The Road to Better RFPs: A Two-Way Street

I am writing in support of a new gold standard for RFPs and the overall agency selection process.

Sound like something you might have heard or expect to hear from a public relations or advertising agency? Maybe even kglobal?

In fact, that position is fiercely advocated by a neutral authority on the subject:  RFP Associates, a Washington, DC firm that specializes in connecting clients with PR agencies.

Agency complaints are as legendary as they are lengthy: No budget disclosed.  A punishing turnaround time. Unclear objectives. Restricted access to decision-makers. How long goes string of agency resentments? It depends on how much time you have.

Why does the painful experience persist?  Prospects know agencies will endure the process over and over again because growth is the byword for literally every one, regardless of specialty, size or culture. The prospect says “jump” and we don’t just respond “How high?” we build a catapult to launch ourselves to the sky.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m going on record to suggest that we the agencies have an obligation as well; a two-way street, where we each respect each other’s lane and rules of the road.  If we on the agency side want a better RFP process we owe it to all involved to hold ourselves to a higher standard.

This means that for every courtesy we expect from prospects, we have to honor a set of self-imposed guidelines as well. When we participate in a vetting call, do our questions indicate an understanding of their business and their problem or are we just regurgitating what’s in the RFP? In the proposal stage, are we coming in with a specific program and customized measuring approach? And when we show up in the room, did we bring the working team or are we just bringing the sales team to close the deal?

A new gold standard?  Sign me up.  Not because it means my agency will win every time.  That’s not the point. It’s a competition, after all! I’m in favor of a new gold standard, not just because of what agencies will get in return, although I am ready to fight for every last improvement. I want it because the result will be a two-way street that leaves room for everyone to have a fair shot and be treated with respect – and by everyone, I mean both agencies and prospects.

The only way this works is if it’s a two-way street. I’ll be the first to sign a pledge demanding a gold standard from prospects and I’m willing to sign one of our own in terms of agency obligations. As RFP Associates says, improving the process improves the industry.  Now that’s a street I can live on.

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