How (Not) to Run an Agency RFP

Over the last several years, I’ve noticed an alarming trend in the RFP process – and I’ll boil it down to three words: Lack of respect

Over the last several years, I’ve noticed an alarming trend in the RFP process—and I’ll boil it down to three words: Lack of respect.

Agencies are always delighted when invited to participate in an Request for Proposal (RFP) process. While many may choose not to engage due to client conflict or the belief that their likelihood of being awarded the contract is nominal—or the budget outlined in the brief doesn’t come close to paying for the amount of work that will be required to achieve the client’s objectives—those that do participate have an expectation that the process will be fair and somewhat transparent.

Any agency worth its salt invests significant time, energy and out-of-pocket expense in a new business pitch. Whether it’s the early stages of completing the “competency” response (where the focus is on written information that provides an overview of the agency, some case studies that are relevant, industry experience, team bios, etc.,) or it’s a later stage when preparing for a face-to-face pitch, net-net, it takes a lot of hard work to prepare a smart, tightly integrated response that will help put your firm in the best possible light with the target decision makers. After all, we’re all supposed to be marketing experts and if we can’t market ourselves properly to a target audience of our peers, what kind of marketers are we?

That aside, recently we were included in three separate searches for a new agency and they shared a common trait—the big, black, hole.

We received the RFP, spent countless hours researching the brand to fully understand their point of differentiation, talked to past and current customers, participated in the Q&A process, coordinated with partners to fill in some capabilities gaps, and attempted to understand the financial metrics to ensure we could provide intelligent and thoughtful solutions that would actually yield a positive ROI. After weeks of work, we carefully assembled our response, printed multiple copies, bound the decks and invested in a courier to deliver it on the designated date to the clients’ location.

The next milestone on the RFP was to notify agencies that made it to the next round by XX/XX/XX.

Despite emails and phone calls to the RFP contact, we never heard a peep … even weeks and weeks after the deadline had passed.

In one instance, we finally got a junior staffer on the phone who told us the search had been cancelled and they renewed their contract with the incumbent—apparently they shopped around and convinced themselves there was no one better, but didn’t have the courage to let each participant know of their decision. But why? Afraid we’re going to try and talk them out of their decision??

In another instance, we finally got an email from a procurement officer advising us that the RFP had been cancelled—period—no other explanation. After a little sleuthing, we figured out the company hired a new marketing director in the middle of the search, and they probably wanted to regroup before proceeding. Fair enough—but don’t leave us all hung out to dry!

In a third instance, we finally tracked down an insider who told us the marcom team was going through a reorganization, and no one knew what was happening. Gosh. So glad I invested in THAT opportunity!

I’ve also noticed that many clients running RFPs are often ill-equipped to conduct the search properly. When we go through the Q&A process, they can’t seem to answer key questions that will drive strategically smart solutions. Or even basic things like:

  • Why are you looking for a new agency?
  • What are the biggest marketing challenges you’re facing today and, if you know, in the future?
  • What marketing efforts are you executing currently that are working and not working and why?
  • Who is your target audience—SPECIFICALLY?
  • What are your business metrics?
    • What is a new customer worth?
    • What is your churn rate?
    • How many products/services does a typical customer own?

The more you can share during the RFP process, the more likely you are to get intelligent, insightful ideas that can make a real difference to your business. And yes, that takes signing mutual NDA’s, investing real time and energy into the review process, and working with agency teams to discover who feels like a good “fit” and brings fresh ideas to the process that seem viable to your business.

It’s NOT a fishing expedition for free creative. (Would you go to a doctor and ask for a diagnosis without paying?) It’s NOT an exercise to freak out your incumbent so they’ll work harder/reduce their fees/change the way they do business. If that’s what you want, tell them that’s what you need, and if they don’t deliver, advise them you’re going to search for a replacement and that they needn’t participate as you have no intention of keeping the business with them.

After all, we’d all prefer not to work long nights and weekends if we don’t have a hope of winning. That’s just plain respectful.

How to Find the Right Mobile Marketing Vendor

With growing interest in the mobile marketing channel — particularly in the retail, charitable giving and other commerce-related sectors — it’s important to understand how to find the right vendor partner for your brand, campaign or cause. Many companies choose to partner with a vendor who offers licensed mobile marketing technologies. If you choose to go this route, here are the two key questions to consider: One, what type of vendor do you want? And two, how will you qualify your vendor?

With growing interest in the mobile marketing channel — particularly in the retail, charitable giving and other commerce-related sectors — it’s important to understand how to find the right vendor partner for your brand, campaign or cause. Many companies choose to partner with a vendor who offers licensed mobile marketing technologies. If you choose to go this route, here are the two key questions to consider: One, what type of vendor do you want? And two, how will you qualify your vendor?

Question 1: What type of vendor do you want?
Mobile marketing vendors come in all shapes and sizes. Some specialize in particular solutions, while others offer a wide range of capabilities. From application platforms to service providers, vendors may focus on any or many of eight basic pathways to mobile marketing: SMS, MMS, email, voice/IVR, proximity (Bluetooth, WiFi), mobile internet, apps and content.

Think about what type of mobile capabilities you need to create the user experience you’re seeking. Is it couponing, loyalty programs, customer care or something else? What about enabling services, like location or contactless payment? Finally, consider both short- and long-term factors surrounding the longevity of your campaign and future reinventions of it. These factors will certainly play into your decision to work with a multiservice or specialized vendor.

A resourceful place to start your search is the Mobile Marketing Association’s (MMA) online directory of members who offer mobile marketing services. These vendors are certainly up-to-speed on mobile advertising guidelines and consumer best practices. For SMS campaigns, you should also check out the Common Short Codes Administration’s “Partners” page.

Question 2: How will you qualify your vendor?
Whether you’re searching for a full-service vendor or for support to help you build it in-house, be sure to consider the following:

  • Experience. How extensive is the vendor’s mobile experience and relationships within the industry? Ask for current references and review their past campaigns.
  • Industry leadership. Make sure the vendor is a member of MMA, or at least following the industry’s best practices and standards of care. Check if it belongs to related trade associations that are unique to your business. Membership in industry organizations demonstrates that the provider is continually learning and adapting to changes.
  • Expertise. Confirm that the vendor has expertise in your desired platform, along with analytics, strategy, creative and execution. If the provider says it’s an expert in “all of them,” drill down and find out who they work with or who they’ve recently acquired — no one firm can be an expert in everything!
  • Capabilities. Does the provider already have the capabilities to deliver on what you need, or will it have to develop something special for you? If it already has the capabilities, it can show you immediately.
  • Capacity. Consider the scope and reach of your campaign. How many text messages per second/per hour can the platform handle, for example? If you’re a national brand running a national SMS campaign and it’s really successful, you better make sure the platform can handle millions of messages an hour. Ask to see reports that prove it can support your messaging traffic. Beyond total/average volume alone, be sure to ask about peak spikes, meaning the maximum number of messages supported during a specific time.
  • Disaster recovery. Is the vendor prepared for a catastrophe? What will it do if its data center loses power or if a server fails? Ask how quickly it can get back into service. If they’re industry leaders, they’ll have a redundant data center and can be back up in minutes with no loss of data.
  • Pricing. As one of the last criteria considered, keep in mind that you get what you pay for. If you pay a little amount for your platform, don’t expect a lot of service or support.

To learn more, visit the MMA online, follow it on Twitter and don’t miss our upcoming MMA Forum series in New York, June 8-9.