Insight

What Makes an Effective Agency RFP?

Guidance from our Senior Vice President of Client Relationships, Suzanne Miller
6 . 13 . 2019
Suzanne Miller

Strategy

O
ver 25 years, AvreaFoster has responded to more than 100 RFPs and Suzanne Miller has led our team for many of them. Throughout the years, Suzanne has learned a thing or two about what makes a good — and a bad — RFP. She sat down to share her point of view on how to design an RFP that will attract the most capable agency partners.
WHAT DO SUCCESSFUL RFPS HAVE IN COMMON?

Ideally, the process is an information exchange that sets up the relationship to come. The client shares their objectives, requirements and priorities very clearly. And the responses enable them to assess each agency’s qualifications.

Planning and implementing a great RFP can be labor intensive. But it pays off when you’re able to evaluate proposals more efficiently and select the best agency partner.

RFI OR RFP?

Businesses might consider an RFI (request for information) if they’re notifying agencies for a future RFP (request for proposal) or if they need information that’s very specialized to identify agencies as candidates. Most companies can bypass RFIs by creating a simple grid of “must haves.” For instance, ask yourself whether you require experience in your industry? A specific capability? Local presence? This data can be found on agency websites and client lists. Conversations with colleagues and referrals are invaluable.

There are pitfalls to watch out for. Recently I spoke with an executive who sent an RFI to 10 agencies. He confessed that he hadn’t thought about how long it would take his team to read them. They could have saved a lot of time for themselves and the agencies by narrowing the list and streamlining the information they requested.

You’re ready to develop your RFP when you’ve done your homework to develop a short roster of potential agency partners. The most effective RFPs start with five or six agencies in a precisely managed process.

GETTING TO APPLES TO APPLES

Creating your RFP content takes effort. Agencies want to understand your requirements for the business relationship and the scope of work. Plus see the outline of the RFP process.

Collecting and organizing these specifics is a strategic investment. The more structured and complete the RFP, the more parallel the agency responses will be, helping you make a side-by-side comparison. We’ll be less likely to add information as we try to anticipate what else you might need to make your decision.

Also, agencies will love you for your details. We want to know that we’re delivering the RFP when, where and in the format you need.

The more structured and complete the RFP, the more parallel the agency responses will be, helping you make a side-by-side comparison.
But, more importantly, we want to know that we’re a match on the big topics like budget and timeline. If your project must be completed in six months for a certain budget, defining that upfront allows us to propose appropriate solutions. It also means that if we can’t meet your budget or schedule, we can rule ourselves out.

Bottom line, well thought out RFP content is the heart of an efficient process.

THE RFP PROCESS, STEP BY STEP

Setting clear expectations throughout is another key to getting what you want from your RFP.

Step 1: Gather content, create the calendar

Work backward. Most RFPs require several weeks for development, a week for distribution, two to four weeks for responses, internal time for evaluation, a few days for on-site presentations by the finalists and your decision. Depending on the client, 90-120 days is a good guideline. Allowing agencies ample time to respond thoughtfully is essential. We want to show our best work.

Step 2: Write the RFP

You’ll provide critical background and ask questions to gauge the competency and fit of the potential agency partners. Break it into manageable sections, such as:

  • Project overview and executive summary — why you are doing this now
  • Company background — history of the company, successes and challenges
  • Project objectives — what you want to accomplish
  • Scope of work — exactly what you are asking for
  • Timing of the project, including known deadlines
  • Mandatories; potential complications or roadblocks
  • Budget or budget range
  • Agency information desired, such as an overview with capabilities for the project, relevant case studies, references, bios of the team members who would work on the project
  • Evaluation criteria, incorporating a description of your ideal agency partner
  • RFP schedule with milestone deadlines and decision date
  • Exact and detailed submission requirements — number of hard copies, email address, what time and date for delivery
Step 3: Distribution, responses and presentations

Once your RFP goes out, you’ll want to follow your schedule for evaluating the responses. Select the top two or three agencies to make finalist presentations. Hopefully, the details for the presentations were outlined in your RFP, including what information you’re requesting in the initial response and what you will ask for in the presentation stage. This helps everyone focus on a deeper dive into the proposed solution as well as cultural fit.

Step 4: The decision

Using the criteria set out in the RFP, stakeholders should have a good map and the input they need to choose the most capable and compatible agency partner.

HANDY TIPS AND TOUCHY TOPICS

Clients worry about the best way to field questions from agencies during the RFP. Understandably, they want to keep things fair and not waste time. Some opt to hold a conference call for all participants. In our experience, that can be awkward. It works better to build this into the RFP schedule — include a deadline for questions to be submitted and a date when answers to all questions will be distributed to everyone.

Spec creative or strategy is a sensitive topic. First, it’s asking the agencies to provide their product for free. To be a valuable exercise,

Using the criteria set out in the RFP, stakeholders should have a good map and the input they need to choose the most capable and compatible agency partner.
the client would need to prepare a full creative brief separate from the RFP. That’s time-consuming for all parties. We don’t cut corners on creative, especially when it comes to new business, meaning we would need to allocate many, many hours of staff time. Some agencies might have to rule themselves out of an RFP that requires spec due to their existing commitments.

On the other hand, don’t be afraid to ask for case studies, examples of relevant work and evidence of our achievements. We’re also totally willing to respond to an exercise where finalists are asked how they would approach a specific problem. We welcome the opportunity to show how we think, and you can compare the different approaches.

Finally, a valuable byproduct of the process is that both parties get to know one another’s style. Agencies gain insight into the prospective client through the way the RFP is built and how the process is managed, just as the client learns about the capabilities and culture of the agency.

It’s exciting when we receive well-crafted RFPs. The process gives us a chance to meet new people, learn about their business and, hopefully, have an opportunity to contribute to their success.

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