The Death of the RFP Process

Of all the old school, traditional and creative killing processes - none is so stifling as the RFP (request for proposal) process.

Let’s take a look at how businesses, publishers and agencies are adapting to the RFP process in today’s connected online marketplace.

If businesses want web/media agencies to look to the future and innovate for them, they’ll need to stop treating agency selection like a vendor-procurement process.

In “ad land”, you’re never more than a few steps away from outdated writing materials engraved with ancient sayings like “If you want mass reach, you’ve got use TV.” Here too are preserved, nearly extinct social media practices such as posting on Facebook solely to make product claims. But while fossils like these are pretty routine finds, no ad land fossil is quite so ubiquitous, ancient or useless as the Request for Proposal process.

“If the ad industry were a national park, it would easily qualify for the coveted designation of a fossils-rich area. Evidence of a distant past is everywhere in ad land.” - Content Marketing Instatute

First off, let’s admit that we hate and mistrust the RFPs. Most professional agency owners today when asked how they respond to RFPs simply state “Never have, Never will.” - Using the qualifier “never” puts these guys on the extreme side of the opinion range, but the extreme is not so far from the mainstream days these days. If more agency owners would be honest with themselves - the ones who still respond to RFPS are holding on to that slight glimmer of hope that they might earn the client when in fact - the odds are stacked against them from the start.

RFPs are so wrong in so many many ways that it’s not even enlightening to make a list anymore. So, I’m going to suggest a few less-common objections to this dying business practice…


1. The definition of insanity - is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. Businesses today are issuing RFPs to replace an agency they found less than 3 years earlier with the same RFP. That’s right! Think about that.

2. Businesses are not hiring agencies to create perfect RFP responses that dazzle the executive board. Rather, businesses (should) want to hire an agency that will create unique communications that dazzle audiences. Thus, judging the agency by it’s ability to fill an outdating RFP is testing the wrong talent.

3. In RFPs, the business asks all the questions. To create great marketing, websites, etc - the agency needs to ask the brilliant questions. RFPs provide little or no room for agencies to break open the discussion and show how they think.

4. Mostly, RFPs ask the usual questions and the usual suspects respond with the usual answers. This is not exactly a recipe for finding revolutionary, out-of-the-box thinkers. The is a recipe for finding mediocre talent at best. 

5. RFPs have made sense in the less connected time when investigating a range of agencies and seeing their work was really difficult. But the whole silly process has no place in an era when a business can search easily for any kind of agency, identify their work and see some processes that the business admires.

6. Since the best, most innovative agencies increasingly are not responding to RFPs, the process is becoming less and less likely a way to find innovators.

Let’s end this with one last observation…

The fact that governments are the worst and most persistent users of RFPs should be enough to teach all of us to stop doing it. 

As a legal brief might put it; for these other good and valid reasons, the sufficiency of which has been acknowledged by all parties, we herby urge all clients and all agencies to cease and desist from the mindless process of RPFs hence forth. Instead, agencies and clients both need to do a little research and then approach the outfits with which they’d most like to work. This approach works better for everyone because it has the power to produce surprising and innovative results. Which is a whole lot better than all the unsurprising and un-innovative stuff that’s been produced by doing things the old way.

Now, it’s your turn

I’d love to hear from you - do you respond to RFPs? If so, why? Let us know in the comments below.

Jonathan Hinshaw

Post Date:
Tuesday, April 14, 2015

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