Requests for Proposals have enjoyed a long tenure as one of the most important — if inefficient and cumbersome — aspects of communications planning. But as cross-channel initiatives become more complex, as they move increasingly toward harnessing behavioral nuances and orchestrating intricate experiences such as “micro-moments,” these antiquated systems of gathering and using critical information are increasingly inhibiting.
Still, most marketers and agencies continue to use RFPs in the most traditional sense. I have yet to hear about any sign of them going away from vendors or agency and client-side friends. (Please, if you’re an exception, leave us your story in the comments section below!)
Why might that be? Inertia aside, it seems as though there’s just no good alternative. We’ve been working on one.
At the very least, the goal is to make it so that the templates and PowerPoints will be the absolutely last step in a much more integrated and collaborative process, and will only include information and assets that we’ve already discussed and deemed on-target with our reps. In the process, we’ll reduce the amount of time wasted by ourselves, and by our partners, sifting through and debating the merits of proposed campaign elements that have no place on the plan.
Considered Set Gets Smaller
The first step will be to determine the absolute, top partners in the considered set. RFI the basic numbers. Make sure the audience sizes, composition, coverage and all that are good to go. Don’t waste upfront time with too many folks, just the core competition.
Brief Teams In Person
Deliver a campaign brief that looks similar to the one you’re working with internally for creative and media teams. Share the big ideas, and the desired look and feel. Show creative if it’s available, and talk about how you want that creative to live and work out in the world — how it might be amplified across various channels and how you plan on those channels working together.
Sit with your vendors for an hour, two hours, or even three, depending on the scope and scale of the offerings in consideration, and have them walk you through each piece, one by one. Pick and point to what you feel works best.
Collaborate On The Best Ideas Only
Order only those elements that are truly on point.
You’ve probably just saved yourself two days of planning time and a minimum of 10 emails going back and forth with reps to refine buy details. You’ve also drastically reduced the number of WTFs in your head that typically happen when you review an Excel sheet covered in placements you don’t want. This is all because you’ve taken the time to review the possibilities and asked all of the questions up front, before giving them a clear idea of the plan to put together.
If they were listening, your vendors will now get to go back to their teams with a super clear idea of the brief and offerings that were hand-selected by you — with the aid of their product knowledge and insight — and they will be able to put those elements into a much more succinct and competitive package.
(Pro tip: If you want an even better experience, make sure there are ad tech or ad op folks in the room during collaboration. They’ll have the best sense of what is technically possible, to ensure your efforts are spick-and-span).
By the time you get a proposal, you’ll already know what’s coming and how you feel about the offering in general, strategically. If you’ve had doubts, use the downtime between collaboration and proposal to talk to other vendors. Either way, the final proposals you receive should be spot on, or very close, to what you’ve asked for.
Expectations Not Met
If a proposal doesn’t measure up to your expectations, it’s a good indicator that the partner won’t be good for the campaign based on the team’s ability to listen and pay attention to detail despite all the handholding. You’ll have — and be able to give them — a concrete idea of why they’re being dropped.
At the end of the day, we’re trying to create real and meaningful connections. With our customers. With our teams. With our clients. With our partners. The RFP process needs to be a better reflection of that ideal. We need to have more meaningful connections with our potential partners up front.