In my 20-year career working in corporate marketing departments for major brands, it was only within the last 7 that I became intimately involved with the RFP process. This was partly due to my climb up the corporate ladder, and partly due to the changing landscape and larger role the procurement department was playing in marketing day to day. Gone are the days of hiring based on “I know someone,” and here to stay are the days of putting business up for bid every 3-5 years, rigorous financial negotiations, KPIs under a microscope, and procurement-led processes. In the last 2 years alone in my brand marketing role at BMW, I led 5 agency RFPs in addition to my core brand leadership responsibilities. It is from that experience, coupled with my work over the last year running my own business and speaking to countless brands and agencies, that I have observed so many opportunities where small changes in process can have a huge impact on improved results for both brands and agencies.
It is time to get off the RFP hamster wheel. Agencies need to start asking tougher questions at the onset of the process, and brands need to take more time before launching a process to evaluate what they are truly looking for, what assignment will most effectively bring them the right partner, and commit to engaging in honest dialogue with internal stakeholders to gain alignment and understanding about why the RFP is being issued.
I will go as far as saying we should even re-classify what an RFP stands for. For those intimate with the process, we define it as a Request For Proposal. Right off the bat, aren’t we setting the stage for a transactional, project-led insight and relationship? If we would rather interpret an RFP to stand for Request For Partner, doesn’t that represent a more inclusive, collaborative and visionary description of what brands are ultimately looking for throughout the project? I sure think so!
Stay tuned for Part 2 where I will dive into recommendations for both brands and agencies thinking about or embarking on a marketing RFP.