Building a Better RFP

Like most advertising and marketing agencies, we receive and respond to countless Requests for Proposal (RFPs) every year. While RFPs (or RFQs, Requests for Quote) demand a great deal of time and resources to address, they’re a necessary evil. Just part of doing business.

Winning a bid is, naturally, cause for celebration – we actually ring the agency gong as a signal of victory. Winning the bid also helps keep us in business. That’s always nice. Losing the bid? Well, let’s just say there’s no “gong” for that.

A major problem with RFPs, however, is that we get many that just leave us scratching our heads. “What exactly do they want?” “Why do they want it or need it?” These aren’t necessarily slam-dunk questions, either.

Developing an RFP can be so challenging that some issuers come to us for help.  That may sound like a potential conflict of interest, but they know that a good RFP is in their best interest. It eliminates a lot of confusion and wasted time for everyone, and helps the issuer get the best possible proposal and final product from all bidders.

Give your RFP some TLC

Here are five keys issues that absolutely, positively need to be addressed in your RFP for a creative services assignment going out to bid.

1. Who are you?

This is usually the easy part of the process. Describe your company, department, or organization in detail, including all key stakeholders and contacts. What industry, activity or business are you in? Are you in a competitive environment?  Where do you rank in your industry? Who are your target customers, clients or constituencies – the people you’re trying to reach?

2. What do you need?

Provide specific details of the project or product you have in mind. Is it a single object or item, e.g., a video, brochure, or ad? Or is it a larger cross-media, multi-channel campaign? Or, are you open to suggestions for the final deliverables? What audience(s) are you trying to reach? What are their titles, ages, genders, ethnicities, race, locations and/or positions of influence? What do you need to know about the bidder – relevant experience, team biographies, work processes, philosophies, values, etc.?

Oh, and by the way: What’s your budget?

3. Why do you need it?

Clearly identifying the goals or objectives of the project is where many companies (and RFPs) really struggle. What outcome(s) do you seek? Market share? Sales leads? Inquiries? Revenue? Behavioral change? AND, how do you plan to measure the success of the program? Many companies present their goals, but with no set metrics for judging the program’s success. Not good.

4. When do you want it?

Provide all key dates and milestones: When can potential bidders ask questions? By what date should RFP respondents submit their proposals and by what method (email, hard copy)? When will jobs be awarded? What are the project delivery deadlines? By the way, please allow at least two weeks for invited bidders to respond to a proposal.

5. How will things happen?

Describe your criteria for assessing bidders and their proposals. How important is relevant experience, specific expertise, and/or industry knowledge? Do you expect original suggestions or ideas from bidders? (This may be referred to as “spec work” – also known as “free work” for the client. It’s often an expensive proposition for bidders … and a controversial, sensitive subject.) Do proposals need to use a particular format? Is there a preferred length? How should it be delivered – in person, via email, in hard copy, by carrier pigeon?

A good RFP results in a smoother process for everyone and – most important — a better outcome for you!

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