The ABCs of RFPs

In my long years in public relations, I’ve scrambled to meet various highly enticing RFP (request for proposal) deadlines, with which I’ve had serious and impressive experience and skills.

Yet I no longer have any illusions about the RFP competition. Today, too many are issued bureaucratically, issued to satisfy the organization’s various rules and regulations, when, in fact, the company had already identified the agency with which they wish to work. The consequence? Amazing amounts of wasted effort, investments in creativity and preparation — for them, and for us. Not fun, and far too often, the fix is in.

Michael Rosen is an experienced RFP responder. A highly successful author of children’s books, he still seeks new projects — in the course of which he is required to engage with RFPs. He wins his share, but he said that in recent times “the RFP process has become a phenomenal waste of time, energy and resources. The charade of cultivating your interest, and working with you? Can’t an organization’s time be better spent?”

All too often, I also see confusing or weak RFPs, adding to the challenge of responding to them. Common problems are vague goals and absent budget parameters, to say nothing of a presentation of the situation not thorough enough to eliminate a round two.

In the absence of a “fix,” herein lies my wish list for companies embarking on the RFP process:

· Outline your criteria for the agency you want: big/small? Local/national? Full service/specific service?

· Research the field, and, combined with recommendations and your own experience, choose three agencies to interview. This will go a long way toward eliminating the finalists process, which, of course will require you to undergo yet another lengthy interrogation and presentation — to say nothing of its effect on the agency, in time and money.

· Prepare a confidentiality agreement to protect each agency’s ideas. Consider hosting a pre-presentation briefing for all contenders, to clarify your company’s situations and your expectations.

· Schedule presentations so that your key decision-makers are present.

· Take the time to write a clearly written and well-organized document to decrease repetition and to outline your essential requirements.

· Present the contenders with at least one specific challenge, the responses to which will help measure one versus another.

· Share vital background, even historic information, about your company, but don’t pry into the agency’s other client budgets or issues that would be considered confidential.

It’s been quite awhile — years, in fact — since an agency could easily land a new account solely via client recommendation. The name of the game is indeed the RFP process.

At the agency, we’re definitely up for the competition. We're eager to put our best ideas and experience to work — to challenge ourselves, not merely to win, but to be of lasting and significant help to new clients. We want to win every new one, every compelling project.

We want to win them — fair and square.

Next up: part two, the agency’s considerations.

Walcher is principal public relations consultant to J.Walcher Communications.

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