5 Ways to Elevate Your RFP and Find the Right Partner

09/21/2022

- by Regina Farrington, EVP, Market Development

An RFP (request for proposal) is most companies’ go-to method for finding a creative agency partner. Whether it’s the best way to source a partnership is a topic for another day, but if an RFP is your go-to option or the route you feel is best, asking the right questions and setting the stage for out-of-the-box thinking can be crucial to your success in finding the right partner.

Typically, the RFP process is pretty cut and dry: the prospective client sends out an RFP to a number of agencies, usually requesting agency information, case studies and, ultimately, ideas, in the form of a pitch. From there, the issuer selects the most suitable partner to award their business. But the “business” side of the RFP is often the problem. Most companies aren’t looking for a proposal—they’re looking for a trusted partner. And the transactional nature of an RFP can make the search feel more business than personal, stripping away some valuable indicators of real compatibility.

So, how can you structure your request for a richer ROI? Here are 5 ways to tailor your RFP to garner more insightful responses and lead you to finding the best partner beyond the page.

  1. Do your homework

Before issuing an RFP, do your research to determine which agencies you want to pursue. Finding the right match is a two-way street, so look for compatibility in the areas most important to your team and project. Does the agency demonstrate thought leadership? Do you share a similar brand ethos? Are they a referral? Does their work feel on-brand for your project?

Instead of casting a wide net, narrow down your search to include only 3 or 4 agencies to participate in your RFP. If need be, consider first issuing an RFI (request for information) to help whittle down your options or ask some trusted confidants for referrals. Reach out only to agencies whose work excites you, and you’ve already fought half the battle.

  1. Write with clarity and brevity

No one wants you to beat around the bush. When providing and requesting information in your RFP, include only what’s necessary. If you avoid asking for the kitchen sink, you won’t receive it in return. Try this litmus test to see if your RFP is tight and well-defined: read it just once, top to bottom, without revisiting any section. When you’re done, see if you can succinctly restate the ask and objective. If you can’t, consider trimming any information that may distract from the main takeaways.

So, when you’re drafting your RFP, be sure to provide a clear objective, timeline, level of investment (budget range), and avoid asking questions that won’t be a deciding factor in your decision. Include only the information that matters: What is your engagement? Why are you holding this event? Who is the audience? What impact do you want it to have? Also, be direct about the criteria that will be used to evaluate each proposal—responses are never apples-to-apples, so this will help level the playing field. When your RFP is to-the-point and purposeful, you’ll receive more meaningful responses that actually answer the ask.

  1. Encourage face time

To really get to know the agencies participating in your RFP, leave your door open (hypothetically speaking, of course). Keep the lines of communication open between you and your potential partners throughout the RFP process, allowing those interested to reach out, ask questions, and develop a rapport with your team. When you’re seeking a trusted partner, it’s important to let those agencies demonstrate how they can be a trusted advisor from the get-go. Only allowing for written replies to prescriptive questions makes it hard to gauge chemistry IRL.

If you really feel like pushing the envelope, include a working session or group brainstorm as a part of your RFP to get a better feel for how each team communicates and works together. Inviting participation from those who would actually be working on your project is a great way to get to know key players.

  1. Ask for a story

Oftentimes, RFPs include a request for specific tactics, predetermined by the issuer, which can limit creativity and extinguish big thinking. Instead of telling an agency to provide something particular, like a social media strategy or an event theme, ask them to tell you a story—one that can help solve for your objective or illustrate how they’ve solved for someone else’s. How they choose to tell that story is a good indicator of how they’ll tell the client’s story. It allows them to showcase their expertise in a way that feels natural and bring their unique value proposition to life. This also eliminates the likelihood of receiving a cut-and-paste proposal that’s been regurgitated and tweaked to satisfy your ask.

  1. Create your own million-dollar question

Looking to add a touch of the untraditional to your RFP? Create a 1-question RFP. In keeping that storytelling element alive, ask participating agencies to develop their proposals around one strategic question. Consider a question that:

-  Unearths their strongest differentiators (e.g. “What do you bring to the table that nobody else does?”)

-  Highlights their working processes (e.g. “How would you produce this event from start to finish?”)

-  Makes them think (e.g. You’ve seen our objective—now how can you show us that you “get it”?)

And here’s the fun part: let them present their answers to you in person, within a set timeframe, any way they want. The hope is that their chosen manner of delivery will champion their expertise and create a fertile ground for conversation—not just presentation. Giving them an opportunity to respond how they best see fit will give you a first-hand look at how they can approach a challenge. And that’s the goal.

At August Jackson, we believe that developing powerful brand engagement begins with mutual understanding and strong partnerships. We value the relationships we have with our clients and, together, aim to develop activations and communities built from the same foundation.  

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