Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Bureaucrats Have Hijacked The RFP

How The RFP Has Lost Its Way

By David Miranda

What was once intended to be a fair way to consider among many alternatives in a competitive marketplace, the RFP has evolved into a flawed process that requires an extreme makeover.

It goes something like this.

Let's say you are an advertising agency and you receive an unsolicited letter (or email) from an advertiser that your firm has been invited to participate in an RFP to be their new agency of record. So far, so good.

It, however, goes south from there.

The letter states that you are one of a number of agencies under consideration. (The letter fails to mention how many agencies have received the letter, what the judgement criteria is for consideration, or who is the ultimate decision maker) The letter goes on to say that after fulfilling the requirements of the RFP, the field will be narrowed to three finalists. The three finalists will then be asked to present at the company headquarters. After these face-to-face presentations, a winner will be selected within 30 days. The process is generally lengthy taking weeks and months for a decision.

Oh, by the way, the requirements of the RFP request many pages of information, i.e. how long you have been in business; bios of key management; key clients; samples of previous work done including results; financials; references; head counts; core competencies; methodology; compensation formulas and, believe it or not, sample creative executions "if you were to get the business." That's right, asking an agency to produce intellectual property, that by the way, is not protected is the submitting agencies do not get the business.

The effort to respond to an RFP takes a considerable amount of time, effort, and resources on behalf of the agency and at its own expense.

But here's the real rub. The people at the advertiser who typically are put in charge of the RFP process are bureaucrats since, on the surface, it appears to be a process-driven exercise. These are people who have little imagination or understanding of the end game, i.e. to select a great agency for the business. The RFP process administered by a bureaucrat or bean counter leaves little room, if any, for showcasing the important intangibles that make for a strong client/agency relationship - the dynamics of people interacting with people. It's called collaboration. Imagine a short list being determined before anyone at the client has met anyone at the agency.

Many agencies can look good on paper, just like many people can look good on CV's, but the proof of the pudding is the dynamic intangibles that come with person-to-person interaction.

In short, the RFP process has been hijacked by bureaucratic managers - people who unwisely think that doing things right is superior to doing the right things.

To all the clients out there, I implore you to delegate, not abdicate the responsibility of the RFP. Streamline the process, reduce the red tape, and get in front of the agency's leadership.

Chances are you'll pick the right agency and not just the one that looks good to bureaucrats.