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To RFP or not to RFP: What a Friggin’ Question.

RFPsI was trolling through AdAge last week—as is my routine for finding jocular pieces of information—and came across the article “One Small Fix for Broken RFPs: A Little Feedback, Please“ by Mark Simon.

The following was a lovely call out quote for me:

This isn’t about changing your mind or challenging your decision. It’s not an appeals process. All anyone wants is to learn from the experience so they can be smarter next time. Scottish author Samuel Smiles said, “We learn wisdom from failure much more than success.” Which is another way of saying: Give it to me straight.

To wit, the church said “AMEN!”

Requests for Proposals (RFPs) — namely, the governmental ones — are the banes of existence for every agency. Don’t get me wrong, they are vital to the economic foundation of most smaller agencies. One RFP can create a retainer that will pay for a year of overhead, but those heads need to get lobbed off and leap through rings of fire to pitch said RFP.

So, given what we know about RFPs and understanding popular opinion, to RFP or not to RFP? Pros and cons after the jump:

CONS:

1. It’s usually on a privileged basis. Typically, the firms are in the dark about competition, qualifications and where to find the goofy things in the first place. In many cases, a firm has already been selected but everyone is in the dark about ideas. An RFP goes out and — fair warning — asks for comps (at least unofficially). If you see that, caveat venditor, kids. Someone may be using your intellectual property someday, so be sure to protect it.

2. Rarely, you get to pitch it. This is a relationship business and because of that, we all relish the opportunity to pitch something in person. Unless you are fortunate enough to make it to the final round, your proposal could fall victim to inferences, misunderstandings and potential clients without the industry savvy debating the virtue of your skills. Get in person and you have a shot. Don’t…and you possibly won’t.

3. No news is always no news. In this business, it’s always important to understand where your agency is falling short so you know how to grow as a group. If you are looking for feedback in the RFP process (much as we saw earlier), keep on moving. Regardless of your 30, 50 or even 80 hours invested into the RFP (been there, done that), don’t expect to hear what was not liked. Only expect to see remnants of what was liked elsewhere (NOTE: No. 1 above).

PROS:

1. Baptism by Fire. If anything can be said about the RFP process, it is an opportunity to learn — about your market, your industry and even your agency. There is brainstorming and bonding, free lunches and late dinners, high-stress and little sleep. All of which will be yours because of this energizing stuff. Seriously, I enjoy RFPs — the right RFPs. I have created RFPs that I knew our agency weren’t going to win, even if it came with a bag of unmarked bills. I have also helped with RFPs I believed we couldn’t win, but then that one idea happens and we slaughtered the competition. When you win, it is so worth the work.

2. Rise to the Occasion. Ever been a brainstorming and that one quiet-as-a-church-mouse person coughs, speaks up and then “Handel’s Messiah” rings in the background? I love those moments because it proves great ideas can come from anyone, despite what that one old crank addicted to titles…and the people possessing them. That idea could be a new campaign, a revolutionary idea or even a salient thought that tells everyone this RFPs isn’t worth the trouble. Whatever the reason, bonding is a great by-product of RFPs.

3. Relationships Abound. Many times, I have been a part of RFPs where the win was worth more than the retainer. It was the relationships that came with it. I have been fortunate to help rebrand several municipalities in the Lone Star State, and winning those RFPs, open doors our agency could have never opened during a Happy Hour and a business card. Good work leads to great referrals. Honor that process and it will give back to you exponentially.

RESULT: You have to be objective about the RFP. Look for the loopholes and be willing to tell the team not doing is best. If you can admit that going in, work for the win. Ask probing questions. Question the budget. Discover the possibilities. And maybe, just maybe, you will win that RFP, earn that logo and create some beautiful work with a great client.

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