While companies generally develop and maintain an in-house department that handles various aspects of creating and implementing marketing campaigns, including relations with media outlets, one of the most common and important strategic relationships in the marketing area is with a public relations firm. Companies may go through an extensive search procedure in order identify and select a public relations firm that suits their requirements with respect to the specific activities and ability to work within a reasonable budget. The initial phase focuses on finding possible candidates and includes obtaining recommendations from business partners and researching the relevant trade journals to see what firms might have experience in the company’s industry and with the specific target audience. The next step might be to create and disseminate a request for proposal (“RFP”) for public relations and marketing services. Each RFP should be customized to the requirements of the specific company; however, it is essential that the document include some background on the business and mission of the company, the current public relations and marketing challenges for the company in the eyes of senior management, an outline of the proposed scope of work, a list of the minimum qualifications to submit a proposal, and a brief description of the procedures that will be followed with respect to reviewing proposals and ultimately making a decision.
Once proposals have been received from prospective public relations firms the company should move forward through a formal selection process including additional interviews with the principals of the firms that appear to be the best fit and perhaps asking the firms to complete a basic assignment so that they company get a better idea of the quality of their work and how they relate to clients. Once the selection has been made the parties should enter into some form of contract or agreement that outlines their relationship. Contracts with public relations firms generally include a description of the scope of work, timeline and protection language (for both parties). The contract should be clear on fees and expenses (i.e., hourly rates vs. flat fees and procedures for monitoring expenses), confidentiality and ownership and usage rights with respect to deliverables created by the firm during the engagement. It is not industry standard to enter into long-term contracts and both parties should expect that the relationship will be revisited no less frequently than annually. In some cases the contract will take the form of a simple letter agreement. As with any form of services agreement the parties need to reach agreement on the scope of work and the form of any deliverables that the client expected to receive from the PR firm. Payment terms, early termination and changes to the statement of work should also be covered in the agreement between the parties. With larger engagements the parties may negotiate a much more elaborate contract that includes detailed provisions regarding ownership of intellectual property, reporting, the right of the firm to work with competitors, and the consequences of termination.