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RIP RFPs?

There is no phrase that strikes greater fear in the hearts of advertising agencies everywhere—or racks up more unbillable hours faster—than the dreaded Request for Proposal (RFP). Now, as a “seasoned” professional, I recognize that the chances of the RFP becoming a thing of the past are about equal to that of my teenage son choosing to hang out with me on a Saturday night.
But, having written the responses to quite a few RFPs (even winning some!), I’d like to offer these suggestions to all those potential clients out there on how to make the process less painful… and hopefully, more productive.

  • Don’t drop ’em from airplanes. Do you really want 112 responses? Then don’t send your RFP to 112 agencies. A little online research can go a long way in selecting the most qualified candidates.
  • Don’t use them as a tool to get your agency to fly right. If you’re not happy with your agency, fire them. Don’t give them a second chance to “show their stuff” in an RFP—they should have been doing that all along.
  • Be reasonable. Sorry, but 32 questions really is just too many. Think quality, not quantity. If some version of the phrase “See Part II, Section B, Question 7” keeps popping up, you need to pare down your RFP.
  • Be willing to put in the time. Some of my “favorite” RFP experiences (not just those we’ve won) are those in which the prospective client took the time to talk to each agency. It’s not only a great way to ask questions, but it’s also a good chemistry test. If you don’t like the team, do you really want to move them on to the next step?
  • Don’t ask for free ideas. Think my creative director has addressed this subject pretty well already.
  • Stick to your time line. You wouldn’t consider a late response, so why make your agency candidates wait for yours?
  • Be available for a post mortem. Believe it or not, we believe there is such a thing as constructive criticism. We like to know why we lost… and to learn from it (we do, really).

So what do you think of the RFP? Love it? Hate it? Would rather see the guy who first thought of the idea hung in effigy from the nearest tree? Do tell.

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Vice President, Communications Strategist

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