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Ideas are Money: Protect Them!
By: Elizabeth Friedland
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Nothing is more rewarding that putting the finishing touches on a new client proposal; it’s an exciting feeling to present them with your biggest and best ideas after days, even weeks, of preparing a response to an RFP. But it can also be a little scary; now the client has full possession of your valuable ideas — and in this business, ideas are money. Nearly every PR professional has wondered just how safe those ideas are. What happens if the client steals the ideas? What if they choose a different agency and have them execute your vision? What do you do if your concept pops up as their newest PR campaign six months down the road?
The key is prevention. Proposals should be treated like any other type of intellectual property, and guarded as such.
  1. Copyright your proposals. It takes just a few clicks at the U.S. Copyright Office website and about $35. While this isn’t foolproof — you obviously can’t copyright media relations as a tactic, for example — it gives you some protection and lets your potential client know you take the idea industry very seriously.
  1. Request a non-disclosure agreement. Some RFPs already include this, but read carefully. Make sure language forbidding the company from sharing your ideas with a third party (without your consent) is included.
  1. Bill your proposal writing time. Admittedly, this one is tough. Often times RFPs will flat-out state that they won’t compensate agencies for the time or materials involved with the proposal. However, this option is worth exploring if the proposal is exceptionally involved. Explain to clients that you consider proposal writing a form of consulting work — and you can’t and won’t be a free PR consultant.
  1. Be picky. Think twice about proposals that are overly general, a sign that a company is just looking for free idea but isn’t serious about hiring an agency to implement them. Solid RFPs should contain budgets, timelines, and outline the agency selection process and judging criteria. Be wary of proposals that have been blasted out to every agency in town; a smart company will research agencies on their own, then narrow it down to a favorite few for the RFP process. Finally, RFPs issued by government-funded departments can also be suspicious. These groups are commonly required to send out the RFP to a certain number or type of agencies (such as women or minority owned), even if they already have an agency partner unofficially selected.
  1. Take a stand. Agencies are increasingly declining to participate in the RFP process, period — and this isn’t as insane as it sounds. Nearly every PR professional has probably won a client based on the grand, pie-in-the-sky idea they generate for the purpose of the proposal, only to get the business and have the client second guess those same ballsy strategies. Concepting truly smart PR strategies takes more than just reading a few background pages on the client, or dreaming up whiz-bang ideas to outdo the other competing agencies, while working in an RFP vacuum. Finding new business more organically can result in better client relationships all around.

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About the Author
Elizabeth Friedland in Senior Digital Strategist, specializing in PR, at Hirons Advertising & Public Relations. To learn more than you ever wanted to know about her, visit www.elizabethfriedland.com.
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