What is a RFP?
Request for Proposal(RFP) is a document that comprises of the proposal made by an agency/brand interested in any commodities via bidding.
The Request For Proposal (RFP) aligns everyone internally, clearly communicates your expectations to the agencies, and provides an objective to evaluate agencies and then choose one. The RFP helps you understand an agency’s capabilities, processes and methodologies and really importantly, their culture and how they think. Moreover, refining the RFP process for agency growth is what is required in this digital age, so let us some learn key things before writing a request for proposal.
Use an audit to set agency expectations
For right now I’d like to talk about conducting an internal audit. An audit is important background work to understand relevant history and lessons learned from previous agency relationships. This will give both you and your prospective agencies insight about what’s worked well in the past and where you need to improve.
The insights could be about anything. Like process, aligning expectations, how you communicate, or how you define great creative.
Even if your company hasn’t worked with an external agency before, you probably have at least some internal staff who’s worked on creative projects. There likely will be lessons learned here too.
An audit should include interviews. In person or by phone with key stakeholders across internal disciplines. Start with open ended questions that don’t lead people too much. Such as:
- How would you describe our previous agency relationships? What worked well? What didn’t work well?
- What suggestions do you have for our new agency relationship? What will set it up for success?
Then you can ask targeted questions, probe for positives and negatives. For example:
- How is our project brief template?
- Is our staff properly trained to brief and manage an agency?
- How does our internal process work?
- Were the business objectives and strategy straight forward and clearly communicated?
- Did we have the right marketing organization in place to manage the agency relationship?
- Did we compensate the agency fairly, aligned with the scope of work?
- Are we aligned about how to define great creative?
These are just a sample of questions to ask people. While I always recommend interviews, either in person or by phone, if that’s not possible you can use an online survey. Most important is that you be open to whatever feedback you receive, both the positive and the negative. And apply lessons learned as you write your RFP and define the new relationship.
Benefits of using a Request For Proposal:
Sometimes, people who work for a small company ask whether they need a Request For Proposal to select an agency. The answer to this question is yes. Whether you’re a small, medium, or large global company, a RFP is best practiced to hire an external digital agency. Here’s why:
- Even though it takes more time up front in the process, it saves you time later on in the process and increases your chances of choosing the best agency partner.
- It takes subjectivity out the decision process and focuses the internal team on objective, agreed upon goals and expectations.
- A RFP ensures you’re communicating the same direction and information to all agencies participating in the review process, so they’ll compete on an even playing field.
- Putting our request in writing makes people take the process more seriously, whether you seek a long-term relationship or an agency for just one project.
- And it helps you stay on schedule.
Regardless of your company’s size or budget, it’s equally important that you choose the right agency partner. And nobody wants to waste time or money choosing the wrong partner, right? So make sure to write and use a RFP to set your review process up for success.
What to include in a Request For Proposal
Request For Proposal (RFP) content varies based on your type of business, brand, competition, and internal culture, but typically, it includes business and marketing goals, brand background and positioning, scope of work, which details project specifics, target audience, schedule, budget, and agency information.
Here’s a list of details that you can include in a RFP:
- What business challenges does your business face?
- How will marketing solve your business challenges?
- Share relevant background about business performance and future goals.
- Share your brand strategy and guidelines, including key insights and research.
- What efforts have or haven’t worked in the past?
- How does the target audience view and engage with your brand? Be as specific as possible with your scope of work, or what’s called an SOW.
- Clearly describe what work you need and when you need it. This could be a creative strategy, research analysis, creative campaigns, a methodology to measure results, a media plan, or more.
- Align the SOW with your business and marketing objectives.
- Share relative technical specifications. For example, infrastructure, digital requirements, security needs and website provisions.
- Share data and insights about your target audience. For example, who they are, how they think, how they behave, and how they view and engage with your brand.
- Share the schedule and highlight milestones and deadlines.
Make time for in-person phone or Facetime conversations. Best to schedule some of them and let other conversations happen naturally. This helps you all get to know one another. Provide the budget range, so agencies recommend programs you can afford, and you can compare their proposals fairly. The information about the agency size, number of locations or offices, and current client list should be on their website, so don’t bother asking for this in your RFP. Do ask for information and insight that’s not available publicly, such as how does the agency think, do they have any proprietary methodologies, or how they define their culture. Lastly, tell the agencies what submission length and format you’d like. For example, PDF, email, in-person, or a site upload. All the best practices we’ve covered here, if followed, will help you draft and finalize your RFP.
What to include in the RFP schedule
We mentioned earlier about high level tasks to include in the schedule and the importance of gaining buy-in from your internal selection team. Now, let’s talk about how to review the schedule with the agencies and specifically key steps to highlight for them. I like to provide the written schedule to agencies and give them a few days to review and consolidate any questions or concerns they may have. Then I suggest having a conversation, whether in person or by phone to review the specific steps and the let agencies share their comments. If they have a reasonable request to modify the schedule, I suggest you consider it and accommodate it if you can. While your internal team may only need a high level schedule, the agencies need every detail for the RFP schedule, which should include these nine important items.
- when you’ll send the initial RFP announcement and request.
- agency submission deadlines.
- dates you owe feedback to agencies.
- meetings with agencies to discuss the RFP, how they’re progressing and their questions.
- the first round agency proposal review, or often called the pitch, and a follow up conversation.
- agency presentation dates.
- final agency selection.
- contract review and signing.
- targeted start date.
Be realistic and fair about timing between milestones so you and the agencies have proper time to complete the tasks. Monitor the schedule consistently and make adjustments as needed. Here are a few tips.
Leave some extra time if you can throughout the schedule. While everyone wants to stay on schedule, realistically, delays do happen here and there, some of which just aren’t in your control. If you need to change the schedule check with all stakeholders in advance that they can accommodate the changes. These days, everybody manages multiple projects and feels kind of overworked. So, don’t just assume that people will be available.
Check with people along the way to see how they’re feeling about the process. Do they have enough time to review information, prepare for meetings, think through their point of view and feedback, and develop responses and recommendations?
If not, you might want to adjust your schedule. Depending on the size and scope of the project, and the number of people involved from your internal team, an RFP process can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months.
To sum it all up, RFP is of extreme importance as it sets the mood for the project ahead, a factor that decides clarity, involvement, seriousness and efficiency of the stakeholders in the project. To stay on track and meet deadlines, openly communicate with key stakeholders and adjust the schedule as needed.