A 6 Step Breakdown of the RFP Process

RFP ProcessDreading selecting your next creative agency with a RFP? Don’t!

Check out this breakdown of the RFP process to do away with your agency search doom and gloom.

1. Rally Your Troops

You and your marketing colleagues should be united behind a vision for your brand. Use the RFP to get everyone on the same page about what you need from your next creative agency. Include a diverse group of stakeholders in the process to get the best result: think procurement folks, strategy people, and product managers. Building consensus can be tricky, but it’ll reduce speed bumps down the road.

2. Put Your BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) on Paper

Before you start talking to agencies, get internal agreement on your brand’s marketing goals, be they audacious or otherwise. Want to attract top-notch creative work? Be upfront with budgets, timelines, and deliverables, and don’t stint on relevant sales data (you can always require a confidentiality agreement). Include how the agency will be evaluated and whether pitching agencies will be paid. If an agency is paid for the pitch, your company then owns the resulting intellectual property. If no cash changes hands, then the agency retains the IP rights. (Hint: A paid pitch will attract higher caliber candidates.) In short, sending out a detailed, honest document that clearly communicates your goals increases your chances of getting an agency that can deliver.

3. Identify Solid Targets

Got your shortlist of agencies ready to go on Agency Spotter? Fantastic! Double check that those five to eight agencies have all the capabilities you need. TIP: Including an outlier/underdog agency in your search could add a little spice to the selection process. If all your candidates seem cut from the same cloth, use Agency Spotter’s search filters to your advantage and take another look to find a few unique agency portfolios.

4. Deploy!

Now for the fun part: distributing your RFP to a select list of agencies. It’s good practice to give agencies at least three weeks to respond. Four weeks is preferred. Also, plan to visit as many agency offices as possible to get an in-person feel for their people, place, and culture. Casual conversations with agency folks over coffee and in hallways can be a preview of the potential working relationship. On your end, be sure a member of your team is available to field agencies’ questions. Above all, keep in mind that the initial response to an RFP requires an agency to devote manpower to unpaid work.

5. Evaluate

Let’s not forget that the goal of the RFP is to standardize comparisons and minimize the influence of personal loyalties and favoritism. Picking an agency because your CEO’s daughter is their junior designer may not be the best idea in the long run. As you and your team look over the responses, keep an eye on the big picture. You’re looking for the whole package: an agency that fits your culture and is best able to tackle your marketing challenge within your constraints of time and money. Use this 360-degree prospective to narrow down to two or three standout agencies. Invite the standouts to pitch and thank the others for participating.

6. The Pitch, the Choice…and the Celebration!

rfp process

Smart marketers allow agencies three-to-four weeks to prepare their pitches.  Maximize your exposure to the agency’s inner workings by returning to their office on pitch day. Reconvene your original group of stakeholders to attend the pitch and contribute to the final decision (this prevents anyone from taking all the glory, or the blame, for the outcome). Review all the information you’ve collected over this process and choose your winning agency with confidence. Once you’ve promptly delivered the news to all parties, go celebrate your new agency partnership!

Gloom, Be Gone

The RFP process is no frolick in the park, but the resulting partnership should be worth the investment. We hope this breakdown, combined with Agency Spotter’s search tools, will eliminate that pit-of-your-stomach feeling you get when your hear the words “agency search.”

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Claire writes about strategy, insight, and advice to help inspire smart and savvy marketers. She completed her MBA at UMass-Amherst and has been a team member at City Sports, MIT, and an organic farm in Maine. A former student-athlete at the University of Wisconsin, Claire now runs marathons, for fun! On her bucket list is climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, dining at Per Se, and running the beautiful trails in New Zealand.

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