Whether you’re looking forward to getting the extra help for your team to reach your destination’s goals, or the current contract with your agency of record is almost at its limit, writing and distributing an RFP and evaluating the submissions are time-consuming tasks. The good news is that at the end of a successful RFP process, you should be teed-up with an agency that not only helps you define a realistic strategy to accomplish your goals, but also becomes a long-term partner.
There are numerous benefits to working with an agency to help guide your destination’s marketing strategy, which I won’t belabor here—if you’re at the stage of writing an RFP, I’m going to assume you’re already on board with finding the right agency. I will say, though, that when the matchup between DMO and agency is the right fit, the results can be magic.
With that said, let’s dive into the essential components of an RFP.
Know your dates.
There are lots of dates to remain mindful of—and therefore to include—in your RFP. The dates that should be included in every RFP document are:
- The deadline for question submissions
- Proposal submission deadlines
- Dates for when pitches will take place
- Estimated date for final decisions
- Contract term dates
- Estimated timeline for creative deliverables (strategy, design, website launch, etc.)
Know your market.
Help prospective agencies by sharing what makes your market unique. What’s coming down the pipeline that they might not know about? How healthy are your relationships with local stakeholders? What are your occupancy trends? How connected are you with the state tourism department, and what resources do they provide you with? The more information you can provide, the better the responses will be from interested agencies, simplifying the selection process.
Know your budget.
You will save a lot of people a lot of time if you provide clear spending parameters up front. When an RFP simply requests the best proposal, it’s impossible to deliver value. I promise you, most agencies are not out to squeeze you dry of every dollar. They are instead trying to squeeze every dollar to give you the best value.
By being transparent with prospective agencies about your full budget, the better the results. For example, specify what portion of the budget is currently dedicated to your media buy, what percentage has been allocated to website development and maintenance (not including any digital media placement), etc. And make sure your RFP clearly states what should and should not be included in the agency’s proposal to help ensure the responses you receive are relevant and realistic.
Know your preferences.
If you already know the agency you want to work with but are required to “go through the motions” of the RFP process, try to create the RFP to preclude most other agencies to save everyone’s time.
If you know your team works best with an agency that over-communicates, be clear about that. If you’d prefer to have the agency you work with support your team with the workload, but also challenge and not be afraid to offer up new ideas, make sure that’s mentioned.
Be specific about your request, and make sure each agency can follow directions—how many copies of the proposal should be submitted, how many total pages should it be, how many references do you want, how many case studies, request examples outside of your industry, etc.
Share how many agencies you’ll invite to each round of this process, how many people are on the review committee, etc.
Know your problem.
What challenges is your destination currently trying to overcome? What have you been tasked with working on in the next year (or three)? For example, are you trying to recover from a stagnate accommodations market? Has the construction of a new road/highway impacted the number of visitors to certain areas of your destination or your entire area? Has your destination received bad press recently? Or, is there new leadership and it’s time for an overhaul of all branding, messaging, creative, etc.?
Successfully hiring a new agency of record is part talent and part chemistry. And if you want my opinion, chemistry should play a bigger part in the evaluation process. While interviewing potential candidates for a job, you’ve probably learned the impact making the wrong hire can have on your team’s productivity. This can also happen when you choose the wrong agency.
Keep an open mind throughout the process.
Consider inviting your top 5 to 7 agency picks to participate in individual video conferences. Leveraging video conferencing technology can make any (professional or personal) relationship a lot more engaging & effective, and more members of your team and theirs can participate in these conferences. And evaluating how well your potential agency partners can effectively leverage this sort of technology can also make your budget (and relationship’s results) go a lot further down the road. However, there is certainly no comparison to meeting your potential agency team in person.
After your video conferences—and if your overall budget will allow for your agency to visit your destination a few times per year—invite two to three finalists to send two agency team members to visit your destination and further discuss your account. This will cause your potential agency partners to “budget” their resources to send who they feel is most important to this process.
Take special care throughout this process to incorporate personalities into your decision. The better your relationship with your agency, the smoother the communication and creative processes will be.
For more information on constructing a successful RFP, reach out to me here.