To RFP, or not to RFP? That is the question. If this is the first time your CVB/DMO has been tasked with getting help from an advertising agency or if you are in the process of trying to find a more experienced DMO marketing partner, there are a number of ways to accomplish this task. However, depending on the organizational structure of your DMO, a Request for Proposal (RFP) may be a requirement of your procurement process to ensure you are following state/city guidelines to hire a company under fair circumstances. But, even if it is not a requirement for vendor selection, issuing an RFP can be a very effective strategy to compare potential marketing partners on an apples-to-apples basis and help you hire the right agency for your organization. The goal of this article is to provide some observations that can turn “can be” into “will be“.
Benefits of working with an agency
The reason agency employees love going to work every day is simple; they believe that using creativity to help organizations solve their marketing problems and achieve their marketing goals is a pretty cool thing to do. Yes, they must be creative problem solvers AND they must find your challenges fun. And if they occasionally nab an award—that’s cool, too. Additional reasons to get excited about working with an advertising agency team that will collaborate with you and your DMO staff are:
- Expertise in multiple marketing areas
- More objective than in-house staff
- Destination marketing experience and insights
- Resources to share the workload
- Fresh perspective on your market and messaging
So who wouldn’t want to hire a talented and fun group of problem solvers who are invested in your success?!
At Stamp, every RFP we see come through the door is different. But from an agency’s perspective, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Be as specific as possible every step of the way, but also be as succinct as possible. Heard of the mnemonic device KISS? The definition we prefer in this case is; Keep it Simple & Short!
- If this is not for an Agency of Record (AOR) proposal, make sure you have a clear objective and scope of work in your RFP. Don’t list every marketing tool (like new logo, marketing strategy, website relaunch, communications plan, public relations, digital graphics, media buying, etc), be realistic as it will help you get the best responses. And, if there are multiple goals, prioritize them.
- Give all responders the same amount of time to ask questions about the RFP. The best way we’ve seen this handled is that all questions submitted by the question due date are then compiled into a Q&A document and emailed to all potential responders or placed online where the RFP was originally posted. This keeps all responders in the loop and ensures a level playing field by sharing all available information.
- Due dates and times matter. Do you know if UPS, FedEx and the USPS can deliver to your location with priority overnight? And if so, did you know that Fedex and UPS have three guaranteed delivery times for most business locations of 8am, 10:30am or 3pm? Be kind, make your deadline match these delivery times. Heck, if you want to be super awesome, go for 5pm!
- Try to allow a minimum of two weeks or ten full business days for a response deadline. If you are late sending the RFP out, please adjust the due date before you click send.
- If creative, branding and/or a tagline is already established, make sure to include it.
- Do not ask for speculative creative or media plans. A good agency cannot and should not attempt to provide these ideas without constructive dialogue with their client (your DMO). Plus, no one should ever be asked (or expected) to do work for free!
- Include a budget. Everyone will ask, so it’s worth putting one in there. At the very least include a range. Just like buying a house or a car, there can be quite a variance and in the end, you will get what you pay for.
- Include estimated RFP and project timelines. Timelines may include: when the RFP is due, round two pitch dates, when the award will be announced, when the work needs to be completed and how long this new partnership will last. If you get to decide the length of the contract, try to make sure it’s at a minimum of 2 years with an option to renew for two additional 1 year terms. This will communicate you are looking for an agency to prove themselves within a short period of time, but are also willing to stick with (each other) if you feel the partnership has been a success.
- Do not rely on just the submitted proposal to get a feel for the agency. Check out their website and their social media presence. Make sure they walk the walk they describe in the proposal.
- Always ask for references, and then call those references. Keep in mind that responders typically list references they know will speak highly of them, so while references can be very valuable, they should be reviewed with that in mind.
- All the teams that submit a proposal in response to your RFP and especially those that have pitched their agency capabilities have spent valuable time trying to earn your business. Be professional and alert them all when a decision is made.
The pay off for the effort put into the RFP will be realized when, at the end of the process, you have a new relationship with an agency that fits your organization’s needs and personality. The bond and trust formed between an agency and client will be vital to everyone’s success. Your team will accomplish more of the tasks set in front of them with the help of your new agency. And hopefully that partnership is just the beginning of your organization’s happily ever after.