The Conversation Starter

Writing a request for proposal (RFP) for your company’s marketing needs can be daunting. You want the best firms to respond, and you want to really get a sample of what their work is like. But having to summarize the entirety of your organizational goals, target audience, invoicing process and a million other considerations into a succinct document is nearly impossible. Here are some tips when writing your next RFP:

  1. State your expected budget. Too often, RFPs leave off a budget, usually on purpose to see what the agency proposes. But, there is a big difference between a $100,000 marketing budget and $1,000,000 marketing budget. If you want to see what the agency proposes at different cost levels, then tell them the different cost levels. The best RFPs say “for the sake of this RFP, our expected marketing budget next year is ____.” Personally, I review a lot of RFP submissions for digital media, and it’s impossible to compare them if they’re all different budget amounts.
  1. Only include references if you’ll use them. Obviously, the references a marketing firm will give will all be positive and won’t really help you in the evaluation process. Consider alternate ways to get references – ask around, have them list a client they no longer do business with, or just consider having specific letters of recommendation in the proposal (e.g. how often do they provide proactive recommendations?). Just like when you’re interviewing someone for a job, you need to be able to get useful information from the references.
  1. Don’t ask “yes” and “no” questions. If you’re asking the question, it must be important. Instead of asking “Does your agency use do video in-house?” you could ask “Please describe your video capabilities and the expected cost of a 30-second spot.” This will yield superior answers and help you to better compare the submissions .
  1. Steps to writing a marketing RFPInclude target audience information. If your target audience is residents who live five miles from your store, then say it! Too often, RFPs keep this hidden or say they want submitters to define the target audience. Wouldn’t you rather have proposals that outline what media channels your target audience uses, what drives them and what messaging would resonate better with them?
  1. Proof your RFP. We’ve all seen a Powerpoint presentation that was obviously put together by more than one person. It has different font sizes, a different layout and just doesn’t look professional. It reflects poorly on those presenters. The same goes for a marketing RFP – even though it’s easy to change your fonts, is the message consistent? As a firm that submits many marketing proposals, usually the questions we ask after reading it have to do with this: Do you want the target audience as you stated in the background section or the scope of work section? You’ll get better proposals if your RFP is consistent and error-free.

A good way to gauge how well-written your RFP is would be to see how many questions you get. If there’s few questions from submitting firms then it was a success, but if you get lots of questions then you missed some crucial pieces. Oftentimes good firms will read over an RFP and choose not to submit based on the quality of it. You don’t want that to happen to you.

As a bonus, most marketing RFPs follow this format.

Marketing RFP Format

Purpose of RFP – Why it’s being issued (usually contract expiring).

Background – What your company or organization does and the challenge or opportunity faced.

Question & Answer Period – Details how to ask questions and the deadline to submit questions.

Restrictions on Communications – Don’t allow firms to communicate or wine and dine your employees.

Submitting a Proposal – How to submit a proposal with the deadline.

Length of Contract & Terms & Conditions – All the legalities.

Interviews – If you want to interview the top submitting companies, this is where you put that.

Qualifications – Ask for proposals to include related work, business license and bios of employees.

Scope of Work – This is the most important part. It outlines what you want done (e.g. PR, media buying, a website, etc.) and gives details about your target audience and your goals for each.

Technical Response – Details how you’ll evaluate the response. Most firms use a point value, for example: references are worth 100 points.

Proposal Format – Outlines exactly how you want proposals laid out (e.g. page 1 is the title page, page 2 is the executive summary, etc.).

Proposal Evaluation – Shows who will evaluate the proposal and the expected timeline.

Obviously, this format would change based on the scope of the RFP, but these items are typically included. We hope you will consider these guidelines for your next marketing RFP to get the best responses. Now that we’ve helped you make your next RFP easier, please make sure to invite us.

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