How to Write a Rock-Star Marketing RFP

It’s a new year and that means new projects and new budgets. So how do you plan on spending those fiscal dollars? A new marketing campaign? A responsive website? A brand-new brand?

The fact is you probably have all those dollars spent well before the year even starts. It’s just a matter of finding the right team to work with. If you are like many of our convention and visitors bureau (CVB) clients or national Greek (sororities and fraternities) clients, you likely have to put together a public Request for Proposal (RFP) to find that perfect agency partner. For some, this may be old hat, but for the newbies out there, the whole process can feel overwhelming. Add to that the pressure of picking a successful match and this might seem worse than speed dating. Don’t worry, though, we’re here to offer insider tips on creating an RFP that will have agencies begging to work with you.

Grab your keyboard and get ready to take notes (or better yet, just bookmark the page) because by the time you’re done reading this blog, you’ll be an RFP machine.

Writing a rock-star RFP

Start with the history of your organization, but don’t make it epic.

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?

Tell us your objective. Why are you creating an RFP in the first place?

  • Keep it to the point and as brief as possible — you’ll get to add more details later in the document. Think of this as the “less is more” section.
  • Example: Company A is looking to hire an agency to design and develop a responsive website to help increase awareness about their products.

Elaborate on the specifications of your project.

  • So you need a website; what does that website need to do? How do you want it to function?
  • You need a new brochure? Great, how many pages is it? How much do you want to spend on printing?
  • Will we need to design, develop, write copy, host a photo shoot, animate a video, stand on our head?
  • Think of this section as the “more is better” section, so be descriptive and don’t skimp on what you need.

After you tell us all the details, let us know what you expect the final deliverable to be.

  • If you are looking for a new brand, what do you need to receive from us to check the project off the list?
    • Do you need a logo with all the file types? What about a brand standards guide? Do you need new business cards to go with your new logo?
    • Essentially we want to know exactly what you want to walk away with. If it’s a list of 50 things, that’s totally fine because at the end of the day, knowing what those 50 things are helps us put together a budget that reflects those items. There won’t be any surprise costs because everyone knows what they are getting into.

Money, money, money

  • It’s never the fun part, but we really would appreciate it if you told us the budget for the project. Why? Because we like to know if it makes sense to respond. Plus, if we really want to work with you, we will do whatever we can to meet your financial needs.
  • No one wants to choke on a cost if they don’t have to. Being up front about your cost saves everyone time and trouble. Not sure what the right cost is ask some of your peers for ranges that they may have paid for like services.

What kind of timeline are we talking about?

  • We all know that everyone wanted the project done yesterday. But, realistically, what kind of timing are we looking at? A month? Six months? More? Less? Again, we want to work with you, so throw us a bone so we can meet those expectations.
  • When you are working out a timeline, keep in mind your organizations’ schedule. Are there months that you know will be busier than others? Also, think about the importance of a high-quality product and understand that it’s not a great idea to rush a major brand over-haul.

Now what do you want us to provide you with?

  • You’ve told us what you need; now tell us what we can provide you with, such as information, samples, etc. Please be specific, like this:
    • Five work examples
    • Five references with emails & phone numbers
    • Team member bios
    • You get the picture
  • If you have specific questions you want us to answer, state them in plain English. Things move faster for everyone when we don’t have to pull our decoder rings out.

Submission requirements

  • Planning to have a whole team review the RFPs, ask what type of submission format they prefer. Or determine what’s the best way to share multiple pages of copy among multiple people.
  • A lot of people still love reading a printout, but a good RFP can be more than 30 pages. Do you really want that kind of deforestation on your hands?

Weeding out the riff-raff

  • We know there is a fear that an RFP will bring in some unsavory types, but you shouldn’t have a hard time picking them out of the crowd. If your RFP request was clear and concise, the riff-raff will self-select right away. Why? Because they don’t have the capabilities to meet your request, and they know you are well-educated in what you are looking for so you’ll likely be able to see right through them.
  • Not all of them self-selected? No problem. Do a little research on them and compare to your front-runners. It’s likely that there will be some obvious discrepancies.
    • Check in on their referrals, most likely they can tell you what it’s really like to work them.
    • Google the agency, in the digital era there’s not much that can be hidden and if people have something to say, they’ll be sure to say it online.

Follow-up interviews

  • Woot, woot! You’ve picked the finalists thanks to that rock-star RFP, and it’s time to interview them. Our suggestion: Ask them new questions and see how well they’ve prepared. Seriously, you don’t need them to read their response to you verbatim, but you do need them to show that they can think outside the box and don’t mind going the extra mile to answer your questions.
  • If you like a case study in the response, ask the agency to elaborate on the project. Or maybe ask some questions about certain aspects of their process specific to your needs or your organizational style.

Winner, winner, chicken dinner

  • Congratulations, you made it through the long and arduous process of writing an RFP, selecting finalists and choosing your perfect partner.
  • As excited as you are to award the new agency with the job, don’t forget to let the other finalists know and thank them for their time. You never know if you might want to work with them in the future.