Thursday, February 14, 2008

The RFP and The Agency - Part I

In recent months, we’ve heard a few prospects mention that they would probably be doing an RFP for an upcoming project. It got me to thinking about something we’d written about RFPs and posted on our web site. I decided to break it up into three parts and post it here ― just so you can see that JITD isn’t only about links to cool stuff other people do and bitching about the Ad Club. So here is Part I of our take on using an RFP to find an ad agency (or other creative services).

I don’t think using an RFP is the best way to find an advertising agency or creative firm.

They’re hard to write, can be a pain to administer and the results are often difficult to evaluate. And their effectiveness is questionable. There are probably some agency folks who like RFPs, I’ve never met any. But I’ve never met any Hungarians either, even though we all know they exist. So I’m willing to accept that some agency people like the RFP process. I just can’t imagine why.

An RFP is fine for some purchases. Anything where price is the biggest issue. Plumbing fixtures and machine screws come to mind. But would you use an RFP to find a law firm or a doctor? Probably not.

A typical RFP has all the staffing and experience questions, but “what will it cost to do thus-and-so?” is the big one. It’s usually the one that does or doesn’t get you to the next round. And most of the agency people I know don’t sell on price. Most of us are selling some combination of relationship, creativity, category experience, enthusiasm and a track record.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the price tag isn’t an issue. It is. Just not the only issue. Not if you want to wind up with the best creative agency for your account, that is.

Basing an agency decision on price doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get the best agency. It means you’ll get the cheapest. Besides, if cost is the only thing that matters, it’s cheaper to do it yourself. Or not do it at all.

At the same time, having been on the client side of an agency search, I can understand the facility of an RFP as a first step. If only to avoid presentations from agencies who, for one reason or another, have no business pitching the business. Too big, too small, too far away, not enough experience – whatever. It’s also a good way to compare dissimilar organizations on similar terms.

But if for some reason you’re required, bound and determined or just inclined to use an RFP to find a creative firm, there actually is a good way to do it.

Next: Let’s Talk About Money

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