RFP Process: Look Inward Before You Do Anything

Robert Udowitz: Look to your competitors to handicap your RFP odds.
Robert Udowitz: Look to your competitors to handicap your RFP odds.

Agencies have a love-hate relationship with requests for proposals (RFPs). Okay, it’s mostly hate. However, from our perspective, it’s not the RFP per se, but typically the process that lead them to abhor and recoil from what should be a clean, simple and honest method of evaluating one firm over another.

When done correctly, an RFP can effectively detail an organization’s PR needs and requirements. It provides a solid foundation for an agency search that will help brands and organizations to hire and retain an agency that constitutes the right fit.

For PR agencies, RFPs also reflect a business and financial reality. According to the PR Council, one-third of new agency business stems from the RFP process.

When an agency receives an RFP, the fork in the road is evident: “Should we compete and, if so, how should we respond?”

That response is where the rubber meets the road. Your odds of winning new business are directly related to the number and the quality of agencies with which you’re competing.

Unless your agency can show that a combination of your past experience, current expertise and forward thinking is better than your competition, you must seriously weigh the benefits of putting your time and resources into a response for any RFP that crosses your desk.

Is there one guaranteed method of winning an RFP? Probably not. But here are three tips toward greater RFP response success:

  • Evaluate your agency’s response readiness. The best agencies dedicate a separate team to analyze why they may have lost an account. Studying your losses and rereading old proposals (both winners and losers) are the best ways to prepare for your next win. Also, don’t try to shoehorn tangential work into a proposal and then wonder why you were eliminated. If you are not transportation experts, don’t rationalize that the work you did for a bicycle company will help a potential client in the automotive industry. It doesn’t work that way.
  • Prepare a winning proposal. We know some agencies are concerned about sharing proprietary ideas during the RFP process. That’s what NDAs are for, and we don’t recommend agencies jump into any search process without one. Don’t hold back in your response to an RFP. This is your one and only opportunity to impress a potential client away with how great your agency is. If you’ve decided to pursue an RFP, toss out the template response and put your all into demonstrating what your firm can offer. Show what you know and how your new client will benefit.
  • Provide something not requested. Going the extra mile impresses new clients and is a clear way of showing that you can be both proactive and creative. And offering client references who will vouch for your proactivity and your ability to stay one step ahead of them is often a recipe for sweet icing on the cake.

Robert Udowitz is principal of RFP Associates and senior counselor at Gould+Partners. He can be reached at [email protected], follow him on Twitter: @rudowitz