You are thinking of hiring marketing professionals for your organization. Many people use an RFP—Request for Proposal—process as a way to feel confident of making a good choice. But beware! There are pitfalls in the RFP process that are easy to fall into.

If you’ve never worked with a marketing professional, or this is the first time you’ve hired an advertising agency, here are a few “secrets” that will save you time, grief and money.

1. Provide background
Let prospective suppliers know how your organization is structured, who your buyers or users are, and what business issue you need your new agency to solve. They’ll want to know what your budget is, and how you will make a decision. TIP: Share your value proposition and what you feel has made your company a success. WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: Good agencies want to work with good clients. You may not get the best to respond if they don’t believe they can do meaningful work, even if your budget is impressive.

2. What are the “got to’s”?
These are the absolute minimum criteria for a company to be on your short list. They include things like years in business, previous experience in your industry, and geographic location. Provide a “fill in the blanks” form for their responses. TIP: Be very specific about your criteria. Instead of saying “seeking well-established agency”, say “Must have been in business 5 years or more.” WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: Quickly and accurately evaluate responses, and exclude companies from consideration.

3. Ask about their processes.
You should understand how the agency works. What is their “sweet spot” – the typical account size range they work with? How would they communicate with you? How do you give them information? What is their approach or methodology for assisting you? How do they create plans and recommendations? How do they make the ads? How do they get paid? TIP: An agency with a defined business system they’ve used for many clients will be effective and efficient at creating solutions and getting them out into the marketplace. WHY IT”S IMPORTANT: Assurance that you are guaranteed an efficient use of their time, since most agencies bill by the hour.

4. Ask about their people.
You want experienced people who won’t have to learn on your dime. Get biographies of the people you will be working with directly. See the work they have done and ask about the results it generated. Get references and check them. TIP: Take extra time to check the “chemistry” between you and the agency team. WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: You will be sharing your most intimate business information with these people, so you must like and trust them.

5. Avoid this!
Don’t make the RFP form long and involved. Avoid intrusive or irrelevant questions. Don’t ask for answers that can easily be found on the agency’s Web site. TIP: Don’t ask for ideas or ads “on spec”. WHY IT”S IMPORTANT: The only thing an agency has to sell is its ideas. Goods agencies won’t do the work before they get the job. The busy, successful agency you want on your business will likely not respond to your RFP.

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Elizabeth Walker and Ken Burgin
Elizabeth Walker and Ken Burgin

Ken Burgin and Elizabeth Walker are the Marketing Masters, a full-service marketing and advertising partnership that helps build busy businesses.