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Agency Review: Three Little Letters

1 Nov, 2013 By: Andrew Blickstein, Home Run Media Response

There are three little letters that will send a shiver down the spine of any agency. These letters offer hope, excitement, fear and frustration. If you work at an agency, I’m sure you are all too familiar with these letters and the subsequent range of emotions you and your team are sure to encounter.

These letters I speak of, if you haven’t already guessed them, are: RFP.

Honestly, when an RFP (request for proposal) comes into the office, our first reaction is “not safe for work” — or NSFW! We don’t start cursing at the idea of more work, but because we know this is not the best way for any agency to highlight why a potential client should pick them. Outlined below are six acronyms, with their explanations, as to why marketers should do an agency search, but not through the standard RFP format.

  1. WWDB: What We Do Best. I have responded to too many RFPs that include incredibly specific questions like, “Name three award-winning campaigns” or “What is your average CPM for cable daytime?” Our agency doesn’t apply for awards — our clients let us know when we’ve done a good job. Sure, measuring CPMs is one tool to compare media buys, but there are additional — commonly used — measurements that should be taken into account. We have key differentiators from our competitors, but unless you ask about them you’ll never get to know that we offer. We know what we’re good at and what sets us apart from other agencies — let us share it with you.
  2. HAC: Have a Conversation. You know what we’re really good at? Listening. Too many RFPs feel like we’re being talked at. Presumably, we’re being hired to be a partner, which is certainly a term we embrace. Just like when given a choice between being talked at or a conversation between parties where ideas are discussed and evolve, I pick the conversation every time. That’s a choice that’s applicable to both my personal and professional relationships. I can understand my partner better and they, in turn, can develop a better understanding of me.
  3. A2C: Allow Us to Create. I once had a client pull me aside and ask if I knew why they use an agency. She wanted to make sure I understood that they are in the insurance business — their nature is conservative. They use our agency because we’re not like them. If left up to them, they would make all the decisions by the numbers. We’re built to find creative ways to execute and deliver a higher upside. If we’re only answering what is asked, how can we show why we work at an agency to begin with?
  4. DG: Don’t Gridify. Ok, “gridify” is not a word according to Merriam-Webster, but my good friend shared this one with me. Our fear is that all the responses from all the different agencies get put into a grid. For instance, “Agency A answered Question 16 the best, while Agency D provided the best response to Question 5b.” The potential client loses out on learning about what agencies are flexible with, or they miss out on asking follow up questions that would allow them to really understand. Or, worst-case, the agency with the lowest commission and fees gets picked anyway.
  5. DWFF: Don’t Work for Free. Honestly, that is what a lot of RFPs feel like they are asking agencies to do. Many of the questions outlined in your general RFP really equate to “Give us a bunch of free work” — research, media strategy, media plans, rates, etc. We cannot really answer these things effectively until a client is on-boarded and we understand their full goals, something that is not commonly shared in RFPs.
  6. WNS: We’re Not Stupid. We know what we need to ante up to be in the game. Any agency that won’t tell you upfront what they charge, how they work, provide references to some vendors and clients, and share what makes them special shouldn’t win the business anyway.

After reviewing a particularly detailed RFP, I reached out to the company and told them they were asking for too much. Their response: “You’re probably right, just prepare something that tells us what you’re best at.” Isn’t that what you really want to know anyway? How our skills and work will best help you achieve success? ■

About the Author: Andrew Blickstein

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