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How to Write an Ad Agency RFP

Related pages: How to Choose and Ad Agency (Marketing Agency)

As much as advertising / marketing agencies say they hate RFPs, what they really mean is that they hate bad RFPs; they may actually appreciate the well-done ones. A bad RFP is one that takes too long to respond to with a low probability of winning the business. A good one asks only for the information you need to make an effective decision, lets each agency know their odds of winning, and provides enough information about your company and needs for them to respond appropriately. Follow these steps and you should produce an RFP that agencies will be happy to respond to.

1. Start with a clear due date for the RFP response. Give the agency enough time to craft a thoughtful response. Two to three weeks should generally be sufficient.

2. Tell them about your industry and company. Include information about the structure and evolutionary stage of your industry (e.g. early stage, large number of competitors and fragmented vs. mature and consolidating with a few dominant players) as well as the overall size (dollar volume) of the industry and characteristics of buyers. With regard to your company, give details about your size (employees or revenue), position in the industry, years in business, basic information about your product(s) and/or service(s), your uniqueness or key value proposition(s), your sales/distribution channel(s), and your technology platforms (if applicable; for example, if you want them to assist you with Web content, provide details on your content management system and hosting).

3. Make your objective in hiring an agency as clear as possible, that is, what are you trying to accomplish? What are your key challenges? How will you measure success? Are you trying to generate more leads, more site traffic, higher conversion rates, more awareness / mindshare, or some other objective? If you are looking for help with a specific project, provide specifications in as much detail as possible to enable the agency to give you a fairly solid bid in terms of cost, time and approach. If you are hiring an agency for a period of time (generally one year, with, obviously, renewal if the relationship goes well) rather than for a specific project, give them some idea of your marketing budget - at least a range. Some agencies may self-select themselves out of the process if they view your budget as too small, and that's best to learn upfront.

4. Provide them with details on your decision process: who will be involved within your company in the evaluation process, what are the steps in your decision process, what are the most important criteria (price can be one component of this but should never be the only or even primary selection criterion), and what is the timeline for arriving at your final selection? With regard to timing, it's better to outline the steps in your process rather then give firm dates, for example, because meetings may have to be delayed or rescheduled in order to get all of the key people together. Also let them know who will be the key contact on your end for the relationship once the agency selection has been made.

5. If possible, provide each agency with a "fill in the blanks" form done in Word or Excel for their responses (obviously, items such as sample work will have to be attached or included separately); this not only makes it easier for the agency personnel to fill out the RFP response, but also makes it easier for you do an "apples-to-apples" comparison of the responses for your evaluation.

6. Don't forget the legal stuff. Make it clear that all agency responses are confidential. Also make it clear that your company owns all of the artwork, photography and other source materials produced by the agency for your account (this is your protection in case the relationship turns sour and you have to make changes / updates / additions to any of the materials yourself, or have changes made by another agency). Finally, note that a review of the agency's contract terms and conditions will be part of the final selection process (as you need to be sure there is nothing objectionable in their contract).

7. Okay, with all of that in place, develop your specific list of questions for the agencies on your list. There will likely to questions specific to your situation and project(s) which will help you decide which agencies to retain for the final round, but common questions include:

- agency history and experience (years in business)
- agency size (by number of employees)
- specific experience in your industry and/or in promoting products and services to your prospects (that is, for b2b products and services, to your industry, title, executive level, department, etc.; for consumer products and services, to your demographic)
- biographies of key agency personnel (specifically, the people you will be working with, and most importantly, your potential account executive)
- agency billing policies and terms, and their pricing structure for your account (i.e. will it be on a retainer basis, commission, or time and materials?)
- references (current and relevant to your business, with contact details)
- examples of the agency's previous work (recent and relevant)
- their "sweet spot" or typical account size range (which indicates how important your account will be to them)
- their approach or methodology for assisting you, given an understanding of your specific situation, challenges and objective(s)
- their internal resources (e.g. writers, graphic artists, technical staff and capabilities)

8. Finally, remembering again that you are seeking to establish a relationship with an agency, respect their time and resources by avoiding the following in your RFP:

- don't ask an excessive number of questions (i.e. if it's not important to your decision, leave it out)
- don't ask intrusive or irrelevant questions (e.g. how much the agency principals earned last year)
- don't ask for answers that can easily be found on the agency's Web site
- do let the agency know how many agencies are receiving the RFP, but don't send it to too many agencies (three at a minimum, but six at a maximum)

By following these guidelines, you should be able to craft an RFP that agencies will be keen to respond to, and one that will assist both you and the agency in making the right decision.

Back to How to Choose and Ad Agency (Marketing Agency)

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