Hiring a Public Affairs Consultancy: The Pitch Process

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    Nov 13, 2013
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Hiring a Public Affairs Consultancy: The Pitch Process Photo by Tim Connolly

All kinds of organisations choose to think about hiring a public affairs consultancy from time to time to provide skills or capacity which aren’t available in-house.

In this post I’ll give you the ground rules that will mean that your organisation appoints the right agency, maintains a great working relationship with them, and you achieve your shared goals.

In this post in particular I’ll be looking at making sure that all the necessary foundations have been laid before you get to the stage of putting the work out to tender.

Public affairs consultancy checklist

There are any number of reasons for hiring a public affairs consultancy. Perhaps a new Green Paper is sufficiently worrying for your organisation to want to react. Or perhaps your Chief Executive is frustrated at the lack of interest your organisation’s excellent policy initiatives generate in your key stakeholders.

Maybe your public affairs strategy is progressing nicely and you just need some extra boots on the ground.

Drawing up your long list will be much easier if you have already been through the process of ruthlessly clarifying your objectives.

In any event, the immediate context for hiring the agency offers important extra colour to the explicitly stated objectives you are going to be giving out as part of the brief.

Before you start speaking to agencies, it’s absolutely critical to understand what you are expecting to get in return for your money. It’s also incredibly useful if the expectations of any relevant senior colleagues can be documented for later reference.

If, on the other hand, you are the sole decision maker who needs to be satisfied, you will still need to get onto paper what you are seeking from your potential agencies, but you won’t have to explain to non-specialist colleagues what is possible, probable or desirable as part of the pre-pitch phase. Its lonely at the top as they say, but at least you don’t have to spend all your time making colour coded stakeholder maps…

Whether it is just you or you and a group of senior colleagues, be sure to do all the thinking and talking necessary to have a very clear sense of what your objectives are before speaking to anyone external.It may turn out after doing some initial work with your agency that those objectives should sensibly be refined. Having a very clear initial understanding of what you want, however, will save everyone time.

It will also help to avoid your organisation losing sight of exactly what it is seeking to achieve once the wonderful razzmatazz of the pitching process begins!

Which public affairs consultancy should we choose?

Once your brief has been settled on, it’s time to draw up a long list of public affairs consultancies to contact. A combination of public affairs industry benchmarks like awards for particular campaigns (from industry bodies or trade press) and examining an agencies client list and sector specialities, as much as that information can be accurately gleaned, will provide a solid starting point.

Don’t neglect word of mouth, however – speak to friendly organisations with similar profiles that have hired a public affairs consultancy recently and learn from their experiences, both in selection and later management of an agency.

Ultimately, there is little point in asking more than a handful of firms to submit written briefs – better to have fewer agencies with clear rationales for inclusion rather than a parade of similar candidates.

Ready for the next step…? Take a look at the next post in this series on hiring a public affairs consultancy – offering you a survival guide for the pitch process itself!

Author's Profile

Tim Connolly is a public affairs professional and the publisher of Public Affairs Jobs HQ, a magazine for people in public affairs and policy jobs with all the latest industry news and gossip

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