How to Write an Advertising Agency RFP

EAG, March 6, 2019

So, are you ready to sit down, write that Request for Proposal (RFP), and hire an advertising agency? Before you put pencil to paper (or fingers to keyboard), here are eight tips for getting the most out of your agency search process.

  1. Ask yourself if you really need to write an RFP.

A Request for Proposal can be a long, arduous process, for both you in terms of writing and the advertising agency to which you submit it in terms of reviewing. Often, it’s an unnecessary practice as well.

Many RFP-submitting companies use the document as a means to gather information rather than to evaluate potential advertising partners. They do this because they haven’t really prepared themselves to conduct an RFP in a productive way.

Without a solid plan for advertising strategy or at least a direction, the RFP can become a painful experience for everyone involved. Which leads to… scope.

  1. Know your scope.

An RFP should not be a shopping trip where you browse and shop somewhat impulsively. An advertising Request for Proposal must 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, pause.

This doesn’t imply you can’t lean on your prospective advertising agency partners to help answer some of these questions. But, it is imperative that you include all the information you have collected and are comfortable sharing. You’re reaching out to potential strategic partners. They should be allowed to start a relationship fully informed about your business and your strategy.

  1. Be realistic about whether you are shopping or buying.

For an advertising agency, there are few things worse than investing the time and effort into responding to an RFP for an organization that is tire kicking. It is maddening to go through the long, arduous process of completing the requirements of a Request for Proposal or Request for Qualifications only to learn the company isn’t ready, willing or in some cases, able to actually engage an advertising agency.

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 request – even for simple information.

  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 just be 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 spends 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 violated rule of 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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