Conversations at the Intersection of PR, Traditional & New Media

Call for an RFP or an idea theft in disguise?

idea theftThe moment we get a slightest hint of RFP being posted from a prospective client, we immediately jump into action and start planning for a comprehensive pitch presentation. We research, go through hundreds of newspaper clippings, brainstorm, strategize, work late night and put a plan together hoping to win the business against a competitive pitch.

You share your presentation and wait for that call, but that never happens. Guess what you have been tricked. Soon you will see that the strategies and the ideas that you had suggested being rolled out by the client himself or by a smaller pure execution shops.

In all probability most agencies have been through this and have accepted it as a part of business and can’t do much about it as there is no association or an industry body strong enough to question such practices.

In the advertising world also the similar practices exists but they are like always little smarter than us and have started getting into an agreement with the prospects at the pitching stage itself that the ideas put forward in the pitch cannot be used without the agency’s permission or without adequate compensation. But even here, if the client still goes ahead and breaches the agreement then there is not much an agency can do other than filling a legal suit, which rarely happens.

Large clients have the process of getting the agency sign an NDA with the brief, which protects them or atleast ensures the agency does not share the finer details with the outside world, but there is nothing that exists today to protect the agency from getting its ideas cloned .

So this week, I would request my colleagues from the agency and the corp comm. side to suggest a workable solutions, if there is any to this issue, that has been a bone of contention since long. So agency folks tell us if there is a solution and company representatives please tell us if you agree with the suggestions put forward by the agency folks and if you support an agreement or a pitch fee kind of a concept during the pitch process?

Share your viewpoint here or tweet @vikramkharvi

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7 Responses »

  1. There is a need for a solution as number of times we have come across companies who roll out our plans as their own without giving proper recognition to the consulting agency. In an advertising firm to an extent they can have fee for pitching as well. This is mostly because the ideas they present are work of weeks and weeks of brain storming to pin point the idea and furnish it further with multiple supporting ideas which needs to be showcased as well.

    In PR however its different, here companies are just waiting for us to come up with best ideas which they can own as no one is going to question them. Also, we can not ask for a fee as there are multiple agencies thriving on just known for their execution skills. So they are roped in for execution by the company. And am sure that if we start asking for a fee only handful of companies will be willing to invite us for the pitch. But i believe signing NDA and breach of trust issue can be part of the pitch presentation to show them that we are serious & mean business just like theirs.

  2. Hi Vikram,

    Thanks for taking up this issue which as you correctly said most of the agencies must have faced sometime.

    There are PR associations but I am not sure if they have provided any solutions for such issues. Therefore, I feel at agency level only we will have to take up certain measures. Ideal way could be to get a pitch fee but considering Indian markets I don’t think if any prospective client would like to pay before taking up the service as they won’t be sure if the ideas suggested in pitch will be worth using. As a matter of fact, we have seen people calling and asking for a proposal to just explore if we can help them in anyways – They don’t know what PR is, don’t want to spend time to brief on the objectives/requirements. I highly doubt how will such people agree to pay a pitch fee.

    May be we can also get into an initial agreement that the ideas/strategies suggested cannot be used without the written consent of the agency. If the prospective clients can make us sign NDAs to safeguard them, then a simple single clause can be added to the same agreement to save our ideas and hard work.

    I know still the basic ideas can be twisted and used in some other form but still some of such clients, due to legal clause, may refrain from using the suggested ideas. Now, whether to file a legal case or not will certainly depend on intentions of such prospective clients and how much idea is replicated. Still it may help to address the issue to a certain extent.

  3. Two ways to look at it:

    A) This aspect is endemic to “any business” including PR and advertising.

    Car buyer takes price quotes from ABC dealer but goes and buys it from somewhere else.

    Same is the case with any consultant, lawyer, engineer, doctor etc.

    B) My experience shows that some amount of lateral thinking and research and ideas SHOULD be given to the prospective client. This is the only way that a client can peep into the collective minds of PR / advertising professionals.

    How much to reveal is finally upto the heroine / actress. But if she does not come across as sensuous then she will not be chosen :)

  4. It has certainly happened to us. We have put heart and soul into a proposal and see our ideas executed by someone else. We have been told that you can’t own “ideas” because you cant prove it’s yours. Mostly we don’t submit on RFPs anymore, just because of this. It has to be a substantial contract or we need to at least be able to determine if we actually have a chance against an incumbent or the person with the “political” connection

  5. In my experience, unless you are already on the inside track you are being used to fulfill the “get 3-5 bids” requirement of many corporations. The multinationals are in a bind for they have to work within the restrictions set forth by their compliance initiatives. Suppliers are in a bind because we never know, really, if we have a chance. And we all know it’s a ton of work to write the tedious proposals. I rather like Bernie’s suggestion about charging for the proposal and then apply it if you’re the winner. I wonder how many people tried that approach?

  6. Can a prospective client use the ideas showcased when a pitch fee is paid?

    Is it possible to stipulate that detailed pitch can be made only in the presence of a prospective client’s ceo?

    Can you add a slide saying that you legal team scans the PR campaigns of companies to whom a pitch was made.And the ideas showcased are subject to copyright laws thereby sending a subtle message.

    Will big PR agency be blacklisted when it files a legal notice for lifting a pitch idea?

    The other option is showcasing the results of an earlier PR campaign done by the agency for a competitor and its efficacy over the prospective client’s own PR activity during that time.

    With the growth of social media message should be passed about how a company lifted an idea from the pitch made. This will be more effective then fighting it out. Further the lifted idea can be told to other prospective clients while making a pitch for business.

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Disclaimer: The thoughts expressed by me in this blog are my personal views and do not represent the views of my employer or the organizations I have been associated with. I believe in the principle of sharing information. Feel free to link to any of the posts in this blog.
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