The Best Advice You’ll Get About Writing an Advertising Agency RFP

EAG, March 6, 2019

Writing a Request for Proposal (RFP) seems easy enough. Heck, you’ve probably written them before when your business was in search of a partner or vendor to provide a service. Before you sit down to write an RFP for an advertising agency, much less choose one based on the responses, we’re offering some sage advice to help you navigate your search for an agency.

  1. Is writing a full-blown RFP really necessary?

The Request for Proposal process can be long and strenuous. Not only for you, but also for the advertising agencies to which you submit. More times than not, the process isn’t necessary.

First, ask yourself why you’re submitting an RFP. If your goal is to evaluate potential advertising agencies, carry on with the RFP so that you end up with approaches and strategies that you can compare side by side. If you’d like basic information, make a phone call or send an email with your questions. You’ll receive responses much faster and save yourself and the agency valuable time.

  1. Can you define what you’re looking for in the RFP?

A Request for Proposal for advertising should define what you’re looking for, in other words the proverbial who, what, where, when and why of your marketing needs. If you don’t know the answer to all these questions, hold off on submitting the RFP until you do.

Not sure what you’re looking for? No problem. Reach out to your prospective advertising agency partners with your questions. It’s important to include all the information you have collected and are comfortable sharing. You’re reaching out to potential strategic partners. They should have the benefit of starting a relationship fully informed about your business and your strategy.

  1. Are you ready, willing and able to hire an advertising agency?

For an advertising agency, there are few things worse than investing blood, sweat and tears into responding to an RFP for an organization that is tire kicking. It is maddening to go through completing a Request for Proposal’s requirements to learn the company isn’t ready, willing or in some cases, able to actually engage an advertising agency. (See question 1)

If you prematurely send out an RFP, some agencies will decline to participate in future requests. Having been burned once, twice or more, an ad agency may simply say, “Thanks, but no thanks” to your RFP.

  1. Relevant experience matters, sometimes.

Many highly qualified advertising agencies are disqualified in the RFP process because they don’t have significant, relevant experience as defined by the RFP. It’s the definition of relevant experience that might disqualify a very qualified team of advertising professionals.

Don’t limit your search to only advertising firms that specialize in your industry or category. A fresh approach from a qualified agency may be just what you need to get ahead of competitors, especially when the industry in question has significant paradigms needing to be disrupted.

  1. Size does matter, all the time.

Big fish, little pond. Little pond, big fish. You know the story.

There is a direct correlation between an advertising agency’s size and its suitability for your project. Too big and you wind up lost in an ocean of process and agency buzz words. Too small and you risk overlooking critical components of a holistic marketing or advertising initiative.

How do you decide if an ad agency is a fit? Look at their current list of active clients and determine if they look like your company. It’s okay to be aspirational and want a slightly larger agency that can help your business get to the next level, but at what cost? Understand their process before jumping in with both feet. Too big and you get lost. Too small and you get disappointed in the outcome. Just right is, well, just right.

  1. Look for an agency that is a good cultural fit.

Sure, they do great work, but will you like the ad agency you select from your RFP? Evaluating whether or not an agency will be a cultural fit is difficult when using an RFP as your selection tool.

The problem is not the RFP, it’s the order in which the RFP takes place in the entire agency selection process.

In most cases, you or someone in your company will spend many hours writing the RFP and evaluating the participants’ responses. Likewise, agencies interested in your business spend countless hours preparing an RFP’s response. Often, all this time goes by without as much as a phone call or meeting between the two parties.

A better practice is to invite agencies to have an informal meeting long before any Request for Proposal is written. You will learn much more about the agency you’re considering without going through the laborious RFP process.

  1. Establish your timeline.

Establishing a timeline is an understated aspect of most RFPs. A well-oiled advertising agency isn’t sitting around waiting for your RFP to arrive. Agencies also operate in a just-in-time culture, so the introduction of a large project may mean waiting for the agency to staff up or find a gap in their current work schedules.

If your business has a sales goal dependent on new marketing and advertising campaigns, then time is of the essence. And with time so precious, you can waste a lot of it by going through a long RFP process with a firm that simply doesn’t have the time to do the work.

  1. Know your budget.

The most common error when writing a good RFP is omitting an established budget. This happens when the company searching for an agency partner hasn’t done their homework before seeking an agency. Budget isn’t an outcome of an RFP. It is part of the RFP background information provided to the agency participating in the search. Trust that the agencies developing a response to your RFP will do a much better job if they have guidance.

At EAG Advertising & Marketing, we’ve responded to dozens of Requests for Proposal from wonderful Kansas City companies. We’ve also respectfully declined to participate in an equal number. A good RFP exercise is exciting and gets our motor revving. A bad RFP, well, “Thanks, but no thanks.”


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