How Does the Advertising RFP Process Work?

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For small businesses who may be relatively inexperienced in the advertising sector, running a request for proposals can seem like a daunting task. Which questions do you ask to get the information you need from agencies? How do you score the responses in an unbiased and nonjudgmental way? Fortunately, an RFP for branding and marketing follows a tried-and-true process, and there are a few key steps you can follow to ensure you end up with the right agency partner for your business.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

An RFP in advertising is a structured bidding process. You write a document containing your project goals and business needs and ask specific questions of the prospective agency partners. The responses are scored against predetermined selection criteria before choosing the winning bid.

What Do You Need?

The process starts with defining your business needs and project goals – what do you need your agency partner to do? This may involve meeting with multiple stakeholders throughout your business and agreeing on the project scope, budget, timeline and so on. Are you looking for campaign planning, television ads, content creation, radio commercials, digital media, SEO? Be very clear on your goals and what success looks like to you. If you cannot define your key performance indicators, then how will you know if your agency partner is delivering value for you?

It's important to be clear about the scope of work you require, such as the length of the contract for paid media. Define who your competitors are and whether there's seasonality to consider. Agencies tend to be selective about who they bid for and they may not bother with your RFP it's clear the project is liable to scope creep.

Select Your Decision Criteria

The easiest way to compare and score competing bids is to pick the five or six important things to your business and give them a weighted score. For example, you could score the entries for industry experience, technical ability, creativity, team set-up and cultural fit, using a points-based scoring system as follows:

  • 5 - fully meets criteria.
  • 4 - almost meet criteria; some gaps.
  • 3 - moderate gaps.
  • 2 - significant gaps.
  • 1 - does not meet criteria.

Scoring ensures transparency, removes allegations of bias and speeds up your selection later on.

Writing an RFP for Advertising Services

The next step is to write an RFP that agencies wish to respond to, and that elicits enough information for you to make an informed decision. Rather than create this document from scratch, download one of the many marketing RFP examples that are available online, or even an advertising agency proposal template (that's the document that agencies use to bid for jobs) and use this to guide your thinking. Generally, the RFP will contain at least the following sections:

  • Project overview.
  • Who you are.
  • Project goals and KPIs.
  • Scope of work and timeline.
  • Budget.
  • Decision-makers.
  • Criteria and timeline for selection.

The main challenge is designing questions that allow agencies to show how they can meet your specific needs. You can achieve this by asking open questions. For example, ask "What's your approach to managing a project like this one?" and "Describe how your work for the benefit of your clients."

Interview Your Finalists

Send your RFP to shortlisted agencies with an invitation to respond by a specific deadline. Some of the bidders will have questions and it can be time-consuming if you're constantly manning the phones. One option is to set aside a specific date to hold "discovery sessions" over the telephone. This gives potential bidders a one-hour window to learn more about the project, and you can get an idea of cultural fit.

Finally, evaluate and score the proposals you receive. Where two or more agencies meet your standard, invite them for an interview and ask them to make a presentation. You can now choose the winning agency and celebrate your new partnership!

References

About the Author

Jayne Thompson earned an LL.B. in Law and Business Administration from the University of Birmingham and an LL.M. in International Law from the University of East London. She practiced in various “Big Law” firms before launching a career as a business writer. Her articles have appeared on numerous business sites including Typefinder, Women in Business, Startwire and Indeed.com.

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