR pro and specify what type of information you'd like to receive in any proposals submitted. More elaborate proposal processes break the process down into sections and often even give a particular scoring weight to different sections. However, the entire process can be simplified greatly by allowing respondents to put the proposals in any form they choose, leaving you free to pick the best combination of idea substance and proposal style that fits your practice.
A particular method that often works well is to specify the time period the proposal will cover and ask respondents to list the components of a proposed campaign and the time that they will be carried out. Most commonly, public relations programs are sketched out over a six-month period, since the initial phase of a campaign will serve to introduce the client to the media. Once the introductory phase is done and influential media outlets have a better idea of who an advisor is and the philosophy they espouse, it's much easier to get more specific in terms of message and recommendations.
While some clients who issue RFPs base their selection process on the proposals themselves, there's nothing that says it has to be this way. You can also use the proposals to narrow the respondents down to a small number of finalists and then conduct a brief round of interviews to get a better sense of whether a firm or consultant bidding for your business would be a fit.
One thing you likely won't have to worry about if you go this route is having a limited number of choices. By simply sending a brief media release to a couple of well-known PR trades and also posting a notice on your Web site, you'll likely get a number of well-crafted responses. With any luck, the responses you receive will give you a better sense of the firms or consultants you're considering and whether or not they're a good fit for the program you have in mind.