BY MATTHEW BIRCHARD

About half of the Requests for Proposals (RFPs) we receive won’t yield quality responses because they’re written incorrectly.  Here are some tips for writing an RFP that will get results.

Marketing and creative services can be difficult to compare, due in large part to the subjective nature of creativity. It is much harder to compare “apples to apples” for creative services than if you were hiring a construction contractor.  Yet, when businesses are issuing RFPs, they must find a way to compare different service providers.  Here are some tips for authoring an RFP that will get you quality responses and help you to find a qualified marketing and creative firm.

1.  Let respondents be creative.  This is what you’re buying, so please don’t restrict responses by putting page count limits, requiring double spacing, double-sided, 12 pt. Courier font and 30% post-consumer waste recycled paper with no binding. It’s like telling your creative team to create an ad but only use Microsoft Word to do it.  RFPs are not the place for finding freedom within the form and you’ll get a terrible result.

2.  Know why you’re issuing the RFP.  I have had to ask more than once why a certain business is issuing an RFP because there was no clear goal defined.  Please know the reasons why you need to hire a marketing agency.

3.  Define and share a budget.  Marketing budgets are important for many reasons and are integral to the success or failure of your marketing.  If you don’t tell us how much you have to spend, we may not have an incentive to respond.

4.  Ask questions that will yield answers other than “yes” or “no”.  For instance, don’t ask: “Does your agency have the available capacity to meet our needs?”  Instead ask: “Describe the approximate number of hours it may take your firm to meet our needs and what percentage of total available capacity this may represent.”

5.  Be sure your scoring/evaluation system for the RFP makes sense and values the marketing services you’re buying.  Giving 30% of a total score to whether I followed your rules and gave you unbound, double-sided, double-spaced 12 pt. Courier font on 30% post-consumer waste recycled paper, grossly undervalues the 70% that presumably has to do with marketing and creative services.  If you want to hire someone to follow your rules, you might not find the best objective solution to your business’ challenges.

6.  If you must have a separate Vendor Qualification, don’t make that more cumbersome than the RFP.  I’ve won RFPs where the initial Vendor Qualification took substantially more effort to respond to than the actual RFP.  By the time I’d qualified, I’d answered more than half of the typical questions asked in an RFP.  Keep this in mind, and be reasonable.  For marketing and creative services, you should just combine this within the RFP.

7. Provide a reasonable amount of time for agencies to respond. The pace of everything continues to accelerate, but be fair and reasonable in your timeline for responses.  Allow two weeks for respondents to do a thorough job. This shows that you’re respectful of the agency’s time and should yield better and potentially more responses.

8. Include multiple in person interviews with the team from the agency that will support your account. In person meetings are typically part of an RFP process, but I believe they should be given more importance and weight than I often see them allocated. If you’re going through the RFP process to help determine how different agencies compare on paper, take the time to see how they compare in person. Finding an agency partner involves getting to know both the firm and the individuals you’ll be working with, and making sure you’re the right fit is critical. Because once you’ve made a selection and hired a firm, you’ll be interacting with them constantly. Making a change due to the fit or chemistry not being right will be another investment in time and resources to locate a different partner.

Ultimately, my top tip is to skip the RFP altogether unless you’re compelled to for compliance reasons.  RFPs can help you determine the stats of various agencies you’re considering, but I’ve found that less formal conversations, and more of them, can lead to better business relationships and creative collaborations.  Talk through your needs, share your goals, challenges, and expectations. Once you’ve done this and engaged with a few prospective agencies, you should have a very good sense of which will be able to best partner with you to make your marketing a success.