Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Why Agencies are Swiping Left on the RFP Process

If you've ever had to search for a PR firm, creative or digital marketing agency, you're familiar with the RFP process. A "Request for Proposal" (RFP) is inevitably a "Recipe for Pain" for both brands and agencies. It becomes a commodity exercise at best and ultimately a waste of time at worst. Issuing a blanket RFP to a wide net of agencies is a superficial way to make such an important decision.

You may be surprised to find more marketing agencies are passing on participating in an RFP. I was recently mentioned in an article in PR Week, "Why PR Agencies are Swiping Left on the RFP Process". I know creative and digital marketing agencies agree. What brands don't realize, is that issuing a blanket RFP and wide net approach turns off talented marketing agencies.

Why? It's time consuming and takes a lot of work for an agency to properly respond to an RFP. Busy agencies with limited resources need to be selective and consider their chances of success. They wonder if the brand is just going through the motions and fishing for ideas; if it's competitive bid fodder, or if there are political motives and relationships involved behind the scenes. From their perspective, why should they consider giving a "proposal" - equivalent to a business marriage - to a potential partner they haven't met?

The RFP process can be a painful for brands, too. Conducting a marketing agency search often becomes a time-intensive process that can interfere with daily business and other pressing responsibilities. Marketers can waste valuable time and drain internal resources - spend weeks or months going through meetings, pitches, proposals, getting bombarded with emails and phone calls from agencies along the way - just to find out at the end of the process that they might just have one solid option out of it!

Yet, everyone has a network and many marketers are confident it holds the answer and the process is as easy as an RFP. The challenge with relying on your Network is that the "net" doesn't always work! An agency that worked well for you in the past, (i.e., at a large CPG) may not be ideally suited for your current situation (i.e., thriving startup) with a smaller budget. If agency relationships or politics are involved, it can be internally awkward to eliminate them.

With right due diligence, many agencies can be eliminated, or better ones identified without wasting everyone's time.

A third-party agency search consultant can objectively steer the process and ensure the right agencies are in the mix, provide a buffer and help ascertain the right fit from a capabilities and budget perspective.

You'll be more productive, get a shortlist of ideally qualified agencies, save valuable time, possibly money and find agencies you didn't even know existed. And when the RFP is finally issued at the right time, you'll get much more enthusiastic and thoughtful responses from the agencies which can help you make a better decision.

When I'm managing an agency search, part of my process is to first vet a brand's pre-identified agencies. I become "Goldilocks": "This agency is too big"; "That agency is too small"; "This one is too expensive"; "That one is too weird and won't fit with the culture; "This one doesn't have the firepower," and so on.

I spend hundreds of hours researching agencies, doing the legwork and spending the time-so clients don't waste theirs. If you need a Goldilocks to find you the "just right" marketing partner, call me. With thousands of agencies under the sun, I can help you find the right one!

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