Rise from the Ashes, RFP! Rise! Rise!

rise from ashesIn a recent post I called for an end to the modern RFP, particularly as it relates to public relations and social media agencies. I argued that most RFP-driven reviews are overly taxing on competing agencies – who face long odds to win the business – and also on the marketers charged with compiling, issuing and reviewing the RFPs.

It’s a time suck for everyone.

So we started a dialogue about how to dramatically reduce our collective workloads. Perhaps with some work we could cut the standard RFP to 10 questions that will help marketers compare and contrast the differences between firms (philosophically, experientially, creatively, operationally)?

People clearly feel passionate about this subject. Some folks simply avoid RFPs altogether. Other folks, like Maggie Fox of Social Media Group, have tried to streamline the social media RFP process with a template, of sorts, which at the very least helps focus the conversation properly. Kathy Cripps of The Council of Public Relations Firms noted their work on an RFP Builder: an interesting tool that seems to help manage the process, and is at least worth a look.

But while I appreciate the time and effort that goes into these tools, they still lack the fundamental simplicity that I’m advocating for in this series of posts. For the sake of this exercise, it’s 10 Questions or Bust.

Here is my first, very basic pass at the assignment, based in large part on the comments so far:

  1. Agency Overview (500 words max) – Number of clients, office locations, revenue, ownership team, fee structure
  2. Differentiators (500 words max) – What makes the agency unique? What awards/industry recognition has it garnered?
  3. Most relevant expertise in the last TWO years (1000 words max) – both in traditional and social media
  4. Proposed team (1000 words max) – Their tenure with the agency? What clients have they each worked on (similar to us) in the past two years?
  5. Measurement (500 words max) – What tools are used & what can you measure? What can’t you measure?
  6. Case study snapshots (1000 words max) – Three maxium; majority of highlighted work must have been completed within the last three years
  7. Creative thinking (1500 words max) – Top-level thinking about how you can help us, based on the brief
  8. Services offered/not offered in-house (500 words max)
  9. Top 2 firms most like yours (500 words max) – who are they and why do you think you’re better?
  10. What didn’t we ask that we should know? (500 words max)

You’ll note that many of the entries call for a submission of 500 – 1,500 words.  Does “500 words” sound too brief?  For comparison, this post is comprised of 500 words; this seems a hearty length for many of these exercises: after all, we are trying to optimize things here!

What did I miss? What did I include that I shouldn’t have? Your move. Once I’ve had a look at your feedback I’ll publish a final post with a PDF of a freely-available “Simplified RFP.”  Thanks!

Posted on: April 11, 2011 at 9:09 am By Todd Defren
17 Responses to “Rise from the Ashes, RFP! Rise! Rise!”


  • Jason Keath says:

    Proposed Readers Digest version. Max ~1250 words

    1. Agency Overview (5 lines max) – [LOGO] Company bio
    2. Differentiators (100 words max) – [CULTURE IMAGE] What makes the agency unique?
    3. Most relevant expertise in the last TWO years (200 words max)
    4. Proposed team (100 words max)
    5. Measurement (100 words max) – What tools are used & what can you measure? What can’t you measure?
    6. Case study snapshots (300 words max) – Most recent, 50% of team must still be on staff
    7. Creative thinking (200 words max) – Top-level thinking about how you can help us
    8. Services offered/not offered in-house (200 words max)
    9. Closing Haiku (17 words max)

  • sTUART BRUCE says:

    Todd, great post and I like most of this. I’ve been on both sides of the fence as client and consultancy. The two I’d query are:

    3) I want to know ALL relevant experience, not just the last two years. You’ve already made sure there is recent experience by time-limiting the case studies to three years, that’s enough. Also I want absolute clarity between the experience of the consultancy and the individuals on the account. I’ve seen too many agencies claim experience when in fact every member of the team that did the work has left. Equally I’ve seen really good people join firms that haven’t got relevant experience but they have.

    9) I don’t like the idea of having to ‘criticise’ competitors by saying why we are better, surely you should have evidenced that in your other answers.

    I’d replace 9 with “In no more than 300 words give your three top reasons we should pick you.”

    I also like the project management one, as it’s an area of weakness in the PR industry and can make a huge difference to success or not.

  • Hey Todd, I think I’m with Rich – doing some quick math, the total wordcount on the “short” RFP outlined above is a maximum of over 9,000 words. The last RFP we submitted (based on the Social Media RFP Template, incidentally) was just 2800 words over 12 pages (lots of graphics).

    I think a shorter list of questions is a great idea, but the problem is, the answers just get longer!

    • Todd Defren says:

      Yea, I think the “final” version might cut the wordcount… and also encourage the use of graphics somehow!

      • Ari Herzog says:

        Don’t forget about check boxes, radio buttons, and matrices (especially if the proposal form is digital).

        And, on a different note, your blog comment form turns lowercase and capital letters into all capitals… which confuses things when the comment is submitted. If I write my name in lowercase letters, it looks like capital letters until I submit it.

  • Kasey Skala says:

    Let me come at this from the client side:

    #2) I don’t care what awards you’ve won. Maybe add that to #1, but don’t call it out. It’s bad enough listening to all the agencies talking about how they are the greatest agency and have won “Award X Sponsored by Irrelevant Company/Publication.” Let’s face it — a smart client has done its research and knows you’re capable.

    #5) This is a tough one. A general overview of measurement isn’t important. Likewise, how do you, as an outside agency, know what’s important to measure for my brand? Maybe add this as a part of the creative thinking piece.

    I’m with you for the most part. We don’t need a 3 hour pitch. You don’t enjoy that, and I don’t enjoy that. RFPs are still important though and I can’t see myself or a brand I work for ever give business to someone who doesn’t accept a RFP. Again…just my opinion.

    Good job, Todd.

  • One element I always advise my (primarily) pharma clients to include in the RFP is a description of the provider’s project management process. Ultimately, ongoing success will rest squarely on this unglamorous, but vital workflow structure.

  • David says:

    Kill question #9. It doesn’t have anything to do with the company or proposal, and no matter how it’s answered, will make them sound whiny. That, and the best answer will always be the same: find the two best agencies that have prices through the roof and compare yourself to them; you’ll suddenly be in the company of masters, yet look like a bargain in comparison.

    I admire you for putting some aspect of a solution out there, but what you’re writing is what a RFP should be, and would be, if the majority of RFPs weren’t written by copy/pasting other poor excuses for RFPs.

    We’ve written a number of articles on the subject which you might also feel inline with your own:

    “9 tips for running a more considerate procurement (RFP) process”: http://blog.confluentforms.com/2010/01/9-tips-for-running-more-considerate.html

    “6 steps to writing a better Request for Proposals, a primer”: http://blog.confluentforms.com/2009/06/6-steps-to-writing-better-request-for.html

    and my personal favorite, “Requests for Proposals (RFP), the Drinking Game”: http://blog.confluentforms.com/2011/03/requests-for-proposals-rfp-drinking.html

    I included that last one as a good list of things to NOT have in your RFP :)

  • I like it. I like how you shorten time frames and try to force agencies to talk about the competition and what differentiates them.

    If you add it all up, it’s still a 15 page RFP. I guess that’s a win.

    • Todd Defren says:

      Aww, crap, that’s still 15 pages? That ain’t a win. I gotta think about that.

      • Paula R. says:

        Hi Todd,

        Great idea and interesting list. It occurs to me that #2 and #9 are the same discussion and could be merged; as are #3 and #6.

        Also, perhaps you could add an item called ‘Critical Success Factors’ that would incorporate #5 on measurement, as well as Steve’s suggestion on project management process, aka an opportunity to talk about what the client needs to make available to the agency in terms of time, information, honest disclosure, etc….the two-way effort essential for success.

      • Todd Defren says:

        Excellent feedback from my Irish friend!

Leave a Reply

Show some social media love would ya?

RSS logo Subscribe by Email

RSS logo RSS Feed


PostRank Topblogs 2009 - #3 in PR

View Todd 

Defren's profile on LinkedIn