Maximize the Effectiveness of an RFP

As agencies and clients alike feel the pressure of conducting business as usual during a recession, one common denominator of their relationship is becoming more important than ever: the request for proposal (RFP). Issued by clients to define the needs of an upcoming initiative, a well-crafted RFP clearly and succinctly outlines the project, and it gives agency executives enough information to then respond in kind with a proposed plan of attack. Likewise, a poorly worded RFP hinders both parties, as agencies’ responses likely won’t meet the needs of the client, and miscommunications up front could lead to an ill-fated partnership. To avoid mismatches before ever signing on the dotted line, consider the following best practices offered by communications executives on both sides of the fence. â–¶ When creating an RFP, be specific and thorough. It’s easy to criticize less-than-stellar agency responses, but the clients have the first responsibility to create an RFP that elicits strong replies. These executives should always be very specific about the scope of the task, including any potential challenges and/or hindrances. Budgets and timeframes must be spelled out in the beginning to prevent any misunderstandings down the road, and the overview should define the functional needs of the project—for example, media relations, marketing, product launch, etc. Specifically, communications executives on the client side should remember to include the following RFP components: • Background • Goals • Timeframe (planning, execution, evaluation, etc.) • General needs • Desired deliverables • Target audiences • Budget • Instructions for how bidders should submit proposals for consideration • Expectations of bidder qualifications • Standard for evaluating bidder proposals â–¶ Determine your expectations of the agency before sending out an RFP. Once the RFP is issued and the proposals begin pouring in, the diversity and breadth of information can be overwhelming. If you don’t set clear goals for yourself beforehand, this influx can prevent you from seeing the forest for the trees. To avoid losing focus, make a list of the qualities you want in an agency partner and reference that list again after sifting through the proposals. It will help keep your priorities straight. Lisa Maini, principal and founder of myMarketingManager, says, “I focus on price, value, flexibility, customization and customer service—not necessarily in that order.” â–¶ KISS (translation: keep it simple, stupid). Curiosity may have killed the cat, but verbosity is often the downfall of communications executives when it comes to responding to RFPs. “As a public affairs director who has put out several RFPs over the last three or four years, I’m amazed at how much language is used to tell us what the strategy and tasks are,” says Jon Myers of the California Integrated Waste Management Board. “It’s all about keeping it simple, getting to the point and telling me how the firm will achieve success for our government agency.” Indeed, responding to an RFP with specific recommendations for the client seems to be among the most important elements. “When issuing RFPs and looking at responses, I tend to focus on information/recommendations from the agency on how they can help my company/project meet its goals and objectives,” says Jose Zavala, director of global communications at Fox Mobile Group. â–¶ Go beyond a résumé-style response to include actionable items in the context of the task at hand. Noting your agency’s past accolades and success stories might seem like a good idea at first, but doing so won’t engender a positive response from the potential client. “A lot of RFP proposals tend to focus on past experiences, but they don’t always include detailed information on how [the agency] can help with the proposed task/project,” Zavala says. Instead, focus on creative ideas and strategies, and your organization’s reputation will speak for itself. It’s also wise to put more emphasis on proposed solutions for the future endeavor. “With the last RFP we issued, the agency that was awarded the project gave a high-level overview of what they proposed would be a good plan to initiate,” Zavala says. “The other proposals only included background about the agency, its staff and past work—all good, but we wanted to see something more robust about how agency thought, and about its creativity.” PRN CONTACTS: Jose Zavala,; Jon Myers,; Lisa Maini,

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