Just say NO to RFPs
Choosing a marketing or design agency to help you build your brand or promote your company’s new products or services is not an easy endeavor. Just ask any business owner, CMO or marketing team who’s done it. But here’s the thing – it CAN be relatively easy if you just don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be. The approach to take, if you’re the key decision maker or if you have this flexibility within your company’s structure and protocols, is to avoid the dreaded Request for Proposal (RFP) process.
Some organizations – large corporations and government agencies, for example – simply can’t avoid issuing an RFP and reviewing proposals in their procurement process. But these kinds of organizations often have entire teams of staff whose ONLY job is to issue formal RFPs and review the submitted proposals, just like many large contractors (including the biggest advertising and marketing agencies) have whole teams dedicated to responding to RFPs. It’s a laborious, time-consuming process for everyone involved, and let’s face it, that time is NOT billable. Most companies who are looking for a new advertising or design agency just don’t have that luxury. But they do have the luxury of streamlining the entire exercise by skipping all the formality and keeping it all on a more personal level.
The New RFP: Relationship First Priority
Advertising, marketing and design firms are not like other contractors. In fact, we don’t want to be seen as contractors in the strictest sense. You’re not hiring us to build widgets for the lowest common price. You’re hiring us to build marketing outreach that compels prospective customers of the highest, uncommon quality. Do potential marketing partners understand your brand promise and market position – or, just as importantly, are they truly eager to learn these and take them to heart? In short, are they willing to dive fully into your business philosophy and become real partners, not just vendors? Because whether you’re looking for a design firm to create a new logo, website or packaging, or a full-service marketing and advertising agency to create campaign strategies on a monumental scale, if they only see themselves as vendors, rather than extensions of your company, you don’t want them. They’ll never give you their all.
Research For Personality
Make a “short list” of five to six advertising agencies based on their online portfolios, their experience within your industry sphere and whether their size and overall capabilities appear to match your needs. Then, CALL THEIR CLIENTS! Getting feedback from current and past clients of the marketing firms you’re considering is the best way to find out how these agencies work, and what results they’ve garnered for other companies like yours (or, for companies that aren’t necessarily like yours, for that matter, but that had significant challenges to overcome). Consider it your “Yelp search.”
Reach For Palms
Meet them in person. Shake hands. Break bread. Get real face-time – and be clear with these potential marketing partners that you want to meet the people who would be actively working on your account, in the trenches, day to day. Because many agencies, especially larger firms, may win new business through lead generation teams, only to hand your account off to an entirely new set of players once you’ve signed the contract.
Respect Fair Pricing
You want the best value you can get, of course, but best value doesn’t necessarily always mean the lowest price. Think about how you try to forge relationships with your own customers – you want to give them a value proposition, but there’s only so much you can do for any client if they tie your hands with a shoestring budget. Be upfront with prospective agencies about your realistic budget parameters, but also be realistic about what you’ll really get for the money (another question you should ask their current and past clients). Also, insist on detailed results reporting, delivered at least monthly, that shows quantifiable results. There’s an old saying in the marketing business that half of every advertising budget is wasted, but nobody knows which half. But with today’s web-based analytics, that’s just not true anymore. Modern metrics remove old mysteries.
Searching for a new advertising, marketing or design firm using these less formal – yet no less thorough and diligent – approaches can save your company significant time, money and “buyer’s remorse” than taking a far less personal, rigid Request For Proposal path. That old norm may help you crunch numbers, but it probably won’t do much toward crafting a truly solid relationship with professionals who are in business to help your company look, sell and deliver your best.
Previously shared on LinkedIn.