As you can imagine, there really isn’t an off-the-shelf solution for marketing services. It’s very customizable and relies on conversations, meetings and alignment between you and your agency before work begins.

So why is it that companies still insist on beginning with an RFP (request for proposal) when shopping for a marketing or creative services agency?

This isn’t a dig at the RFP process. It’s a great way to measure apples to apples and make an objective decision. But as this article from AdAge explains, there is a better way to go about it.

First we need to acknowledge that this process is labor intensive on both sides of the table. Crafting an RFP, getting it approved, selecting who should receive it and then reviewing the responses takes a lot of time and work – especially if you are casting a wide net. Conversely, responding to an RFP – if you’re doing it right – take a LOT of work on the agency side as well.

What we have found refreshing as of late is a new enlightened process that I’m seeing (which echoes the AdAge article): Clients are meeting with agencies first to see who they might like to work with (Picking someone you would actually enjoy working with?! Shocking!). This provides for a great “chemistry check” and an opportunity to get questions answered in advance and help get a better handle on not only the problem, but the different solutions, processes and associated budgets. Then, they might have a short list of two or three agencies that they can choose from. That’s when the RFP comes into play – if at all. Sometimes the choice is obvious and it’s all a matter of crafting a scope of work and getting started. See how easy that is?

Regardless of whether you begin with meetings or an RFP, there is ONE THING that will help everyone involved: disclose your budget. This will help agencies tell you what you can get for that amount. If you don’t know your budget, then having those conversations in advance of the proposal will help everyone figure out the size of the sandbox we’re dealing with.

If you have a corporate structure that requires a more regimented process for decision-making, there is no way you are going to avoid the RFP process, but there may be a way to flip the process to make it faster and more effective.

In summary:

  • Start with introductory meetings.
  • Disclose your budget.
  • Narrow to a short list.
  • Make a selection and collaboratively craft a scope of work to meet your budget.

Happy hunting!