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Top tips for running an effective agency RFP process — from start to finish  

Posted by Kiran Saini on 17th November 2023

As a PR agency, we know a thing or two about taking part in an RFP (request for proposal) process – the good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in between

It’s equally eye-opening being on the other side of the fence and managing the process on behalf of our clients, which is something I’ve become increasingly involved in as part of my lead hub agency role.

Those who have been involved with or run an RFP process will know how time-consuming it can be due to the level of due diligence that’s required.

Our international clients don’t always have the luxury of time on their hands. So, when they need to find the right ‘spoke’ partners to represent them on the ground they turn to us for our strategic guidance and support.

Whether they’re looking to appoint an agency to break into a new market — or have inherited an agency they are looking to replace — we have the experience, connections, and processes in place to make the RFP process run as smoothly as possible.

Briefs shouldn’t be brief

Arguably, the most important part of the RFP process is getting the brief right.

As well as providing comprehensive information about the business — beyond what’s available online — the brief should clearly summarise the overall business and communications objectives. Competitive positioning, target audiences, and previous communications history and challenges are also very useful.

The scope of work and required services should also be stated, as well as an indication of the budget. In essence, the brief should make it easy for agencies to understand what the brand is looking for and evaluate whether they are a potential fit.

It’s also important to be transparent with the overall process. We advise our clients to approach the RFP process in two stages, so we only take the most relevant and suitable agencies to the final pitch stage.

The first stage is typically a written proposal to understand more about the agency, their experience, and credentials. This is followed by a face-to-face pitch, where the finalists respond to a challenge to showcase their strategic thinking and creativity.

That’s not to say we discourage interaction through the RFP process. After all, calls to clarify aspects of the brief or provide a forum for agencies to ask questions help both sides.

Finally, be realistic with timings. Coming up with a bespoke strategy and creative campaign activations takes time even for successful agencies that have been doing this for years. We always recommend giving agencies at least two weeks to prepare their final pitch presentations. That way, you can make sure you’re getting their best ideas and not their first ideas.

Cherry-picking the right agencies

While the RFP process narrows down an agency’s search to the best candidates, there is often a temptation to send the brief out far and wide. Taking this approach means that you might get a greater diversity of approaches and ideas. But having too many responses to wade through and evaluate can be overwhelming and cause confusion.

That’s why we recommend limiting the search to five or six agencies for stage one, and then whittling that list down to three agencies for the final stage presentations.

That said, finding the right agencies to invite to take part in the RFP process is no small feat. There are so many out there, how do you pick the best agencies for your needs?

As a proud member of  PROI Worldwide — a network of more than 80 independent agencies across 50 countries and 100 cities — we’re not short of local agencies to recommend to our clients. Having worked with many of our PROI partners over the years, we know which agencies will be the right fit.  And our independence means we can easily navigate any conflicts of interest and bring multiple options to the table.

Evaluating agency responses

It’s important to agree the selection criteria with the relevant stakeholders in advance of the pitch presentations and ensure they are included in the brief too, giving agencies visibility of how they’ll be evaluated.

Of course, the criteria will differ from business to business to align with the goals of the brief. That said, we typically recommend the following: relevant client experience; cultural fit and chemistry; creativity; strategic approach; tactical execution; value for money; and results and measurement.

Cultural fit and chemistry can get overlooked in the RFP and evaluation process — but they are often what swings the vote. Getting to know the personality of your team will help you find agency partners that you can trust. It’s near enough impossible to assess chemistry through a written document, which is why we recommend that the final stage presentations are face-to-face.

Informing agencies and feedback

Once the scoring is finalised, and the successful agency is appointed, it’s important to notify all the finalists and provide constructive feedback on what led to the decision. The feedback an agency receives is invaluable and can help them shape future proposals. It also helps maintain relationships if, for some reason, there’s a need to run an RFP again in the future.

The back and forth with the agencies can be time-consuming, as they’ll typically have questions through the entire process (I know we often do when responding to RFPs). Having an agency in place to manage the process will take the email noise away, so clients can focus on their day-to-day commitments.

Final thoughts

Running an RFP process can be daunting and it’s a huge time commitment. But, working with an agency partner with experience in running this from start to finish will go a long way to ensuring a smooth process — and should lead to the appointment of the best agency.

If you’re a tech brand and are considering scaling your communications across EMEA or internationally, get in touch with the team today.

Kiran Saini

With a degree in Communication and Media Studies from Brunel University, Kiran has gained invaluable experience of the media industry following her internships with a magazine publishing company based in London and an entertainment PR agency in Richmond. Her most recent internship, however, was with Wildfire where she got a real taste for tech PR. Her passion for media coupled with her new found interest in tech helped her secure a permanent position at Wildfire in January 2016.