Before you issue your next RFP to select an agency partner, stop and ask, “why.” Are you legally required to issue RFPs? Do your bylaws require it? Or is it just the way it’s always been done? If it’s not required, consider these reasons to ditch RFPs. If it is required, read on for four ways to find the right agency partner using RFPs.

Make the most of everyone’s time

RFPs take a lot of work to create and respond to, so it’s important that you consider agencies that you feel are skilled at the assignment and are the right fit for your budget. It’s ideal to send the RFP only to agencies that you believe are cut out to help you reach your goals in both areas.

Agencies love doing great work for clients. And we love the prospect of taking on new clients, which is why we don’t mind finding extra time to work on an RFP, especially
if it’s going to be a great fit. If we have a reasonable chance to win the business and believe there’s value in the relationship for both organizations, we’ll go all in. If you already have a pretty good idea of who you want to work with, however, it’s best not to ask other agencies to invest a lot of time and energy responding to your RFP.

Here are four ways to maximize the efforts involved in an RFP:

  1. Do your homework

Research the agencies you’re interested in and narrow them down to a short list of three to five to meet with in person (or Skype if distance is an issue). Your list could be based on the agency’s experience, people, work samples or culture – whatever criteria is important to you.

Collect background and information from each agency’s website. That way, the agency can devote more time and attention on your unique challenges and opportunities in their response to your RFP.

Once you’ve met with each agency, narrow your list to the two (no more than three) agencies you feel you may want to work with and send them the RFP. Prequalifying agency partners will save you, your team and the agency a lot of time and energy.

Consider the following criteria when evaluating an agency:

  • What are the people like? How do they think? What is their experience and expertise?
  • What does the agency think about US and OUR challenges?
  • How good is the agency’s work? Are they capable of making things happen for our business/organization?
  • What is their culture? Will I enjoy working with them? Do I trust them to do good work?
  • Do they have a good reputation?
  1. Identify your needs

Clearly communicate why you’re looking for a new agency partner. Ask yourself the following questions and use these answers to shape your RFP.

  • What’s the current state of our business?
  • What are the challenges and opportunities we’ve been presented with that led to our search?
  • What qualities are we looking for in an agency partner?
  • What’s changed in our market? Are there new competitors? Is our brand dated? Are we correcting a consumer concern?
  • What problems are we asking the agency to solve for us?
  1. Be direct and transparent

Have the agency sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) if needed for you to share information.  

Provide a concise brief of the agency assignment.

Be upfront with your business goals, objectives and metrics, and explain what’s not working. Provide any existing research or insights. If you do this, the feedback you get in return will be much more relevant and meaningful.

Describe the deliverables you have in mind and why. It will help the agency understand how your organization thinks. For example, if you expect to see possible visual treatments for your logo or campaign, say so. Some clients request spec work as part of their RFP, but most established agencies aren’t comfortable producing creative work that’s not based on strategy. And, if you ARE going to disqualify or penalize agencies for not providing spec creative in the RFP or pitch, let all participants know up front. We understand you want to see an agency’s thinking as it relates to your specific situation, but there are more productive ways to accomplish this. If you’ve done your homework during the vetting process, you can be confident that the agencies who made the cut are capable of doing great work.

Share your budget. This will allow agencies to respond with right-sized recommendations and solutions. Be prepared to share what you’re willing to invest, BEFORE asking agencies to spend valuable time building uninformed strategies and budgets for you. Plus, providing budget parameters allows agencies to be honest in determining if they’re the best fit, and levels the playing field when evaluating how each agency would spend your dollars towards helping you achieve your business goals.

  1. Be a great partner

Issue your RFPs with enough lead-time so that agencies can understand your organization and your situation and discover opportunities to solve your problems.

Be available to answer questions and offer clarifications. Consider meeting with the agency again, if they ask. The more interaction you have will help you determine whether you have good chemistry with the team. You’ll likely be in contact with your agency partner on a daily basis, so it’s important to have a team you’d enjoy working with.

Explain your process – what will happen after you collect the RFPs, and when. Will there be an in-person presentation round?

And, honor the time commitment of responding agencies by giving everyone feedback after you’ve made your decision. You may be surprised to learn that many companies don’t provide any more information other than “we’ve chosen to go in a different direction.” Agencies want to know where and how we can improve.

Expect greatness from your agency

A well-written RFP will inspire agencies to explore creative solutions focused on YOU and YOUR needs. If you absolutely must issue an RFP, make it a good one. You’ll appreciate the results it gets you.

Want to have dinner with Borshoff? E-mail or call me at 317-749-0334.