When it comes to hiring an agency, many organizations start with a request for a proposal, but what they often don’t realize is that the quality of the RFP affects the quality of the responses it generates.
So, what makes a great RFP—one that maximizes the quantity and quality of responses, and helps you find the perfect agency for your needs?
Here are seven things to consider, some strategic and some more practical:
Know Your Goals
The first step in creating an effective RFP is to clarify your goals and objectives. Be specific about what success would mean to you. Five thousand newsletter subscribers? A half-million clicks? A set of brand identity guidelines to help focus your future marketing efforts?
Defining success in tangible terms helps you recognize it when you see it. When the proposals come in, if you’re not crystal clear on what you’re aiming for, it’ll be hard to choose the best path to get there. As a bonus, the strategic work you do upfront will help make your branding or marketing campaign more successful in its execution.
Picture the Perfect Agency
While you’re clarifying your objectives, give thought to the kind of agency you want. Large or small? Local or national? One with an industry focus or a broader client base?
Fine-tuning your requirements will help ensure you get the right agency for you. While it may seem that keeping your requirements broad will expand your options, it’s the opposite. The more specific you are—in every aspect of your RFP—the better. Focusing your RFP will make the process more efficient and lead you to an agency that’s a better fit for you.
Clarity is key. To get responses that effectively address your needs, you need to communicate what you’re looking for in the most simple, direct terms possible. This isn’t the time to use fancy technical terms or industry jargon and acronyms that only an insider would understand.
Vague, confusing, or ambiguous language can lead to responses that are off base or irrelevant. And besides the language you use, clarity is also important when it comes to your big-picture objectives. The more clearly you can define and communicate your goals, the better an agency can deliver an accurate, meaningful solution.
Be Generous with Background Information
An RFP gives agencies the chance to show what they bring to the table—from business insight to creative skill; however, for an agency to demonstrate its best thinking, it needs some context. That includes a solid picture of your organization, its challenges, and its opportunities.
Filling your RFP with things like past marketing successes and failures, potential barriers and opportunities, customer journey maps, and competitive analyses help agencies make smarter, more appropriate recommendations.
Remember, your potential agency isn’t a mere vendor. It’s a business partner. So, put yourself in your agency’s shoes. What would you need to know to recommend a serious, real-world solution to your current business situation?
Commit to a Budget
Companies don’t commit to budgets for a couple of reasons. They either don’t know how much to spend, or they think they’ll restrict the agency’s creativity by locking them into a specific number. Problem is, creativity doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s the product of clearly defined parameters—budget being one of the biggest. If money were no concern, every agency would recommend Super Bowl spots for their clients, but in the real world, marketing solutions are always dependent on the budget. So, if you want practical recommendations based on your actual situation, always, always include a budget. Even if it’s only a range, at least it gives agencies something concrete to work with.
Create “Apples to Apples” Comparisons
Say you’ve gotten ten responses to your RFP and now you’re ready to evaluate them. You need some standard for comparison, right? The budget example from above works well here. By not providing a clear budget guideline in your RFP, one agency might present a $15,000 solution and another might provide a $150,000 solution. Which is best? Who knows? You can’t compare them because they’re different. Which is why you have to define the parameters. An effective RFP reveals what different agencies would do given the same set of conditions. Nothing else is a fair comparison.
Include a Realistic Deadline
To get solid responses from your agencies, give them a reasonable amount of time to complete your RFP. If you make your agencies scramble, they won’t be able to deliver their best work. More complex RFPs may involve getting numbers from additional resources and/or outside vendors. This takes extra time. So make sure you give agencies adequate time to gather the required information and respond thoughtfully. (We recommend at least two weeks.)
By following these tips, you’ll get higher quality responses from higher-quality agencies, plus have an easier time interpreting the information you get. And once you’ve narrowed down your options to a handful, you should ideally call or meet with each contender. While written answers say a lot, feeling out the chemistry between you and a potential agency gives you a taste of what it might be like working together. Sure, all of this work takes extra time, thought, planning, and research. But the result will be well worth the effort.