The RfP speed-date

If you work in PR or communications (or any agency, for that matter), you’ve probably done lots of RfPs. In the current economy, it seems like there are more of these every day.

Now, I’m happy to jump through all the hoops necessary to win a good piece of business, especially if it’s a brand I admire.

However, think how much time we spend creating standout strategies and creative ideas that never see the light of day. Because when you get right down to it, there’s a lot of agency talent out there and the final decision is usually based on chemistry or fit.

And that’s OK. It’s a big part of what relationships are all about.

Which is why I’d like to propose a new 10-step agency selection model:

The PR RfP speed-date

Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Client does online research to determine which agencies look the most promising.

Step 2: Client rents a neutral venue, buys a bell, selects a date and invites said agencies (no more than six) to an hour-long event. Client provides agency with a one-pager on the organization listing business challenge, goals, objectives, culture and budget.

Step 3: Agencies arrive and the venue and are each seated at a table. Client welcomes everyone and makes introductions (we probably all know each other anyway).

Step 4: Client then moves to table one, spending up to 10 minutes meeting with agency, asking questions, listening to agency’s response.

Step 5: Bell rings. Client moves to next agency.

Step 6: Repeat step 5 until process is over.

Step 7: At the end of the hour, agencies leave and client selects the top two.

Step 8: Based on what my friend Julie Rusciolelli suggests with potential new hires, client invites two agencies out to dinner (separate nights) to get to know them better and talk strategy and ideas. No presentations, everything off the cuff.

Step 9: Client makes selection and informs both agencies.

Step 10: Client and agency begin working together – (i.e. formal engagement).

Done right, the entire process should take no more than two weeks, and, while I can’t offer guarantees, my gut tells me everyone will be happy with the results. (And, if not, it’s easy to start over or to try number two.)

OK, for those who don’t know my sense of humour, yes, I’m joking (but only half). It makes you wonder if there isn’t a better process for clients and agencies to successfully pair up.

And if any clients want to try an experiment, Palette is in. Meanwhile, bring on the next RfP.

What do you think?


7 thoughts on “The RfP speed-date

  1. Coming from a ‘client’ perspective, I like it. You hit the nail on the head when you said that it actually just comes down to fit and chemistry. A 20-page RFP proposal never effectively communicates potential fit or chemistry. Engaging in dialogue on several occassions and in varied environments certainly does!

  2. Martin, with half tongue in cheek, are you really serious? Finding the right agency is also a huge investment of time for the client. Done right, the RFP will uncover the right agency, with the right capabilities AND cultural fit. Much better than the ‘old school’ way of simply going with an agency because you have the odd beer or cocktail with its principal.

  3. Great idea although it limits agencies to physical presence, which I don’t think is necessary in all cases. I do love the concept, however.

  4. In essence this sounds like a good plan – but it may not be totally realistic to put into practice… however, there are organizations that do specialize in helping clients understand what things are important in an agency search (the one I know is Stan Didzbalis’ AgencyLink). These kinds of companies are particularly good for those who’ve been stuck in the over-involved/excessively detailed RfP mode, clients who don’t know much about agencies, and those who just need someone to act as a ‘ring-leader’ for the process.

  5. Thank you to all of you for your thoughts. I think the consensus is that there’s a need for a simpler/better way to find a new agency.That said, PRJack makes a good point. Firms like Stan Didzbalis’ Agency Link add a strategic component that makes the RfP process work better for both clients and agencies so we don’t find ourselves in a situation where we’re simply competing in a ‘beauty contest’.BTW, that was Stan’s comment as Sta (borrowing a page from my typos).

  6. Martin et al, you’ve stimulated an excellent discussion with your proposal. One of the reasons we started AgencyLink is to improve the process so clients and their agencies work in partnership to elevate their relationships. We’ve walked in your shoes as agency leaders and seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of RFPs and the entire process. We’ve also been senior marketers and communicators on the client-side charged with finding and managing agencies, so we know what to look for in helping clients find the right fit.As PRJack and Janice say, improvements can definitely be made to eliminate cattle calls and fishing expeditions. Got my name right this time! Ta-ta from “Sta”

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