6 Mistakes to Avoid When Writing an Agency RFP

The quality of a Request for Proposal (RFP) can make all the difference between a successful agency partnership and a disastrous relationship. A solid RFP can help you navigate the process of selecting an agency, ensuring you achieve your marketing goals and grow your business.

The RFP writing process can be time-consuming and arduous, but it’s crucial to get it right. Preparing a good RFP saves you time in the long-run by clearly communicating your goals and expectations to agencies up front. A thorough, thoughtful RFP helps you easily evaluate potential agency partners and positions you as a prepared buyer.

In this article, we’ll walk you through exactly what an RFP is, what the RFP-writing process involves, why it’s so important to get right, and what common mistakes you should avoid.

What is an agency RFP?

RFP stands for Request for Proposal, and it’s a commonly-used document that helps narrow down a business’s search for a partner. 

In the context ‘ of advertising, RFPs do a number of things, such as:

  • Introduce your business to potential partners and provide a background on your past successes and struggles in advertising
  • Articulate the specific business challenges you’d like a partner to help solve
  • Outline the information you need from the agency, so you can properly evaluate their expertise, approach, and potential fit for a partnership
  • Request detailed recommendations for how an agency would approach and solve your specific challenges and help achieve your goals

Once this information is thoroughly outlined in an RFP, the agencies you’re considering partnering with can be evaluated against consistent criteria. This helps you pick the best possible partner for your specific aims.

Two puzzle pieces that fit together, symbolizing the relationship that comes from a thorough RFP.

Why is it important to have a thorough RFP?

The RFP is usually the first impression your brand makes on an agency. It’s important to start strong to maximize the chances of a beneficial outcome.

If you aren’t thorough in your RFP, you run the risk of meeting with agencies who don’t understand your challenges, can’t meet your needs, or are just a poor fit. This wastes valuable time and resources for both parties.

A thorough RFP also helps you specify your needs clearly, so you’re less likely to be sold products or services you don’t need. And, gaining an in-depth understanding of your business and its unique challenges will help you better gauge how well an agency understands and fits these criteria.

When there’s one thorough and consistent RFP to weigh each agency’s responses against, businesses can easily compare potential partners and pick the best one for the job.

Three crumpled pieces of paper with mistakes in the trash.

6 Mistakes to Avoid When Writing an RFP

Now that we understand the importance of a well-prepared RFP, we’ll introduce some of the most common mistakes agencies encounter when reviewing and responding to RFPs. These errors make it difficult for agencies to develop an effective proposal, which could lead you to inadvertently pass over your perfect agency. Here are mistakes to watch for when writing an RFP:

1. The questions are too generic (and too few)

If you aren’t thorough or detailed enough with your RFP, you’ll run into problems early on. When an RFP is overly generic, incredibly brief, or too broad, it can result in an agency response that’s similarly generic and brief.

Generic RFPs send a message that the RFP issuer doesn’t have a good understanding of what they actually want from the agency, failing to give them proper direction. The agency might try to fill in the blanks, and the response probably won’t be very helpful.

2. The RFP doesn’t provide enough background

Your RFP needs to provide enough information when it comes to marketing challenges, company history, your previous experience, and more to help agencies build relevant proposals and raise your chances of connecting with the right partner.

Agencies have access to tools that can help them understand your business and industry, but they require certain information directly from you. Make sure your RFP contains all the background information agencies need to assess your request and determine how they can help.

3. The RFP doesn’t provide access to accounts for audits

Agencies are able to provide the most realistic and actionable recommendations when they’re able to see under the hood and audit your current practices. This helps them compare elements like your account setup and creative processes to their own best practices, allowing them to identify and prioritize the most impactful opportunities.

One way to help agencies better understand your circumstances is by allowing read-only access to your advertising accounts as part of the RFP. This will ensure you get the highest-quality and most relevant responses. Granting account access will give you a real sense of how the agency plans to help you and if they have the skill, knowledge, and expertise needed to do so.

4. No clearly defined budget

Your budget has a major impact on what kind of agencies you’re able to work with, in what capacity they can help you, and how long you can work together (among many other factors). It’s important to be clear on budget and what you’re able to invest, both in agency management and advertising campaigns; if the investment range isn’t clear, agencies will find it difficult to develop an accurate proposal.

Take some time to settle on a realistic budget range before starting work on your RFP, and ensure your budget is clearly communicated with the right level of detail and specificity.

5. Requiring a guarantee 

It’s important for agencies to understand what happens if expectations aren’t met, but be wary of requiring guarantees on results. The dynamic nature of advertising (and, specifically, digital advertising) makes it challenging to assert that X tactic will always yield Y result. The equation for advertising success includes so many inputs, like brand awareness, industry, goal type, and project, that outcomes are variable; an initiative may take a few iterations before you start seeing the exact results you need, but iterative progress can always be made.

If an agency consistently misses the mark on results or isn’t demonstrating marked progress toward your goals, then they’ll likely be fired, and they know that. So, there’s no need to include questions like “ What happens if you don’t perform?” in an agency RFP.  Good agencies are confident they can avoid that outcome from Day 1; putting short-sighted timelines and parameters on exact metrics may unnecessarily limit your agency’s ability to adapt and test, harming your campaigns in the long run.

6. Forgetting to Focus on the People

The people who are going to be working for you at the agency will make the biggest difference in your brand’s success. People drive strategies, people drive execution, and people drive results. During the RFP process, be sure to ask clear questions like, “How do your teams stay motivated and up to date with industry news?” or, “How does your team handle shifts in the industry?” to discover the team’s underlying spirit. At the end of the day, the shiniest tools, sleekest decks, and best pricing might not mean anything if you’re unable to cultivate a lasting relationship with your agency team.

At Booyah, our clients are our purpose and marketing is our pride. This has yielded us a tremendous client retention rate. 

Partner with the Right Agency Today

A well-written, detailed, and thoughtful RFP is essential to finding the right agency partner. Agency RFPs help maximize the chances of finding a good fit with exactly the right agency for you, reduces the risk of wasting time and resources on the wrong match, and helps lay the foundation for a long and rewarding partnership.

Explore Booyah’s approach to proposals to find out how we can help you and your business with all facets of digital advertising, from social media and SEO to advertising on Amazon and more.

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