10 Alternatives To The RFP

We get a lot of requests for proposals. I’m thankful for all of them. Unfortunately, like resumes, Big Macs, and financial services web sites, all RFPs are the same. 

If you’ve issued an RFP lately, at some point you probably found yourself saying, “All these guys say the exact same thing!” There’s a reason for that. You’re asking everyone the exact same thing. 

I’m also surprised at how many brands try to keep potential partners at “arm’s length” by refusing to meet prior to their response submission dates. We don’t respond to RFPs unless we know the potential client, or they agree to meet with us to talk about the issues that keep them awake at night. We can’t recommend a business strategy based on what little we can learn from an RFP, and we want to make sure we’re the right fit before we put significant time and money into crafting a response. Since half the RFPs we receive are from unknown clients, and half of those won’t meet, we turn down a lot of RFPs. 



Assuming your goal is to get to know potential partners well enough to narrow your choices, here are 10 alternatives to the RFP that people in the real world use to get to know each other. While they are meant to be fun, all will give you serious insights about each agency, while giving them a chance to learn how they can be most helpful to you:

1. Get on an airplane and fly first class across the country with your potential project lead. If you’re smarter when you land than you were when you took off, it’s a good sign.

2. Play golf in a foursome with three employees from each agency. Ride in the cart for six holes with each one.

3. Follow each agency’s top five executives on Twitter and Facebook. If, after a month, you still find it helpful and useful to continue following them, you may find it helpful and useful to work with them.

4. Have a poker night with each agency. It’ll give you a good chance to learn how to tell when they’re bluffing.

5. Invite the agency and two or three of their clients to dinner. You choose the clients.

6. Have a party at your home. Invite all the agencies and a select group of friends. Gossip with your friends after the agencies leave.

7. Take each agency team rock climbing, white water rafting, or line dancing—something that tells you they can work with you as a team.

8. Theater night. Each agency performs a 30-minute, one-act play that teaches you something insightful about your audience. 

9. Invite a chef and each agency to your home on separate nights for a cooking class. Let the wine flow.

Bonus #10 (“normal” people don’t do this one, but it’s still a good idea that we’re stealing from our friends at Narrative 4): Five members from your team meet with five members of the agency team for an hour. Everyone pairs up. At the end of the hour, each member of your team tells the life story of a member of the agency team and vice versa. 

Even if you ask the agencies to foot the bill, any of my 10 suggestions will cost them less time and money than answering a written RFP. 

Of course, if it makes you feel more comfortable, you can still issue your RFP, but adding one of my suggestions to the mix will allow you to make your decision based not just on what an agency says, but also on what they do.

3 comments about "10 Alternatives To The RFP".
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  1. Robert Rosenthal from Rosenthal Heavy Industries, May 7, 2014 at 7:43 p.m.

    Total agreement, Mr. McCambley. Choosing an agency based on a RFP response is like choosing a candidate for a key hire on the basis of a resume. Good luck with that.
    By the way, I volunteer to be the chef when your agency executes #9.

    RR/Rosenthal Heavy Industries

  2. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, May 8, 2014 at 6:01 p.m.

    Excellent post. I have yet to see an RFP that helped the client gain significant insight. That said, I understand bureaucratically why the client staff "has to" use the RFP process. Purchasing rules that work well for procuring parts with which to manufacture get applied company-wide and that means no exceptions. But some smart clients are beginning to see other ways of sorting out what's critical. It's particularly difficult in our direct response television biz. No matter how deeply a client digs with an RFP, in a matter of months the value of their decision is revealed when the advertising goes on air and either works or doesn't.

  3. Larry Meador from evok, May 9, 2014 at 12:56 p.m.

    interesting and entertaining - from our creative team, they point out the one thing missing in the pitch process: the client


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