Advertising agencies are generally pleased to receive RFPs from potential marketing partners. There are some RFPs, however, that cross the line—making unreasonable and even illogical demands.
Even though your intentions may be genuine, you need to consider an RFP from the agency’s perspective. Like any successful business, an agency must make a profit in order to survive. If you can’t quickly and clearly articulate why it’s worth an agency’s investment of time and resources, which can be considerable, then your RFP may be doomed to a lackluster response.
Granted, some agencies may respond no matter how unreasonable the request. Recessionary pressures have created the perception that ad agencies will do anything to win your business. And yes, some of them will. The question you should ask yourself is whether these are agencies you’d ultimately want as a marketing partner. If an agency is that desperate to win business, it may lack the bona fide credentials to attract business based on its own merits.
If you want to partner with a successful, well-respected agency, give them good reasons to want to do business with you. Here’s what they will likely be looking for as they assess your RFP:
1. The first thing an agency will do is to make a risk/reward assessment. It takes a lot of time and energy to develop a quality response to an RFP. So the question becomes, “Are the potential rewards worth the investment?” There are many factors that will go into such a judgment, but ultimately that critical question must be answered before an agency moves forward.
2. Are the requirements of the RFP reasonable? Do they reflect a thoughtful client? It’s not uncommon for agencies to receive RFPs asking for complete marketing plans and/or recommended ad campaigns to be submitted. Often, with little to no interaction with the client.
This type of request sends a signal that the client may regularly make unreasonable demands of its agency. Asking for complete plans/campaigns at this stage reflects a lack of understanding of the development process. And, it’s asking for solutions without compensation.
3. Many times, prospective clients ask that estimates be included incorporating both creative development and ad production. Unfortunately, there is no way to accurately estimate production time without knowing what sort of ads will be produced. And you can’t know what sort of ads will be produced without determining what media will be used.
Therefore, the only way for an agency to develop an accurate estimate is to first develop a media plan, a creative strategy and potential ads. In the case of an RFP, an agency would be expected to do all this without any form of compensation.
4. Many RFPs not only ask for free ideas and plans, they stipulate that all ideas become the property of the organization issuing the RFP–regardless of whether the responder wins or loses the business. This is basically asking agencies to give up the right to compensation even if their work is used. Few businesses can operate successfully while giving their work away for free.
5. Be honest about the type of relationship you seek with an agency. Is a long-term partnership sought? Or just a quick solution to a one-time problem? Given the investment of an agency’s time, it’s only fair to be upfront about your terms. If the RFP is for one project only, without any guarantee of a longer-term relationship, most agencies can’t afford to expend the time and energy on a lengthy and detailed response. If such is the case, an extensive RFP may not be necessary.
6. Don’t expect to find a quality solution among speculative work developed on short notice and without adequate input. If you’re not providing strategic guidance or offering background collaboration, how can you expect an agency to respond with work that effectively meets your needs? The fact is, most speculative work—including that produced by the “winning” agency–is typically thrown out after the agency selection is made.
7. Make sure senior management is on board with the RFP and its requirements. It’s not fair to ask an agency to spend the time and energy to prepare responses, only to later discover that senior management holds differing views or expectations.
Good work requires intense collaboration and refinement of a clear strategy. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask questions of potential agencies. You just need to be more realistic in the answers you expect to receive. For example, it’s fair to ask how an agency would approach a given marketing assignment. Ask what process they would use to determine an effective solution. It’s also fair to request examples of how an agency has solved similar issues for other clients. Likewise, you have a right to know who would be doing the work and what background credentials qualify them for the task.
Simply put, if you want to find the best solution to your marketing needs, you need to ask the right questions. You also need to make sure the reward for the agency is in keeping with the effort expected from them. A well-thought-out RFP has the best chance of resulting in an agency partnership with long-term benefits for both parties.