The crucial step most brands skip over when launching an agency RFP: the first one.


We know it all too well. Many terms and phrases describe it, but the process and outcome are the same. Auto pilot. Hamster wheel. Groundhog Day. Most people running a marketing department can’t avoid it. Their plates are too full, the resource support (both financially and in human capital) are being outpaced by the changing landscape, growing demands for output and the pressure to demonstrate ROI for every dollar spent.

It’s no wonder that when a brand’s agency contract is nearing its end date and the inevitable RFP looms that so many marketers move into auto pilot mode. With several RFPs under my belt as a client-side marketer I was certainly guilty of this. Now, as an independent impact creator and consultant to brands and agencies, I am at an advantage to be able to assist brands embarking on an RFP with arguably the most crucial step in the process – the first one. I have the benefit of an outsider perspective, and as a process steward I counsel my clients to spend more time upfront in a discovery phase; a phase that we at K.I.F. Marketing lead and moderate to set the process up for efficiency, organizational alignment and a positive reputation among the agency network that will be participating in the RFP.

A key piece of my company’s process around RFP management is the pre-work, and what we call the 4-W exercise. This involves a discovery session aimed at uncovering the why, what, when and who surrounding the RFP.

  1. Why: This is an evaluation of the relationship and track record with the existing agency (if it exists) and overall agency/partner landscape of the brand in general. We will determine the appetite for refreshed approach as well as the needs of all relevant businesses within the organization.

  2. What: Here we will uncover the specificity of the business or marketing issue at hand and undergo a needs assessment and business requirement identification. A key piece of the what involves a discussion around the assignment for participating agencies. Many companies launch directly into creative/spec work, but there are other options. We will evaluate whether creative, long term business planning, case study presentation or functional exercises make the most sense.

  3. When: Here we address key milestones that would drive the timeline. A realistic, high level process map and timeline can be discussed at this point, ensuring that time for 2-way dialogue and scheduling realities are all accounted for. It is important that realistic process requirements are the primary drivers of the timeline rather than a launch date.

  4. Who: These discussions identify key stakeholders for the process, establish roles for each (i.e decision makers vs. keeping informed) as well as identifying agency inclusions or exclusions before the long list research begins.

A search consultant should do more than simply manage an RFP process for a brand. At K.I.F. we want to set you and your organization up for a result that gives you the confidence you landed with a partnership that serves your entire business, addresses the challenges and needs of today and the foreseeable future and has gained organizational alignment from the start. The 4-W exercise is designed to do just that and more.

Take the time upfront to answer the why, what, when and who, and circle back to these questions as you approach the end of an RFP. If the process has been run correctly, the clarity and trust you will have in your decision will help ensure a smooth start to the new (or renewed) agency relationship.

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