How to do a better RFP

How to do a better RFP

by Kevin Endres, August 15, 2017

The International Offices was recently contacted by a worldwide company for an upcoming project. Since the project was coming from a department outside of marketing they weren’t sure what to include in their RFP (request for proposal). They were very nice about this and asked for patience if their RFP goes through alterations during the process.

This got The International Offices mulling over all the RFPs we’ve suffered through. There are ones that ask things such as, “Break down your billings in 10ths.” “Answer these 35 questions on staff make up.” “What kind of dog do you have and why.” (Okay, I’m making that last one up, but not by much.)

If you’re on the corporate side, you should know that agencies have template answers for most RFP questions. And almost of these answers are BS.

The only thing I could imagine to be worse than filling out all these useless questions is having to read through them. And then trying to select a marketing partner based on the answers.

RFPs don’t need to be complicated. You’re just looking for some smart people you like to help you with your marketing needs.

I thought about what’s really important for a client to know about their potential marketing partner. Then, I asked a few colleagues for some input. They also all concurred with me how useless big, fat RFPs are (and how they try to cheat the answers).

So, if you’re planning on sending out an RFP for marketing, advertising or branding services, here’s what you should ask to find the firm that’s right for you:

1. Tell us about your firm. History. Reason for being.

2. Who are the people who will be involved in bringing our project to life? (We’d like to meet them. And not your “pitch team” who we’ll never see again after that meeting.)

3. What makes your organization unique? Truly unique. (If you look at agency websites you’ll see the same tired pontifications and proclamations ad nauseam.)

4. Share with us three examples of work you’ve done and tell us why they’re relevant to our project and a brief background behind the work.

5. Give us some first-blush thinking (as broad or as detailed as you want) on how you would approach our project.

That’s it. Five questions.

Your RFP should state, “All responses should not be longer than one page. Each example can take up a single page.”

On the flip side, as the corporate marketing person charged with finding the best marketing partner, you need to share some information.

You need to provide to your prospective agencies:

•Background on your company and this project specifically.

•The objective of this project.

•Problem(s) that you foresee in developing a campaign for this project.

•Explanation of the audience.

•Any relevant background research specifically on the project.


•Budget range. (This is really needed, but clients hate giving it out. Without a range, your partner really can’t recommend proper paths to take. If you’re afraid of going over budget, give one that’s 20% less.)

In the pitch, I would tell you to have the agencies prepare for a 30 minute presentation followed by a one hour discussion. You’ll find out more about your presenting agencies in this fashion, including whether they’re smart and nice people, than anything an RFP can uncover.

The other thing I suggest to corporate marketing directors to do is look at the work or your prospective agency partners. If their work hits you well, then they’re for you. I often tell prospective clients that hiring a marketing partner is like hiring an interior decorator. If you like what that person has done for others, you’ll probably like what they do for you.

Now, you have a nice, light, direct RFP ready for your prospective agencies to answer. I hope this helps you find your perfect marketing partner.

Kevin Endres is Owner/Creative Director of The International Offices, Nashville. A branding/advertising firm. Send those RFPs to him at Also available on Facebook and @realendres.

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