November 17, 2016

Getting What You Want When You Want It (How to write a good RFP for creative services)

Those who have never written an RFP (Request for Proposals) are often daunted by the prospect. Like there is one hard and fast set of rules that only an elite few know. But there are no real rules. Your RFP is as simple as it sounds: You request available/interested vendors to submit proposals to provide such services as logo design, brand messaging, marketing strategy, or website development.

And based on the many RFPs I’ve responded to (and the many I have not), I can tell you that they run the gamut. Public sector RFPs tend to dictate the entire process, sometimes down to the hour. Private companies’ RFPs range from super simple (1-page with few parameters) to tons of specific detail about process and deliverables. But whatever industry and sector you’re in, remember one thing: This is YOUR request. You can ask for anything you want. Even just a partner to help you refine your marketing plan.

Here are some things to consider that will help you clarify your needs:

  • Background: Share a bit about your organization and why this project is important. You can provide more in-depth information to your chosen vendor.
  • Market Research: How much do you know about your audience? Your competition? You don't have to share what you know, but do convey how much data you plan to supply the chosen bidder and what they'll need to dedicate to additional research.
  • Approach: Creatives are creative. They (we) each have our own way of approaching challenges. Require a description of their process. If you try to force your creative approach, you risk not getting what you want in the end. You'll get a much better outcome if you allow for some fluidity in the creative process. And if you're uneasy about a vendor's process in their proposal, don't hire them.
  • Scope + Deliverables: In the end, what exactly do you want to walk away with? How much flexibility is there in the final “product”? What parameters do you need to state upfront? 
  • Budget (the only real way to compare apples to apples): Don’t be afraid to reveal your budget. No vendor is going to “take advantage” by offering you less work for more money.

They know the only way to win the contract is to demonstrate more value than their competition.

In fact, if you include a budget in your RFP, you’ll likely get a lot more for your money. Also, this will automatically weed out replies from inappropriate vendors who aren’t suited for the scope of work. Most importantly, you’re going to receive all sorts of proposals for all sorts of variations in scope, deliverables, and process. Without a common budget, you will have no way to compare them. If all your proposals are using the same baseline budget, you can line them up and see what each one offers.

  • Spec Work: Plain and simple, this is just rude. It’s insulting to credible vendors, the best of whom will ignore your RFP. It doesn’t show respect for the thinking that goes into a creative solution. If you want to see what your proposing vendors can do, ask for examples of related work in their proposals.
  • Selection Criteria: This is not necessary, but it’s a good idea to convey your criteria for selecting a winning proposal. This could include prior experience, creative approach, and ideas on how to apportion the budget. 
  • Nuts + Bolts: Finally, you will need to spell out such basics as when the proposal is due, what you want it to include (experience, approach, samples of work, cost proposal, etc.), and how any vendor questions will be addressed. And if the timing of your project is critical, make it clear so proposing vendors can make sure they have the capacity to complete the work before they submit a proposal.

Anything that forces you to get clear upfront is likely to save a great deal of time and frustration on the back end. This will help you get started, AND get what you want, when you want it.

CLICK HERE if you’d like some one-on-one help drafting an RFP that will get you what you want.