How Agencies Should Respond to Client RFP’s


I got an email the other day or a comment on a blog that I had written called Why Agencies Shouldn’t Respond to Client RFP’s. It came from an agency owner with a smart idea.

When he receives an RFP from a client he sends them his agency’s RFP questionnaire. He couldn’t share it but I have drafted my version.

Many agencies get frustrated by responding to client RFP’s whose only intention is to satisfy some procurement requirement for a regular review of their vendors by clients going through the motions to walk the corporate life.

In the New Normal Agencies no longer go out and buy a new prom dress when they receive an RFP today.

Now I believe that some client RFP’s are very legitimate.  I have sent out a number on behalf of clients when I am doing a search.  I think if you get one from a review consultant it generally means the client has some skin in the game and realize they need outside expertise because they aren’t up to date on the changing agency landscape.  Or their frantic work lives don’t allow enough time to add the time burden of conducting their own search.

Many clients have kids that need baths and soccer lessons and books to read and tuck to put away with kisses.

I recently got a letter from a destination agency in Texas.  He was talking about how they liked smaller clients with potential and his assessment of his win percentage was that it was much better when a consultant was involved.

Now if you get contacted by a search consultant who wants to get compensated for including your agency you should move on.  There is no doubt that they are a Shylock and I am glad I was awake in grade 10 in Canada when we studied the Merchant of Venice.

My new agency friend shared with the intriguing client questionnaire ide said that that strategy had paid off with a higher win percentage and weeding out prospects who think that agencies are a free public service.

I started to think about what questions I would ask.

Why are you doing this review?

Is this review mandated by your procurement department as a regular review of vendors?

Do you consider your agency a vendor or a partner?

Will you incumbent agency be participating in the review?

What has been their revenue for the past three years?  Can you document that if we sign an NDA?

Will you be requiring the agency to prepare spec creative for the presentation?  If yes will you be compensating us?  If not can you provide an equivalent amount of product or services from your firm for free that matches the time we will spend on this pitch and document with time sheets?

How much authority do you have within your company?  Can you select the agency? Can you pull the trigger?

What are the names and titles and e mail addresses of the people that will be involved in the review?  Are they involved on a day to day basis with the advertising and marketing process or are they included for internal political reasons?

Will the selection of the agency be made by a Committee or the Marketing Department?

Do you provide written briefings for you agencies and direction on projects?

Has the history of your company on evaluating creative been I will know when I see it or a focused direction working off an agreed to strategy?

What is your budget?  Not how much do you spend but how much do you pay your agency?  Can your CFO provide that documentation to our agency’s CFO?

Does your company have a documented business or marketing plan or is your company just tactical and responding to changing market conditions?

Will your company’s CEO meet with our CEO twice a year?

What kind of timelines do you give your agencies to execute projects?

Do you believe in a retainer or project approach to compensation?  If you embrace only a project approach what level of revenue can you promise the agency so they can staff accordingly?

And my last question.  Why should I respond to this RFP?

When our agency receives your response we will consider responding within 48 hours.

Have a good day.

Now you have your own fun.

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Watch: Why Agency Principals Need to Get Out of the Game.

Read: 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 “How Agencies Should Respond to Client RFP’s

  1. Great post, Hank. The wrong type of client will see the agency questionnaire as a nuisance, which says everything. The right type will see it as an investment by both parties to create a relationship based on mutual success.

  2. You know, this is a great idea and a great tool. Obviously the questions have to matter and reveal information you really need to know to make a judgement on how to answer the RFP and whether to.

  3. Hank – is this bait? It sure smells like it to me…

    if it is, you’ve hooked this fish!

    So in the “new normal”, from my vantage point, clients are in no mood to be challenged with this new, consultant side, innovative, “its better this way” think. I can see this exchange unfurling itself thusly… if I were to follow the agenda being proposed….

    Prologue to this exchange: I spend a boatload of time, content marketing, following the 411 rule, getting my channels and messaging in tune and on point, curating and creating up a storm and by golly gee, it works…. a real live, Prospect calls!


    Prospect: Hi Steve, good job on managing your outbound communications and brand (self-serving plug), due to your well publicized expertise we’d like to invite your Company to participate in an RFP for a new project we are planning for Q1. Are you interested in participating?

    Me: Well hello Mr/Mrs Prospective Client -Thank you for the kind words, Yes indeed, I would be very interested in participating in your process, can you tell me about the work you are considering undertaking?

    Prospect: Steve, we can do better than that, we have a fresh, off the printer, RFP/ creative brief that is ready to go – should i send it your email address, the one we have on file?

    Me: Why yes, that’d be great, I will get to your doc in the next few hours, when is it due?

    Prospect: Thats great Steve, we need it back in three days.

    Me: That shouldn’t be a problem, this is a pretty standard document correct?

    Prospect: Thats right, its pretty straightforward and the project is a good one, right in your wheelhouse.

    Me: Fantastic, I will get on it – but say, I have a document that I’d like to send you for your review and for you to fill out. Its a type of RFP/ project qualifying document we send to prospective clients, whenever they have a project they are bidding out, rather than simply awarding it to us.

    Prospect: huh? What is this? I haven’t heard of this before.

    Me: well Ms Prospect, its a process we use to make sure we are speaking to the right people, with the right projects with the right budgets – its a qualification tool – that benefits both parties, by insuring we are properly partnered up with realistic expectations being held on both sides

    Prospect: Oh, Ok, when do you need this form returned by?

    ME: Oh, ah, we need it before we submit your RFP back to you.

    Prospect: Huh? You need this form back before you return the RFP response to us?

    Me: Yes, thats correct, will it be a problem? We do this so neither of our parties spends time on something that isn’t a clear fit, it really benefits all involved – your group, as well as ours.

    Prospect: I am not sure, this is unusual, no one has ever asked us to do this before. Could you send me the form, now? I will still have to vet this with my team, as well as Finance and Procurement.

    Me: Sure, its on its way, now.

    Prospect: Got it….. opening it….. huh? Really Steve, I ask if you’d like to participate in an RFP and you send me a homework assignment? Are you serious? Do you really expect me to take the time to fill this out… and get it to you before you submit your response? No one has ever given us one of these before… I am not sure that my finance group would even let me fill it out, let alone return it. I can only imagine Procurements and Finances reactions to bringing this to them… ha.

    Me: Yes, its a new and important part of our prospect/ project qualification process. We appreciate your considering us for this project and we want to make sure that we are prepared for winning the RFP process and knocking the project out of the park – and this info helps us put together the best plan.

    Prospect: Steve, what the heck, I don’t have the time for this type of exercise (kind word), and I sure don’t want to bring this to my team or boss for that matter. In all my years of experience no one has had the gumption to give me a homework assignment when i invite them to participate in an RFP process….. I don’t think it is going to work out…good luck to you……

    Me: Huh? What? Well………. …… I was kidding i didn’t mean it……. i take it back!

    So, now I might be a sayer of nay, and I might be woefully misguided – but for some reason, in this specific instance, I don’t think so. I have been dancing the “new supplier/agency” dance for awhile now, and feel I have a decent feel for the interactions that one can expect.

    Really Hank, I am not a hater of this idea – conceptually, I like it – and in a perfect world where we had the time and encouragement to be a bit more thoughtful, a version of it just might work, because it does make sense to implement some version of “the honest talk”.

    I have read, listened to, and have met many “new business” experts/ consultants/diviners of the truth – and I must tell you – your message and style resonate with me for some reason. I’ve never take the time to write any of these pundits, or enter in any exchanges – because, lets be honest here, for the most part, they are full of hooey, But I dig what you are doing and your ‘tude and hmmm…I think it might have something to do with your hat too…

    Keep mowing the lawn my friend!



  4. Nice work Sir, I am working on a RFI rebuttal as we speak.

    I am considering other questions, what do you think to these

    What or who prompted you to send us the RFI?

    What do you think went wrong with your last agency?

    If only 8% of IPA brand owners interviewed felt that the pitch was an effective process to selecting a new agency. What makes you sure you’re in that 8%. Have you ever fired and agency that you hired from a pitch?

    How are you going to change your pitch process so you don’t end up with the same agency you just fired?

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