RFP – Request for Proposal or Request for Passion?

This morning I attended yet another amazing New England Publicity Club Masters Institute event. Today’s topic focused on the procurement process of RFPs and looked at “What Makes a Successful Agency Relationship?” Both in-house and agency people were in the room and on the panel which made it easy to see where we have mindshare. First, when it comes to RFPs most of us feel the same way—we hate them! Second, the “P” in RFP should really stand for passion, because that’s what companies are looking for from their potential agencies. The good news is that most agencies are loaded with it! Here is a quick list of tips for people on both sides of the RFP process for how to make it successful and relatively painless:



  • Be open. The more open you are to answering questions from agencies before their deadline to submit the better quality responses you’ll get.
  • Be prepared for some pain. Managing the RFP process requires juggling a lot including your executives’ expectations. Try to get their buy in ahead of time that you can call the shots until it gets down to the finalists.
  • Brevity is key. Keep your RFPs to 1.5 pages long. This lets agencies be creative.
  • Know the players. Ask to meet the team that will work on your account. They are the ones that will be in the trenches with you and the ones you’ll need to trust.
  • Don’t ask for the pie in the sky. Bold ideas are worthless unless they can be executed within budget and provide measurable ROI.
  • Don’t compare on price, but value. This is the hardest tip to implement, but the most important. Ask any client with a long-standing agency relationship and they’ll tell you that what makes it work over time is chemistry, trust and the value the agency brings. The most successful partnerships aren’t about the dollars and cents.


  • Demonstrate passion. How can you do this on a piece of paper? Connect with your contact in every way possible before the deadline. Ask questions, ask for a call or a meeting, connect on LinkedIn, etc. Showing interest early and often is a guaranteed way to demonstrate your agency is passionate about getting the business.
  • Be compassionate. Understand that your contact might be dealing with internal politics that prevents them from creating and executing the RFP in the way they know best.
  • Don’t give away the farm. If the RFP asks you for a three month plan and a press list then raise the red flag. This is outside of the acceptable boundaries of a RFP and it might mean the company is looking for free ideas.
  • Bring the whole team. Don’t just bring the head of business development and a few directors to your pitch meeting. I know it’s scary, but bring the team that will work on the business—even the young ones!
  • Be creative, but not irrational. Make sure you can execute on the creative ideas. Keep in mind budget, timeframe, and demonstrating ROI.



  • Double check that your “find and replace” removed all of the past company name references from your new proposal.
  • Spell “public relations” correctly. Don’t forget the “l” in public or the “s” on relations.
  • Don’t use case examples that are older than your cell phone (think two-year contract).


Many of the helpful tips I’ve listed here came directly from members of today’s panel. And they are:


Do you have more tips to share? Let us know by posting a comment or tweeting us @451Heat

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