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Requests For Proposals: Client best practices are key to their success

by | May 12, 2022

When it comes to RFPs, getting agencies to engage is a growing challenge. Clients – whether companies, not-for-profits or government entities – own a great deal of the responsibility for this.

Over time, clients testing the waters to see what’s out there, rigged processes, a lack of budget information, unrealistic deadlines, and poorly structured RFPs, have all played a role in discouraging agency engagement with this important and often mandated process. 

All agencies have spent time on an RFP only to find that outcomes resembles lottery. And many have decided that the process is not worth their time. That’s a problem that needs to be fixed.    

Clients aren’t, of course, solely to blame. Agencies also need to be part of the solution. Disciplined new business processes and asking the right questions before participating can make the difference between time well spent versus time wasted.

Encouraging agency participation in RFPs requires the process to be fair and time efficient. The client-focused best practices outlined here can be key to ensuring that qualified agencies participate and to the long-term success of relationships:

  • Before issuing an RFP, send a request for qualifications (RFQ) to agencies you have researched to confirm skills, expertise, and to ensure there are no conflicts. The RFQ should be short and simple to complete.
  • Only send RFPs to agencies you have researched, pre-screened, and which appear to have the right mix of capabilities and experience to meet your needs.
  • Ensure your RFP is clear, concise, and has all the information an agency will need to determine if it is a good fit – including a budget. You want to give agencies the information they need to evaluate the project, respond with their best ideas, or  decline if the fit is not right.
  • Distribute RFQs and RFPs only if you are seriously looking to hire an agency.  Don’t ask an agency to respond to a proposal if you’re just testing the waters or a have internal sign-off on the budget.
  • Respect each other’s time. The process of completing an RFQ or RFP must be quick and efficient. Clients should only ask for the information needed to move to the next step.
  • Limit finalists to three or four firms since presentations require the most time and resources – of the agency candidates and of your internal selection team.

As a matter of both courtesy and good practice, keep to the timelines described, be willing to provide feedback on proposals, and always check references. 

As former heads of communications and agency leaders, we have incorporated these best practices into the online RFQ/RFP tools available through Sourcebook – Agency Select™, which were developed by CommunicationsMatch™ and RFP Associates. The tools use a qualifications-based search process to create agency shortlists based on expertise and skillsets. The built-in customizable RFQ and RFP templates provide the information agencies need to make the decision to respond. These are quick to create, send & respond, and compare. 

Creating a fit-for-purpose RFQ or RFP take times and effort – but the payoff is worth it.  Inevitably, when companies use the same RFP tools for purchasing widgets as they do for advertising, marketing or PR, agencies throw up their hands.  

Following these guidelines for RFPs not only is more likely to encourage agencies to participate, but it is essential for the industry as a whole to continue to benefit from this important hiring tool.

By Simon Erskine Locke, founder & CEO, CommunicationsMatch™, Steve Drake and Robert Udowitz principals, RFP Associates

Former corporate communications and agency leaders, Locke, Drake and Udowitz partnered to deliver the industry’s first integrated online agency search and RFP tools, Agency Select™, and help clients with projects that range from finding agencies in local markets to complex turn-key agency of record assignments.      


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