I respectfully declined to participate in a couple Request-for-Proposals (RFPs) recently, telling them I wasn’t the best fit. This was true but perhaps I was being diplomatic as well. If I were brutally honest, I probably would have told them that the reason I didn’t respond was that even if I did win the work, I didn’t trust them or the process.
Let me be clear. I do selectively respond to RFPs, and I have participated in many professionally managed RFP processes. But all too often, the playing field feels a bit tilted.
It would be easy for me to get into my rationale, but maybe a better way is to take a composite dubious RFP and give it the “in other words” treatment. Here goes:
The Acme Organization is seeking to engage a communications agency to create and implement a communications plan that will generate sales leads and corresponding market share to become the #1 player in the marketplace in the coming year.
In other words, we haven’t found a way to raise awareness, generate sales leads and increase market share to this point, so now we are ready to try PR. With that in mind, if PR doesn’t solve our problems, and if our past patterns of poor organizational performance continue we can now blame PR.
About Acme Organization:
Acme is a privately held firm located in the hometown of its founder somewhere in the Midwest, far away from any major media centers. The company was founded over 100 years ago and has primarily grown on the good reputation of its work.
In other words, we have insulated ourselves from the national business and trade media and other stakeholders for decades. PR would represent a complete philosophical and cultural shift for us. Change is never easy.
Scope of Work:
Proposals should include the following items:
A statement of your firm’s background and experience that will include biographies of key personnel assigned to the project; the organizational structure, including in-house staff and external consultants or resources to be used.
In other words, we want to know you will not delegate this program to junior staff. And, since anyone on the team could be a potential liability we don’t want to be blindsided. At the same time, we know that your sharing of the inner workings of your firm will also give us the added benefit to micromanage when the situation calls for it.
Three-four examples that demonstrate your success in planning a similar communications program. Your case study should include sample creative work. It should also include, problem, strategy, solution, action steps, and budget.
In other words, show us similar work you have done in the past so we know you aren’t lying about your experience, but also so that we have some good reference material for ourselves and our team going forward.
Describe how you will approach development of a communications plan for Acme, the systems and tools you will use, and your timeline for developing and implementing the plan.
In other words, while we are asking you to propose development of a communications program as part of your paid assignment, we really want you to do the bulk of that now, customized for free with no assurances that you will be compensated for any of your original thinking.
Detail the number of hours and hourly rate for team members assigned to the project over its duration, and any related out-of-pocket costs. Identify any subcontractors and the kinds of service to be provided. Detail design and development costs for any print, television or digital media.
In other words, we know you can’t give us the budget numbers in the specificity we have detailed without creating a comprehensive communications approach in blind faith on your part. This budget and the accompanying program provided on spec will serve as a good reference for us and the firm we select.
Criteria for Selection:
Our decision will be based on the qualifications and experience of your firm, the program design and/or solution you offer, and cost.
In other words, we may already have someone in mind who has the qualifications and experience we desire at the cost we want, but this RFP process could be an exercise just to make it look fair. Or, we really may be doing our best to be fair, but at the end of the day, we’re asking you to spend countless hours away from your paying clients to impress us. For our part, we will make no assurances that we will select you, compensate you, or not “borrow” some of the original thinking (the kind clients normally pay fair value for) included in your proposal.