Strategies that both brands and agencies can adopt to improve the RFP process and outcome.


In my earlier post on this topic I suggested we start with a mindset shift and reclassify what an RFP stands for. If we start off calling the RFP process a Request for Partner rather than a Proposal, it sets a more inclusive and collaborative tone for both brands and agencies.

The need and mandate for RFPs is not going away anytime soon. I have had numerous conversations with both brands and agencies about their experiences and perceptions of a flawed process. I believe we have a long road to establishing an end state that feels more comfortable. To get there, I offer the following suggestions as a starting point to bringing the Request for Partner process to a state in which we don’t cringe upon hearing those three infamous letters; R. F. P.

From an agency perspective:

  1. Don’t be afraid to say no, especially if the numbers don’t make sense. If the financial negotiation gets you to a point where you know servicing the client effectively is in jeopardy, say no. No matter how alluring the brand or opportunity, it is difficult for anyone to ‘win’ at the end in this scenario.

  2. Ask for key highlights of the MSA upfront. Most contracts aren’t released until the agencies are shortlisted, but it can be helpful to determine if there are any deal breaking points before getting too far into the process. Consider asking for a company’s MSA excerpts or points of view related to:

  • Exclusivity

  • Subcontractor/freelance policies

  • Renewal language

  1. For more project-based work, or if part of an approved vendors list, request an evaluation be put in place that is to be completed at the end of the project by the brand/client. If the agreed upon rating is achieved, set out terms whereby the next project under similar scope of services would be automatically awarded.

  2. Tell them more than a catch phrase. Have someone outside your four walls evaluate your credentials/RFI deck to determine if what you are pitching as your ‘unique selling features’ and experience truly is distinct and would instill confidence that something new is being brought to the table.

From a brand/RFP issuer perspective:

  1. Slow down. Take the time to evaluate why you are initiating the RFP and what business you are putting up for bid. As an example, if it is your social agency’s contract that is up for renewal, don’t let autopilot take over and immediately launch into a social agency RFP. Discuss and evaluate the following:

  2. How has your business and your partner landscape evolved since the last RFP? Do you want to look at a wider scope of the business and does consolidation make sense in this case?

  3. What major projects, business contracts and milestones are on the horizon? This exercise may help mitigate additional, similar RFPs in the next 6-12 months.

  4. Be realistic. Try not to let a product/campaign launch dictate the timing. Let the time required to effectively run the process dictate timing.

  5. Consider long term business/strategic challenges vs. spec work. Let’s face it; At times even a brand’s long-term agency partner misses the creative mark on a brief, yet through a creative RFP process we put so much stock in an agency’s ability to nail the creative approach in round 1 or 2 with NO history on the brand. Does that really make sense? Consider again the notion of “Request for Partner.” Regardless of the project or scope, every brand is looking for an agency partner that helps drive long term business results, perhaps challenges the current way of thinking and interprets the brand’s objectives in new and creative ways. I believe assignments that tap into an agency’s long term strategic plan and approach to solve problems is the type of thinking one would want out of future partners. Think how to connect the company’s business marketing plans into one cohesive story, how to merge sponsorship and brand marketing initiatives to stretch dwindling resources further, etc.

  6. Build transition planning AND resources into your timeline and budget.

Both brands and agencies are looking for change in the land of RFPs. This change can and must come from both sides of the process. The suggestions above are just a starting point for this journey.

Despite the financial pressure and inevitable negotiation process that takes place within all RFPs, there are small yet effective behavioural changes at the start and arguably before the process begins that will go a long way in mending reputations on both sides of an RFP.

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