The Gamble of an RFP

The Gamble of an RFP

So many things about the RFP (Request for Proposal) process are totally busted, like that conversion van from the 80’s that just kept limping along until it eventually (read: hopefully) caught fire on the LIE, stalling traffic for hours, maybe days.

Most business owners are familiar with how it all goes down: your company receives a request to submit a proposal for a potential client. In the marketing industry, the opportunity often brings with it the assumption that the “pitching” agencies will showcase their strategic and creative chops in remarkable enough ways to win the work — for free, of course.

Much of the time, these RFPs are like a roulette table, tempting agency leads to bet big. “The payoffs could be huge!” they tell themselves time and time again. Depending on the size of the potential client (and the project) agencies can easily invest tens of thousands of dollars (sometimes even hundreds of thousands) worth of otherwise billable agency time in pursuit of that winning bet. It’s been this way since the Mad Men days, and there’s a healthy industry of RFP matchmaker sites that support this approach for small and global agencies alike.

This process, which is often blind, usually rushed, and generally lacking in humanity, reduces what could be an exciting and personalized experience between agencies and clients, to an anxiety-ridden, soul-sucking roller coaster for a creative team. Worse, it’s often for work that ultimately goes to an existing favorite with connections on the inside. Gasp! (Sure, I’ve just made several sweeping generalizations—some of which may be gross exaggerations of the truth, most of which are not.)

In the spirit of full disclosure, we’ve been on the other side too. We’ve been the ideal incumbents, the preferred agency, watching other shops struggle to win business that has already been unofficially awarded, to us. In rare and happy instances, the client will pay agencies for their pitch work. While we haven’t run into this RFP nirvana (if there is such a thing) in our almost 16 years, it’s certainly a nice acknowledgement of the effort it takes to deliver great ideas. Ultimately, we understand the need that some companies have for a strict procurement process – sometimes there’s just no way around it.

But, we’ve chosen to bypass the oh-so-tempting RFP roulette wheel because our best work is born out of the very real chemistry created between a potential client and an agency that can help them dream big. These relationships foster opportunities for us to truly understand a client’s challenges, often in ways that the client can’t initially see on their own (much less articulate for an agency in the traditional RFP). Inevitably, this leads to smarter solutions and longer-term, broader-horizon thinking. We start with a conversation about goals, a lot of curiosity, and look for the real connection between the client and the agency teams that make a project (and a relationship) really worthwhile for all.

So, as you’re considering how to choose a partner for your next big project, why not reinvent the RFP process? Ditch the dying 80’s van and the cumbersome documents, walk right by the roulette table, and start a human conversation about your Utopia. You’ll be surprised just how much faster you get there without all that process in the way.