According to a study by Advertiser Perceptions, more than 60% of companies surveyed were planning on reviewing their agencies within the next 12 months. While all that turnover means agencies will be busy responding to RFPs to replace business, at the same time it means B2B companies need to do something to stand out from all the other RFPs to make sure top agencies respond. That’s right. While you’re using the RFP process to evaluate prospective branding agencies, agencies are also using your RFP process to evaluate you. A poor RFP process is one that requires dozens of hard copies, has an unrealistic due date and is difficult to decipher. On the other hand, a good RFP process is one that makes it easy to respond with clear language, plenty of lead time and minimal requests for unnecessary information. Which one do you think a busy, successful branding firm will take the time to respond to? Often, the reason we make a go or no-go decision to respond is just as much the feeling we get about a client based on their RFP as it is the project itself. If you want to work with a great, in-demand agency, you should use your RFP process to sell yourself as much as the agency will use it to sell themselves to you. A poorly written, restrictive or time-consuming RFP will drive away top agencies who decide it’s not worth the effort to respond–the exact opposite of what your RFP is supposed to do!So what makes a great B2B branding agency RFP? As someone who has seen hundreds throughout my career, I’ve noticed a few things that separate the ones agencies pursue from the ones where we end up taking a pass.
• Focus on goals, not tactics. It’s tempting in an RFP to list all the things you think you need, such as a logo, tagline, new website, sales tools and collateral. However, that shortchanges the value a strategic B2B branding agency can bring to the table. We also want to hear about your goals. Want to increase sales? Break into a new market? Overtake a competitor? By focusing on your goals we can then use our experience to recommend the strategy and tactics that will best help you reach them, instead of just checking off deliverables that might not move the needle.
• Be open to communication. Working with an agency isn’t like working with most vendors. You don’t just “purchase” branding the same way you do office supplies or materials. Your branding agency will be one of your most important business relationships. We’re going to be spending a lot of hours together in conference rooms, on email and over the phone digging deep into your company; are we someone you want to invest that much time in? That’s why it’s important to not just ask for a written RFP response; you need to give prospective agencies the chance to meet with you, ask questions and build a rapport before they spend time and resources responding to the RFP. The few extra hours you spend taking meetings will have an outsized ROI if it keeps you from picking the wrong agency.
• Include a budget. You would never go shopping for a car without a rough idea of what you want to spend. The same goes for an agency. I can’t count the number of RFPs I’ve seen that ask for a fee without providing a budget; that’s like asking what a car costs. Well, it depends on if you’re buying a used Honda Accord or new Tesla Model X! Tell us your budget and your goals, and then we can tell you if we’re the right fit by responding.
• Cut the formality.When you develop a rigid RFP that requires answers in a specific format or order, you miss the opportunity to evaluate how the agency thinks and works. Instead of making your creative agencies all respond in the exact same way, give them the chance to show their stuff by letting the agency determine the best way to answer and present the information.
• Keep it simple.You know it. I know it. The first (and sometimes only!) thing you do when you get a RFP response is to flip to the last page to look at the fee. With that in mind, be reasonable about what else you ask the agency to provide in an RFP response. If you don’t plan on reading all those elaborate essay questions and case studies, don’t require them. You can always find most of that information on an agency’s website anyway. The more busy work you ask an agency to put into responding to an RFP, the less likely they might be to respond.
• Skip the RFP.Now that you’ve gotten this far you might be wondering if the RFP is the right way to hire a branding agency. Depending on your business, it might not be. It can be incredibly time consuming for you to create the RFP, get sign off internally, put it out into the world and then evaluate responses. Unless you absolutely have to create an RFP for compliance reasons, you’ll be better off by building relationships with agencies whose work you admire or have documented success in your niche.Working with an agency is a relationship, not a transaction. A couple of conversations and perhaps a pilot project can often help you find the right branding agency more effectively than any RFP ever will.