There is an adage in the marketing business: You can never trust a marketer. Whether or not that’s true, many companies utilize formal RFI processes when shopping for an advertising agency. RFI stands for request for information, and it’s a useful way for companies seeking marketing and advertising services to gather information and intelligence about a particular advertising agency before formally engaging its staff in talks about a marketing proposal or agreement.

RFI Purpose

Information is the primary purpose of the RFI, but it’s more than just the information on the advertising agency’s website or brochure materials. Often, companies send RFI’s to agencies when they are trying to develop a short list of companies to contact and speak to personally. Receiving an RFI can be exciting for an ad agency, but it is not as formal as an actual request for proposal, or RFP.

Preliminary Step

An RFI is the step before a formal RFP; they are not one in the same. In the RFI, the company is looking for information related to the agency’s relevant expertise, its senior management group and its rates. At this stage, the company is not asking the agency to develop any kind of marketing plan or strategy -- those issues arise during the more formal request for proposal, during which the company explains what it is looking for in an advertising agency. Working through the RFI process and receiving the formal RFP is generally a sign that the company is seriously considering the agency.

What to Expect

While past experience is important, the RFI may also contain questions that relate to the agency’s culture and mission. Companies rarely choose an agency simply because of its size or because of its client roster. A "Fast Company" article explains that companies are looking for an agency they can collaborate with. Part of the RFI process is determining whether the advertising agency is a good fit for the company.

Responding to RFIs

Even though the RFI process means that the company searching for an advertising agency has just begun the process, agencies still should take an RFI seriously. If the company is on the fence about the particular agency, the RFI could be the tipping point -- for better or for worse. The more time and attention spent on the RFI, the more likely the agency will receive an RFP. It’s important for agencies to pay close attention to what is being asked for and to provide clear, concise and specific answers to the inquiry.