4 Awesome RFP Alternatives for Your Creative Agency Search

RFP got you down? We have a cure for what ails you.

RFP alternatives

Here at Agency Spotter, we’ve devoted a good bit of time to discussing the RFP’s role in the creative agency search. Since it is often (but not always) how brands select their agencies of record (AOR), how could we not? Yet a growing number of marketers and agency folks have been frustrated by the time, money, and effort the RFP requires.

From this frustration comes alternatives. Consider these four if you’re looking for a fresh way to select your next agency.

1. Discovery + Development

One approach is to put down the RFP and back away slowly. Instead, try a two-part process. From a tailored Agency Spotter search, identify an agency that has expertise relevant to your project and is within your budget range. Partner with this agency for a Discovery phase. For a flat fee, the agency digs deeper into your marketing problem, similar to a professional consultation. Based on their experience, the agency explains how they would tackle your project. You not only gain valuable insight but also learn if this agency is right for you.

At the close of the Discovery phase, you can choose to continue with that agency or use what you learned in Discovery to explore other candidates with a short-and-sweet Development RFP. A Development RFP is a detailed, precise, and actionable description of the project scope gained from the Discovery phase. Agencies who respond know exactly what they’re getting into, cutting out unnecessary confusion. And sending out a targeted document makes it easier for agencies to respond. By teaming up with experts from the beginning of your agency search, the resulting process is a more efficient, better defined experience.

2. The Expository Sketch

The Expository Sketch is a selection strategy proposed by a web strategist at Stanford, Zach Chandler. He does away with document-to-document communication and instead recommends an “open a dialog about the parameters of a  project.” The client explains their problem and invites commentary from a very short list of agencies (three is recommended). From the conversations that ensue, the client moves forward with the agency with the best ideas. No expensive (for the agency) spec work necessary. Chandler argues that this approach opens the door for more creative solutions to the client’s problem. The hard requirements of the project come later with the formal contract.

Chandler’s RFP alternative assumes that you already know a few agencies with the capabilities to solve your marketing problem. If you don’t, a search on Agency Spotter will help you find them.

3. The Sample Project

Another alternative is to invite a few (ideally three and no more than five) agencies to work on a sample project. The project isn’t spec work, it isn’t a pitch. It’s a day of collaboration between you and a candidate agency to solve a creative and strategic dilemma. Often the sample project is pulled from the client’s current marketing problems. As Jaci Russo points out on the Fuel Lines blog, working on a sample project together allows you to take each agency on a daylong date, while the traditional RFP is as fun as a blind date.

4. Crowd Source Creativity

In late 2012, Aloft Hotels came up with a new way to find new PR firm: Twitter.

Using the hashtag #RFTweet, this branch of Starwood Hotels used the social media channel to source and vet agency candidates. 240 agencies created social content in an effort to convince Aloft that they were “the one.” 15 agencies made it to the second round, then whittled down to six agencies. After pitches, a winner was chosen, all without a single RFP. Adopting an outside-the-box selection approach such as Aloft’s can attract the quality of agency talent you want at a fraction of the paperwork.


Go Ahead, Mix Things Up

While it may seem strange to forgo the traditional RFP, shaking things up by trying a new approach could help you get out of a cycle of frustration and wasted resources. Pick the option above that best meets your needs and get started on Agency Spotter. Your next agency search may be your most productive yet!

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Claire Wallace