The RFP No-no's

By, Jordan Chanofsky, CEO, Fusion PR

I was recently sent an e-mail with a short tip-list for RFPs. Probably like you, I receive so many of these unsolicited e-mails that I normally opt to dump them; but something caught my eye and I decided to glance through it.

The quick read covered 10 mistakes that companies make when issuing RFPs by Lee Anne Morgan and I was glad to read this one. I thought Lee Anne did an outstanding job of briefly identifying some of the RFP mistakes made by companies and the pain points commonly experienced by responding agencies as a result. I also took the opportunity to think more about what I would like to see from companies issuing RFPs. Responding in full to an RFP is time consuming and debilitating for any agency but especially those lacking a new business department with specialists dedicated to RFP response. Thus, the decision to pursue an RFP is a serious one.

So, what came to mind were ways to help agencies weigh their consideration of responding to RFPs. Two such points are the sensibility for RFP issuers to include the number of agencies being considered for the RFP and any fixed criteria to be considered for the RFP (which expands on Lee Anne’s point that she calls out as “core agency selection criteria for the review process”).

For example, a company that insists on having an agency of a certain size in dollar revenue of number of company-owned offices should let the agencies know this in advance. If there is truly no way of getting around these criteria, then agencies should have the information they need to avoid the quixotic attempt to apply valuable and excessive time to win the un-winnable RFP.

The agencies that I keep in contact with have become more skeptical of RFPs and avoid them unless they believe, for one reason or another, that they have an advantage. This advantage can be based on ability or experience, or can be related to a relationship with the issuing company. Short of any ‘advantage,’ each agency will consider the number of respondents to an RFP with skepticism. At 10 or 15, not so uncommon to the world of RFPs, many agencies will simply back away from the statistical unlikelihood of winning or as a result of the notion that the issuer really doesn’t know what they want; after all, they might ask, who can really comprehensively review 15 agencies in with a fair, diligent and consistent eye.

The point is that companies should understand that more (responders) is not necessarily merrier.

Agencies who become disillusioned by one process may be perfect for another opportunity but choose to avoid it because of past experience. This leaves on the one hand an agency-myopia about RFPs (the agencies whose policies are ardently “we do RFPs” or “we don’t”) and on the other hand an agency-RFP oligopoly made up primarily of those with departments who respond to RFPs all day long and who may not be the best candidates for the assignment.

My suggestion to issuers is to do some research in advance to understand the right “type” of agency for the job, defining size, location, specialization, service capability and whatever other criteria make sense. Then if the RFP is open (in other words, the list of agencies is not already whittled down by the issuer), the issuer might ask for a one page executive summary of these points before a comprehensive response is initiated. This would allow them to factor out those unqualified agencies that will be only winning a pyrrhic and very costly victory by being accepted to compete in the full blown selection process. And frankly, I don’t see any need to have more than 5 or 6 agencies as contenders because in this way each one can be considered with more care and diligence.

By understanding better how agencies are reacting to RFPs, companies can and hopefully will do a better job at issuing them. They want the agencies that are a best fit for them to respond. But without the right information in the RFP or by hiding the process, issuers may not realize that they are actually undermining the process.

I’ve left Lee Anne’s summary below:

Agency Search RFPs: 10 Mistakes

NOT PROVIDING:

  • A clear, precise Year 1 SOW — agencies should know exactly what is expected of them
  • Core agency selection criteria for the review process — agencies will do better if they know the priorities for selection
  • A detailed timeline and process for the agency review — this allows an agency to assess their feasibility to participate
  • Clear, precise direction in information requests — make every word work hard and say what you mean

UNREASONABLE REQUESTS FOR:

  • Financial information in the RFP stage of the process — salary requests, breakdown of overhead costs, severance packages
  • Detailed operational and management processes — production and accounting protocols, personnel timesheet documentation
  • Confidential and/or inappropriate information not relevant to the review — identify agency clients on incentive remuneration and management personnel on bonus
  • Unrealistic due date of RFP — ignores that agencies have clients they currently serve and can influence the quality of the response
  • Too many case studies and/or creative examples — be specific and stay focused on the real needs for meeting objectives

FINALLY …

  • Identify and declare — client’s key decision makers, core client Team going forward with the agency, those who will participate in meetings and presentations during the agency review process.
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