How to Write an RFP to Find an Ad Agency

Leaves are falling, pumpkin spice lattes are leaving sticky sweet rings on our desks and your boss is nit-picking your final budget numbers for next year. Hopefully, there are a few notable projects you’ve got your eye on that will help your company shine. If so, you might need help from an advertising and marketing agency to execute them with gusto. That probably means it’s time to write that RFP. Take it from us, not all RFPs are created equal – WhiteSpace sees a lot of them and can provide some insight to help your process go as smoothly as possible. 

First, the basics

Often, people interchangeably use RFQ and RFP, but they are meant for different situations. Here’s a quick run down.

  • RFI (request for information) – when you think you know what you need but want to learn more about potential agencies that may be able to provide the service. An RFI is typically followed by an RFP or RFQ to those who met your requirements.

  • RFQ (request for quote) – when you know (and can detail exactly) what service/services you need and are looking for pricing for the project. With an RFQ, there will be no variation in responses and often you can line up apples to apples pricing from agencies.

  • RFP (request for proposal) – the most detailed request, often with more processes and strict procurement rules for content, timeline and vendor responses. An RFP is typically undertaken when you’re looking for solutions to a problem, and the responses should offer some different avenues to consider based on the agencies’ approach, path to a solution and pricing. Keep in mind the proposals are more like a first draft, and will probably need adjusted once you and your chosen agency get to discuss more details.

A list of RFP essentials

So, you’ve decided on an RFP for your project. The more detailed and precise you are up front, the easier the process will be in the end. If you include as much as possible in the document, you’ll receive fewer questions from bidders and help ensure that the responding agencies provide the information you really need.

General information:

  • Issue date/Close date/Agency interview period/Award date/Start date
  • Question period date range and submit method
  • How to submit bids including any restrictions on pages or size, number of copies to submit, etc.
  • Contact person’s information
  • Length of contract once awarded and ability to revisit pricing inside contract

Proposal details:

  • Company overview – name, description, mission, URL, etc.
  • Current situation and reason for RFP
  • Current pain points – what aspects are causing you problems right now that this project can help fix?
  • Future “best at” statement/goal – when the project is complete, what should you be perceived as being best at (aka, what is your real goal?)
  • Clear list of services requested and expected deliverables
    • Details of what services are required (ex: don’t say “customer emails” without noting if you need design, writing, programming and list coordination)
    • Quantity of items (ex: six responsive email template designs, four two-page newsletters written)
    • Be as specific as possible. If you don’t yet know the deliverables, indicate that final pricing will be determined upon joint agreement on deliverables.
    • Pricing information you expect to see
      • Requirement for a firm price – you can only ask this if you are abundantly clear on quantity and scope of services.
      • Request for a project price in total or individual line item pricing. Or do you just want hourly rates to accompany a scope of hours estimate?
      • Be clear. Since this is likely a main determining factor, don’t make the bidder guess as to what you want.
    • Timing factors including start of work, project completion dates, etc.
    • Expectations of agency proximity and amount of on-site meetings preferred
    • If available, include audience personas and corresponding positioning statements/key messages

Agency credentials:

  • Pages/answers/information you require in a response. Think about what you really need to know…
    • Statement of understanding of the problem
    • Proposed methodology
    • Special considerations – anything that will be “bonus points” from your perspective
    • Timeline/schedule recommendations
    • Legal terms & conditions
    • Agency information you might require in the proposal
      • Founding year, principal owners, type of company
      • Bios of staff assigned to project
      • Samples of comparable work and/or case studies
      • Project management style
      • Required certifications
      • Active client list
      • Agency differentiators
      • Referrals requested – quantity and any contingent requirements (industry, size, etc.)

If your project is technical in nature, include:

  • Any software/hardware compatibility requirements
    • APIs present currently
  • Preference of software/hardware used
  • Programming language preference (if relevant)
  • Desired functionality and features
  • If possible, links to sites or apps you like

What you probably don’t want to include, but should

Some companies hesitate to get too “personal” in the RFP, but sharing these additional items will benefit both you and the bidder.

  • Approximate budget for the project
  • If there is an incumbent agency and if it is bidding
  • Factors considered in the decision process
  • Depth of your staff and its level of involvement
  • Other agencies you work with and how you expect them to work together
  • Additional projects or work that might come after this project

It might seem a bit overwhelming if you haven’t written an RFP before, but the main thing to remember is BE SPECIFIC. Know what you really care to see and give as many details as possible. Oh, and once you’ve got your RFP written, remember to submit it here.

An even better option

If your company doesn’t require a bidding process, consider ditching the RFP and simply getting to know an agency or two that interest you. You can often learn a lot more from an in-person conversation and tour of an agency than from reading a lot of proposal pages. A good agency/client relationship is based on a mutual trust and overall compatibility. Maybe we’ll discover we have a favorite food group in common – like donuts. In which case, we’ll get along nicely. Just like anything, in-person communication is always your best bet for recognizing a great match.

Do you have any other helpful RFP ideas to share? Please post them in the comments below!

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