RFPs aka a Request for (inflicting) Pain

Posted on
June 25, 2019
I love it when we are asked to pitch for work – not only does it flatter my ego, but also gives our team the chance to come together and think creatively, most often about a client that we aren’t currently working on. It gets the creative juices flowing, it’s time away from the computer and often for us physically out of the office for a change of scenery and a chance to get away from our current work and look at a challenge with fresh eyes. So firstly, thank you for asking us to pitch. We enjoy it.
Sending out an RFP is like shopping for the perfect wedding outfit. Bear with me on this and let me explain ….
Let me tell you first what a good RFP process is not. It’s not a Saturday shopping trip wandering up and down the high street, popping in to lots of different shops to see what’s on the shelves, bumping along against hundreds of other shoppers, queuing for the changing rooms and trying on clothes that others have discarded.
An RFP process is about business. This is serious business. Think of it as a personal shopping experience that is brought to your door: be laser focussed, do your research, invite people in, sit on a comfortable chair and have a select few people you trust, thanks to your earlier research and conversations, present the outfits to you, one by one in a methodical and professional way.
Here’s my manifesto to brands and rights holders looking to send out an RFP.
1. Check us out. Before you get to the point of sending out an RFP, take an afternoon to meet with each of the agencies you are interested in hearing from. Come in and visit us, or have us over to yours. Let’s see if the chemistry is there. If there is no chemistry, then I wouldn’t recommend getting us in to pitch because you won’t want us delivering the work and it won’t be fun for anyone.
2. Be aware these take time. Responding to RFPs takes days – and often quite a lot of them. Please be aware of that. For a really strong RFP response, as a client I would be looking for a bespoke proposal that reflects my brand and objectives, the people I am looking to reach and the results I want to achieve and is not something off the shelf. Understand that any agency responding, and responding professionally, will put time in to crafting you a considered response. So if you are thinking of sending an RFP out just to assess whether your incumbent agency’s rates are competitive, or want to give them, or your in-house team, a shock or even new ideas, don’t do it as it isn’t fair. If you want to benchmark agency rates, do a ring round of the agencies you admire and ask the question directly – most will be happy to help.
3. Keep it simple. RFPs don’t need to be 100s of pages long. It creates a whole heap of work for you and often the detail of what you are looking for will be missed in pages of company acronyms. Here are the headings that we would expect to be covered:
a. Project overview
b. Your company background
c. The project goals and objectives
d. Who the people are you are trying to reach
e. The detailed scope of work
f. The delivery schedule
g. Potential roadblocks
h. The budget (see 4. below)
i. Your ideal agency partner
4. Share the budget. Let me get this straight out there: if you don’t give us a budget, we can’t give you an effective proposal. Potential clients can have really high aspirations, however the aspirations often don’t match the budgets. So let’s not waste your time, or ours, by proposing something that you can’t afford. Back to my shopping analogy, there’s no point me presenting Prada to you, if you are expecting Primark and if you want Armani, then tell me and I’ll bring you something that fits the bill.
By sharing the allocated agency fees and associated production costs, funds that you should have already identified in your budget, means that we can be laser focussed in our approach. A £25k fee versus £100k doesn’t automatically mean less creativity or results, but by providing us with a budget, or a budget range, we can then assess how much time and investment you believe this project needs on both sides. We can align with our resources and see if they match. If they don’t, that’s fine – if you want us to, we’ll pass you on to someone more suited. We’d much rather be helpful than waste our time, and ultimately yours, by responding with a full blown campaign that will cost you £x, when you have a third of that in Italian Lira.
5. Be available. There will always be questions from an RFP and if there aren’t, then be concerned. Everyone interprets a brief differently so there should be challenges, queries and requests for explanation of the in-house jargon. A proposal without questions asked should raise alarm bells.
6. Be open. Why is it ‘in confidence’ how many agencies you have sent the RFP to? The answer to this question tells us as an agency quite a bit about what you are looking for. If you have sent the RFP to more than five or six agencies, then you are either fishing for ideas (we aren’t going to give these away for free), you are right at the beginning of the search process (so you should actually be doing chemistry sessions) or don’t know what you want (we can help guide you). If you have sent it to between three and five, then we know that you have done your due diligence about us and are being laser-focussed about what you want delivered. This will ensure a slick and efficient process. It doesn’t need to be confidential who currently holds the contract or if they are re-pitching. Again, this helps us to understand more about your ways of working, the rationale and the process you are going through.
7. Timescales. Where possible, stick to them. Agencies work to a tight schedule and a good agency should stick to your schedule, so do the same to the one you have proposed. Also, be reasonable. We need time to craft a response: not too long and not too short please.
8. Feedback. This is really important: if we aren’t successful and you have given the work to another agency, please let us know why and more than the standard procurement response. No one likes to hear why they failed at something, but we are here to grow and learn, so a short call where you can appraise the approach to the brief, give feedback on the creative ideas and pricing and share a little on what edge the competition had on us will help us in the future.
A well-considered RFP should be easy to respond to from a process point of view, the challenge is in the creative thinking.
Need help with your RFP process? Get in touch with Emily Caroe to find out how you can create a more efficient process to find the agency that YOU want to work with.

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Posted on
June 25, 2019
Agency Expertise

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