What’s Wrong With Agency Review RFP’s.


As an agency search consultant I talk to a lot of agency principals and New Business people and one of the biggest frustrations they voice is that many RFP’s are too long, too detailed, and require too much work and I agree.

One of the biggest mistakes that clients make when they do their own searches is that they really don’t know how to prepare an RFP. They often use a template that they find on the internet or get one from colleagues who work at different companies with different problems. If the RFP is developed by somebody in procurement what do they know about advertising?  Defining concrete specs has got nothing to do with understanding advertising.

When I handled New Business Development for many agencies I often used to get 75 page RFP’s and submitted a small trunk of materials.  Marketers, you aren’t looking for a legal firm, you are looking for a creative resource.  Use a short RFP that allows agencies to showcase their creative capabilities and not their legal affairs department.

Long RFP’s result in long answers.  Are you really prepared to read twenty five 150 page submittals?  I don’t think so.  Is that fair to the agency that prepared the RFP or to the brand that you are working on?  I don’t think so.

Make your RPF’s succinct and precise.

The initial RFP’s for my reviews are four pages in length.  For the final submissions, I advocate a two page RFP that focuses on the client’s key problem asking for the agency’s perspective on possible solutions.

In your RFP, you should start with an overview of the current market situation you are facing.  The market, competitive and consumer issues, brand situation.  In brief the issues and challenges you are facing.

Then I would outline key criteria like the geographical location you would accept for your agency partner.

Your RFP should focus on 2-3 key criteria you are looking for.  Many RFP’s have so many criteria it is tough to tell what is really important to the client so the responses aren’t focused but neither was the RFP.

You should also include the potential revenue that handling your business would generate.  Be conservative and do not overpromise.  This section is key.  Align your future resources with your budget.  Remember marginal compensation results in marginal service.

The RFP’s should include the scope of services you are looking for.  What responsibilities will the new agency partner be fulfilling and what services aren’t being currently met.?

The RFP’s should also include a short background questionnaire so the respondents can outline agency size, key players, relevant case histories, the agency’s point of difference etc.

You should allow the agencies at least two weeks to respond to the RFP.  Please remember they aren’t getting compensated for their time in completing the RFP and this is work over and above their current workload and agencies like clients are short staffed.

I always conclude with a statement that the agencies shouldn’t submit if they aren’t a good fit so you discourage unqualified agencies from submitting.

Last, if your company has no interest in changing agencies but is sending out RFP’s because your procurement process calls for regular reviews for the sake of process please don’t initiate the process. It is abusive and usury and you and your company is not being forthright.

Your company has a reputation as well and in this age of social media bad word of mouth about companies that implement such practices spreads quickly.  Agency employees and their friends are customers as well and consumer assets should be protected.

If you aren’t going to use a search consultant and are going to do it yourself, do it right.

If you are the marketing person for a company you should always remember that you do not own the brand.  The shareholders or the owner own the brand.

You are the steward of the brand and while on your watch it is your responsibility to align the brand with the best resources and that generally happens with an efficient and well managed process and not a cursory process.

Hank Blank is an agency search consultant based in Laguna Niguel, CA.


3 thoughts on “What’s Wrong With Agency Review RFP’s.

  1. Hank, this is one of the most comprehensive, succinct summaries I’ve seen for marketers and communicators to use when buying design or ad services. There is a conspicuous lack of guidelines or tool kits for buying these services leaving clients woefully unequipped to get the most from their brand or campaign.

  2. Hank,
    Great post and should be read by business owner or manager. Because, this is not only true of the Agency RFP’s but general business RFP’s as well. Every business needs to review their RFP process to determine if it is working affectively for them. From the document processing industry, we knew who was just looking to support an internal process. As you stated, “if your company has no interest in changing agencies but is sending out RFP’s because your procurement process calls for regular reviews for the sake of process please don’t initiate the process.” From the responders side even if they know there is no chance of you changing vendors they put their best foot forward because who knows what will happen in 3, 6, 12 months. You always want you company image to be protected and correct.
    Thanks for making it so concise.

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