When it comes to writing a digital agency RFP, it’s important to do it right. Many agencies don’t like request for proposals as they can feel outdated, impersonal, and often like a waste of time. Some agencies may outright refuse to respond. Unfortunately, many business owners aren’t sure which questions to ask or what information to include in their RFPs. As a result, RFPs are often too long, full of redundant questions, or based on a one-size-fits-all RFP template. RFPs that are chock full of unnecessary information waste both the time of your business and the agencies who are reading them. Use the below information to avoid common pitfalls and create a digital agency RFP that’s of value both to you and the digital agencies responding to it.
Know What You Want Before You Start
If the answer to this question is “a new website,” you’re not digging deep enough. When creating an RFP for a digital agency, you should be firmly aware of your long term goals. What do you want this relationship to produce? Generally speaking, marketing materials should produce more leads, more customers, more orders, more interest, etc., but identifying larger problems that are stopping you from doing this should be at the heart of the RFP.
Once you can pinpoint the issues that you’re having, such as, “Not enough leads are converting from our website,” a digital agency can show you specifically how they would solve that problem. The agency you hire is here to offer solutions to issues you’ve identified in the best way possible.
Map the Process
Request for proposals take time. They are complicated and involve multiple different parties and decision makers on both ends. The more complex the requested services are, the more complex your RFP will be. Before you start writing, take the time to break down the process from start to finish. Identify who will be involved at which point, and make sure you’re working in realistic time frames based on how your business actually works. Two to three months is a good estimate as you begin the mapping process.
RFP Process Timeline:
Find Potential Candidates and talk to them: 2 weeks
Identify 2 – 4 finalists for further discussion: 2 weeks
Write the RFP: 2 weeks
RFP issued, waiting for response: 2 – 3 weeks
Deadline for Questions: 2 weeks from issue
Proposals Due: 3 weeks from issue
Review Proposals: 1 week
Conduct interviews: 2 weeks
Presentations/Negotiations: 1 week
Final selection and negotiation: 1 week
What many businesses may overlook is that talking to vendors before writing an RFP can save everyone a lot of time. There’s no need to submit your request to 20 or 30 firms. A few short conversations beforehand can eliminate agencies early on that aren’t a good fit, as well as help you identify and articulate problems that should be addressed specifically in your RFP. If you do want to reach out to 20+ agencies, try utilizing an RFI to weed out those who aren’t interested or don’t satisfy your needs.
Writing the RFP
If you’ve followed the steps in the RFP process thus far, writing should be the easy part. But just in case, here is a breakdown of exactly what your RFP should include:
Background & Contact Information
One paragraph with background information on your organization and the appropriate contact information.
Projected Schedule for the RFP Process
This part should be very easy, as you’ve already created it for internal purposes. Make sure to clearly define what you expect and when.
How are you planning on judging the proposals? Is the bottom-line more important than creative problem-solving solutions? Be specific.
What is the main service or services you are looking for? Website redesign, digital marketing strategy, etc. Make sure to include any relevant URLs as background
Detailed Overview of Guidelines & Expectations
One of the biggest trip-ups in the RFP process is poor communication. Neglecting to specify everything you’re expecting can lead to issues later on when services you assumed were included, were not. Be as specific as possible when defining your expectations.
Will they be responsible for the photography and video related to your social media? What about website maintenance and content creation? Never assume a service is included without expressly mentioning it.
Clearly define your current marketing goals and how they apply to this project. Also include pertinent information about your brand identity as well as functional requirements from a business perspective, creative process and guidelines, and any design specifications you may have.
Do you have a style guide?
Who are your key customers and competitors?
What is the current state of your marketing team and how much is being handled in-house?
What tools and platforms are currently being used?
Most importantly: what problems is your marketing strategy currently facing? What kind of improvements are you looking to see?
Set specific, measurable goals here. Don’t forget to include quantitative as well as qualitative goals such as increasing brand awareness or improving lead quality.
Timeline & Budget
Including how much you’re willing to spend is appropriate, but is there a specific event or product launch that will dictate the necessary release date?
What to Request
When asking specific questions of agencies, try to keep them open ended, such as “How would you handle this issue,” versus, “Can you do this?”
Once you have a list of questions, think hard about whether or not the answer to each question will be helpful in making a decision. Be tough, and cut anything that isn’t essential to your evaluation.
Every project is different, but generally speaking, all of the proposals you receive should include the following information:
- Vendor Company Information
- Proposed Solution
- Development Plan
- List of Tasks
- Proposed Budget
- Proposed Project Team
- Examples of Previous Work
What Will You Gain?
The internal process of creating the RFP will offer valuable insights into your own business and the problems you face. Having a deeper understanding of the current needs and shortcomings of your business means you’re more prepared to find the right agency to help.
Which agency approaches problems in a way that works best with your organization? Who has proposed solutions that are in line with your long-term goals? Which agency will foster a successful, lasting relationship instead of short-term savings?
Do your research, set a reasonable timeline, and at the end of the process you should feel confident that you’ve selected the right agency for the job.