RFP FAQ for Businesses: How Do I Create a Strong RFP for Agency Work?
By Laura Alvarado, Director of Marketing, O’Neill and Associates
A request for proposal, or RFP, is a document drawn up by a company that wants a product or service and outlines the specific criteria it is looking for. As a result, the company will receive proposals from vendors or firms that are interested in the work. Sending out an RFP for communications or public relations work can be a great way for organizations to find a firm that can address these needs expertly and cost-efficiently. However, if it is not done correctly, a company may miss the opportunity an RFP presents – finding the best fit and most qualified agency to get the job done. Following these eight simple steps will allow your company to put together a strong RFP that will yield fruitful results.
1. Know your needs.
Before you begin putting together your RFP, figure out what your company wants to accomplish and how a communications agency can help. List your business goals and lay out exactly how you see a robust communications program furthering those goals. This exercise will h help inform the components and language included in your RFP. Feel free to share your objectives within the RFP as well.
2. Organization is key.
It is imperative that you lay out the components of your RFP in a logical and understandable way. For example, if you are looking for public relations support, digital marketing implementation and graphic design help, outline the specifics of each in three separate sections. The benefit to a well-organized RFP is receiving well-organized proposals. This way, you can truly compare apples to apples and the selection process will be a lot less stressful. Sections of your RFP should include:
- Introduction – explain why you are publishing the RFP and what you hope to accomplish.
- Qualifications – lay out your specified criteria for the firm and its expertise.
- Scope of Services- be clear and realistic about what you need (public relations, social media, etc.).
- Process – share the steps you will take in the selection process and the timeline you will follow.
3. Be concise.
When it comes to RFPs, the shorter the better. Be explicit and direct with what you are asking for. Include enough background and explanation for clarification purposes. If an agency is doing its due diligence, it will dig deeper into your company history, philosophy, products and services and anything else it needs to know to submit a comprehensive proposal.
4. Set realistic timelines.
The larger the scope of services you are requesting, the more time an agency will need to respond. If possible, give agencies at least three weeks to submit their proposals. Also, give yourself enough time to thoughtfully evaluate each proposal that comes in. If you have a hard and fast start date, work backwards and figure out the best time to issue your RFP.
5. Be explicit with your selection criteria.
Decide internally what the winning agency will look like. In the RFP, share the criteria that is not negotiable. For example, if you want an agency that has proven successes with national public relations campaigns for nonprofit organizations, say so. This way, you can automatically exclude companies who do not fit the qualifications and save time when it comes to evaluating the submitted proposals.
6. Know your budget.
Many companies do not feel comfortable stating their budget in their RFPs. Even so, you need to keep your budget in mind when compiling your RFP, and be aware of the “going rate” for communications services. If you cannot afford “everything but the kitchen sink,” don’t ask for it. Make sure you are being realistic with your request and set priorities. If you ask for more than you can afford, be prepared for sticker shock and be ready to sacrifice certain line items.
7. Be rational.
In addition to keeping your budget in mind when detailing the strategic scope in your RFP, be aware of your current resources, you staff availability and timeline limitations. For example, if you ask for media training services for your senior staff, make sure they have time in their schedules.
8. Be available.
Make sure you include your contact information. If an agency is thoughtfully considering your RFP, it is highly likely they will have questions. Be open to answering them.
O’Neill and Associates is led by former Massachusetts Lt. Governor Thomas P. O’Neill III. The agency employs senior level professionals to help clients define the right messages and get those messages to target audiences, including government officials, the media, community leaders and consumers. O’Neill and Associates serves clients in diverse industries, including energy, financial services, transportation, health care, hospitality, education, technology and real estate development.