We all agree that the RFP process is, to put it bluntly, in disarray. Chances are that if you buy anyone in ad sales or media planning an adult beverage and ask them about the RFP process, you will be in for an interesting, unfiltered conversation. The RFP fire drill has become the industry norm, if not painful status quo, one that we all hope will be simplified as agencies reduce the number of approved media suppliers. Similarly, the approved media suppliers continue to strive to stay ahead of the RFP process, attempting to put their best foot forward well in advance of the fire drill.
It’s a frequent discussion topic, but those conversations don’t seem to get us anywhere. What we need -- both buyers and sellers -- is to think about this in terms of mindset and industry citizenship.
Cutting Through The Gripe
While planners and buyers are undoubtedly tired of hearing sellers gripe about the process, most of that could be resolved through creating a more open forum for questions and comments. Some planning and buying teams are already doing this with sets of preferred vendors, offering the opportunity for questions because, in many instances, vendors have similar inquiries. However, given the current lack of communication that occurs throughout the typical process, the receipt of any feedback, whether positive or negative, is considered a “win” in today’s RFP paradigm.
The main reason sellers grit their teeth and smile at the same time at the mention of the letters “RFP” is that all the sweat and man hours that go into a response either lead to a “send us your specs” or a simple “sorry.” Nowadays, submitting an RFP can feel like a game of darts, where bullseyes are few and far between. The collaborative spirit that is crucial for advancing brand advertising goals is noticeably absent from the RFP process, which is clearly detrimental to all involved.
Rather than complain about how no one gets a fair shake, let’s, for starters, consider adjusting two clear areas: the buy-side evaluation process and the sell-side expectations. Cutting through the gripe comes down to open dialogue, collaborative approaches and clear communication on expectations from both sides.
How Can We Cool Our Jets?
Adopting a civil and collaborative interaction during the RFP process requires an understanding of each other’s very real limitations. On the planner and buyer side, there is simply no way to adequately communicate a client’s broader marketing strategy, or even corporate objectives, in a three-page client brief. On the seller side, we should not approach every campaign with the goal of solving world hunger. Let’s relax and keep perspective. This is media -- we’re not saving lives! Far too often sellers scramble to create big ideas because they think that will win the pitch, when more often than not, the truly big ideas have already received their commitments. Hence, if you’re getting an RFP, it’s likely because you’re an incremental add-on to the broader campaign objectives.
While the planning and buying teams can be clearer on key performance indicators such as cheap reach, brand building, Facebook Likes, traffic driving, or otherwise, sellers can stop sending in the same responses regardless of what the campaign objectives are. It is more than acceptable to bow out of an RFP when you truly know you’re not a fit, rather than endeavoring to sign yourself and your company up for deliverables that are not central to your business model or competencies.
A Rational Pace Minimizes Pain
Another complicated part of the RFP process is the sense of dread that comes from working around the clock on an offering that will likely be either rejected or disregarded. A RFP is usually required immediately, even when submitting for media opportunities in T2013 and beyond.
Sellers can also do themselves a favor by prioritizing for both themselves and their team. Should you pitch something that was due yesterday? Probably not. RFPs that were issued nine months ago with deadlines just a few days away are, in all likelihood, a waste of your time, and it is likely that you only received the request because you begged. Weigh the net benefit of winning the pitch against all the work your team will pour into it on a short deadline, and decide whether you really want to participate.
While these are simply a few suggestions to improve the RFP process across the industry, we are not going to fix this overnight. However, we can improve matters by simply thinking and acting in a better, more productive manner. We all recognize that although the RFP process is far from perfect, with a little extra work on both sides of the aisle, we can build a collaborative and subsequently more seamless digital advertising marketplace.