Monday, February 25, 2008

The Agency and the RFP – Part 4: Mechanics and Fairness

This is Part 4 of our take on how to use an RFP to find an ad agency or creative thinking firm.

Who’s writing your RFP? Is it based on some historical style? The same one you used for, oh, let’s just say, plumbing fixtures and machine screws? Is it the same format that’s been used for years and years? Maybe it was written by a committee.

The best way to get the proper answers is to ask the proper questions. And someone with advertising experience is going to know how to ask the proper questions. If you don’t have anybody with advertising experience on hand, hire someone on a project basis to help you. They aren't hard to find. Honest. Check with the American Advertising Federation or the American Association of Advertising Agencies or the Second Wind Network.

You can even get someone with advertising experience to help you evaluate responses if you’re new at it.

It all sort of boils down to what you really want to know and what’s really important. And asking the questions that will give you that information.

Here’s one last thing. Be fair.

I’ve heard many people say that RFP really ought to be spelled CYA. Or that it’s wired, going through the legal motions with a designated winner already in hand. If you’re not looking, if you’re just trying to light a fire under your current agency, or get them to "sharpen their pencil", don’t waste anybody’s time. Please. Not even yours.

If you’re not legally bound to issue an RFP, and you’ve got an agency that tops your list, talk to them first. Find out all those things I listed earlier. See if you can make a decision without being disingenuous with everybody else.

But in any case, be as honest with everybody as you can.

My partner and I once went to a bid conference for a local government economic development account. The gentleman running the show did everything in his power to be fair. “This is a representative from our current agency,” he said, pointing to the man next to him. “We are very happy with them and the work they do. I repeat. (Pause for effect.) We are very happy with their work. But we are legally bound to issue an RFP and conduct a review every three years. Our current agency – and we are very, very happy with them - will be participating in the competition. Any questions?”

Somebody actually asked one.

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