Why Agencies Shouldn’t Respond to Client RFP’s.


A friend of mine shared an agency RFP with me today. It’s been circulating around the town although the client thinks it is a secret.  He got it from a client who was excited to include them as part of their search.  He had a conflict so he wasn’t going to participate and was not as excited as the client was.  Obviously the client didn’t do much research on which agencies had conflicts. The RFP did say that the RFP only went to a pre-selected list of agencies.

When clients have no skin in the game so why do they care who gets the RFP.  They aren’t going to be working overtime filling out the request but your agency will if you answer the bell.

My friend who sent me the RFP called me and said the Cattle Call is about to begin and he was right. I was outside a pet store.  I thought it might be a good time to detour and drive down the road and up pick up a bale of hay and a cow bell at my local feed store in San Juan Capistrano.  We have a lot of horses nearby. And I did just receive a great opportunity to ride into the sunset.

The RFP came from somebody with a title that didn’t reflect their level of experience. Nice person just doing their job. Delegate it down.  We are just dealing with agencies. A client’s agency selection and future marketing destiny for a well know brand entrusted to a marketing coordinator.  They did copy the VP of Marketing who probably didn’t know that their career could be tied up in this enterprise.

The email did thank the recipients for their time. The RFP said the client hoped that the agency would be excited about the opportunity. In the New Normal that is just like saying I hope you are going to be excited about wasting your time.  Thanks and excitement doesn’t cover payroll in the New Normal.

You know in the past I might have been excited to get an unsolicited RFP through a networking connection.  In today’s world it doesn’t have much value. I know that in the New Normal the best way to generate New Business is by developing relationships years ago that will pay off today and tomorrow.  Helping prospects is a better way to get New Business than jumping through hoops.

The RFP had gone to the legal department for sure because it said that no warranties were made within the completeness or accuracy of the information contained within the RFP. We also had an execution in counterparts’ provision.  That’s perfectly clear.  I am sure that it will lead to the type of advertising we all see and shake our heads and wonder what was that all about?  Did they pay money to put that on the air?

One of the skills the RFP was looking for was graphic design. Is that like a color separation or a Keyline?  It certainly doesn’t sound like a digital or customer engagement strategy or an app or automated marketing or conversion optimization but then again this brand has seen its day and what better way to add a few months to your career than by doing a free agency review. Everybody can talk in the lunch room about how things are going to change when they are not.

The RFP also stated that only agencies that met the criteria to move forward in the RFP process will be contacted.  Agencies that have not been selected will not be contacted. The hours of completing an RFP are not worth a one minute email.  But please like us on Facebook today and you may win a coupon.

It’s time for agencies to stop mooing.  It’s time for agencies to stop dropping their pants.  It’s time for agencies to stop chasing rejection and the RFP of the day and focus on developing a vibrant network of prospects and alliance partners.

It is time for all agencies to just say NO. NO. NO.

Can a drummer out there hit a symbol for me please?

You can connect with Hank on LinkedIn:


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Watch a video called Why Agency Principals Need to Get Out of the Game.

You may also enjoy these articles:

Creating an Agency Culture in the New Normal.

What Kind of Client are You?

The Most Powerful Word in Agency New Business is NO.


7 thoughts on “Why Agencies Shouldn’t Respond to Client RFP’s.

  1. chucksink

    Love the topic, Hank. With most RFPs the fix is in. It’s called due diligence. The best relationship will always win.

    I like it when a client asks me for a proposal based on a detailed conversation wherein I’ve asked a lot of questions and the client has been careful to point out any extraordinary considerations. No rules, no framework, just a request for me to offer my best recommendations and a budget.

    RFPs suck! Please pardon my visceral reaction to the subject but I’ve chased enough in the past and am still making up for the lost time.



  2. David Hancock

    There are some very poor cut-and-paste RFP’s and there are some excellent ones. The fact of the matter is they are typically issued by indiffernent decison makers – marketers and procurement alike – who need to get out there, look at their brand and its engagement with the consumer – is this the right consumer, define core metrics and process and frankly step up to the plate. In light of the significant time required to fulfil the PQQ, RFI and THEN the RFP, it’s down to the agency to elect to participate or not.

    You have to be in to to win it.

    Now let’s talk about free pitching . . . . . !!!!!!

  3. Ramiro Sosa

    In my experience, more often than not, clients who send out an RFP already know what agency they want to hire, but they need to go through the corporate procurement process. In other words, RFP’s exist only because of, yes you guessed it, procurement!

  4. There will always be someone hungry enough to fill out the RFP. But I agree with David, a well-constructed RFP is easy to spot and it tells you the process is possibly legitimate and your time commitment is respected. Other times an RFP will wander all over the room until exhausted with the hope that one of the respondents will understand them. One pretends, and they “get it.” I love it when people describe a group with either they do or don’t “get it.” Hank, RFP’s are never going away, nor are rectal exams or dental cleanings, because they are deemed useful and necessary in our don’t trust anybody not to hire their brother-in-law culture, not to mention the dumbing down of the creative services function. The people you respond directly to are the ones who will sift through the piles and cut agencies from the list in the first round, you wouldn’t let these people cut your hair. I wish you could make them go away, but even you don’t have that power.

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