Judging the Creative Agency RFP

judge judy RFP

While the jury debates the value of the RFP, here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons.

Agency Spotter’s goal is to make your agency search faster and easier. RFPs give your agency search much needed structure but aren’t exactly “fast” or “easy.” Read on for the whole story.

What the RFP Is

A request for proposal [RFP] is a document designed to guide a marketer’s agency search while ensuring a fair evaluation of all candidates. It can be preceded by a request for information [RFI], which the 4A’s recommends sending to 10-15 agencies as a preliminary step. The RFI collects standard information about the agency, such as its organizational chart, management team, capabilities, financials and client list. For your convenience, much of this information can also be found on each agency’s Agency Spotter portfolio. After reviewing the RFI, the 4A’s guidelines recommends sending your RFP to no more than eight of the original agencies. Another approach is to combine the RFI into the RFP, sending a blended project request to a more select list of agencies.

The benefit of the RFP is that it standardizes comparisons between agencies. Done correctly, it represents a consensus on needs, budget, and timetables from the brand’s internal stakeholders. In responding to the RFP, the agency is getting on a soap box to promote its experience relative to the project. And it’s more than a written document; a physical visit to each agency’s office to meet with creative directors, developers, designers, and account managers is a good idea. From this assessment of capabilities and culture, three top contenders should emerge. Those, and only those, agencies should be asked to present a pitch for the work.

Kim Hoey, Running Division Brand Manager at Mizuno USA, points out, “The biggest downside is the time it takes to truly read [all the RFPs] in the depth they warrant to fairly compare them.” Sending out RFPs to eight agencies means eight agency visits and eight responses to review. If you’re looking for an agency to take on millions of dollars of work, then you may consider this intensive (and expensive) process.

Many people will tell you that the RFP is an archaic, poorly-designed way to select an agency. How can a technique also used to select a vendor for office supplies be applied to the art and science of marketing?

The RFP isn’t very flexible. The process is focused on where the agency has been, instead of where it’s going. Given the pace of our increasingly digital world, it matters how an agency is preparing for the future. The RFP doesn’t always bring out the best in an agency either. Replying requires an agency to pull employees off of paid projects. Large agencies are better positioned to make this investment of time and money versus smaller shops with fewer resources. Some agencies simply won’t respond; they perceive the RFP as a series of hoops to jump through with no guarantee of a reward. Using an alternative selection process can get a better response from agencies on your shortlist.

Want to kick the RFP to the curb? Go for it! But have a better alternative in mind. (Stay tuned for a post on RFP alternatives.) Using an alternative doesn’t exempt you from clearly communicating desired business goals, project scope, budget range, and timelines to each shortlisted agency. But it may result in a better agency match with less pain.

So, Which One?

This is where you have to weigh which approach best fits your organization. Be open to blending the best aspects of the RFP (standardized comparison) with a modern assessment (flexibility). Keep an eye on this blog for more RFP and non-RFP survival tips in the coming weeks. In the meantime, check out some awesome agency portfolios on Agency Spotter. You never know where you might find your next agency!

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Claire Wallace