(And Attracting the Best Talent, Too)
RFPs can be time-consuming as well as tedious, and why shouldn’t they be? Your company’s future and health depends on the agency partners you choose to work with. Writing your RFP is an important part of a process that in the end will leave you married to a decision (and agency) for what will likely be a long while.
For health care companies, your needs may be even more nuanced than those in other industries. Specific questions about success and experience within the health care industry will attract the best responses from top-tier agencies. Plus, those specifics are not only helpful to your company, but also the agency. Clear questions will offer the best responses, without any confusion.
Here are a few tips on how to get the most out of the time and energy you’ll spend preparing your next RFP.
1. Let’s talk about real needs.
This may seem obvious, but I cannot stress how important this is: You do not know what to look for unless you know what you need. If your RFP is a templated document that is used again and again, it’s time to ask yourself whether or not the right questions are being asked.
Take a step back and think about the last agency you worked with. Ask yourself some honest questions about what you would change, what you wish the agency had done more of, and what are you interested in expanding on. That is your focus!
While constraints have proven to make people more creative, allowing a degree of fluidity to your RFP may give agencies just enough wiggle room to blow your mind. Let them use their creativity to answer your requests so you have the ability to check under the hood and see how their process works.
3. Calling all proofreaders to the stage.
Yes, you must proofread. Not just for typos, but also for repetitive sections, unclear directions, and confusing asks. Do a little bit of research — this goes along with assessing your needs — about what you’re asking for.
If you want to know about an agency’s experience with Digital Marketing, research some facets of that particular service so you are able to write great questions that hone in on what you are actually looking for. There are many service lines that agencies offer, from Branding to Media Planning; Design to Public Relations. Think about what you are asking for, instead of lumping everything under one umbrella.
4. What is your judging criteria?
When you did your needs assessment earlier, you probably had some big wants that came up. If you know what the most important services and offerings are to you to find in an agency, you’ll know how to score your criteria properly.
If you are looking for an agency with a strong background in branding, traditional media placement, and paid social media, you know those are your heavy hitters. If one agency is strong in those three areas, but a little weaker in production, your scorecard will reflect that accurately.
One way to do this is to use percentages. Your split could look something like this: Agency’s Service Approach, 30% of the evaluation criteria; Experience and Reputation, 20%; Key Personnel/Staffing Qualifications, 25%; Professional Fees/Mark-Ups/Commission structure, 25%.
5. Find out exactly who the agency is.
If you’re going to be working with these people for awhile, it would be important to know what they stand for. Think of this like a marriage. You aren’t just buying the features. You’re buying the personality, too. A bad culture fit can ruin a partnership. Knowing an agency’s Mission or their Values will tell you what is important to the owners, and this should be reflected in their staff, as well.
6. Talk to us!
Be upfront about your timelines and criteria in your RFP. If you expect the decision will take two months, say so. If you are giving more weight to certain services, it could be beneficial to explain that. Is something a deal-breaker to you? Spell it out so the agency knows and can explain where they stand on that particular issue. How much you divulge is up to you, but to really get what you’re looking for, transparency is key.
Include the name and contact info of someone at your company the responding agency can contact with any questions about the RFP. Or, provide an email address and a time limit to submit questions from all respondents, and then provide the answers to all the questions. No matter how clear you think your RFP is, there will always be questions.
Writing a solid and clear RFP will make looking for an agency less of a headache for everyone with the added benefit of garnering useful responses from potential partners.
Overall, try to keep in mind you’re buying a process, not just the end product. Most agencies have perfected a set of steps that will yield a preferred product, whether it be a TV spot or a rebrand. These things can take time and may be expensive, but always consider what it is that you are participating in. They’ll take you on the journey with them, and the experience can return amazing results.