A Reflection on RFPs

October 26, 2021
3 min read

When I joined SBA in June 2018, I was formally introduced to the Request for Proposal (RFP) process. I had certainly heard of RFPs prior to that, but had not been on a team that actually worked on them - I only saw the end result. Now three years in at SBA, I have helped put together a handful of RFPs, and have amassed my fair share of learnings along the way. 

What has surprised me the most, is the amount of guesswork that goes into the proposal. A lot of the time, it even feels like RFP is purposely trying to confuse the pitching agency. Unfortunately in some cases, that might be true. But in the cases where the client issuing the RFP is not trying to trick potential agencies - and doesn’t have an incumbent agency they’re already planning on awarding the project - there are simple tweaks that can be made to receive better responses that are more useful for evaluating which agency will best serve their needs.

Oftentimes the requesting client is worried about being too prescriptive within the RFPs and not getting the most creative responses. But knowing the guardrails - no matter how tight - helps creatives channel their work in the right direction. The more details that can be provided to the pitching agency, the better! Almost like a first date - each person is a bit nervous to divulge too much information, but in the long run that could only hurt the relationship. 

RFPs are a total change of pace, and especially allow the creative team to work those gears in ways that they may not have been able to for a little while. We love our existing clients, but it is always fun to work on something totally new and outside our comfort zone. Even with strict project parameters, the team is able to let their creativity flow in different ways. We are so proud of the work that comes from the RFP process, and it is definitely a bummer to know that a lot of it may never see the light of day. 

A crucial item that is almost always omitted is the potential budget. While we understand that sometimes this is confidential information, it is extremely challenging to put together an appropriate plan without knowing the budget. We know that we can pivot to any client’s needs, but without any sort of monetary guidance, we could come out of the gate into the completely wrong ballpark. That is something that could surely knock us out of the running immediately. We could be a perfect match for the project, but we and the client will never know that if we are not given the opportunity to pitch on the appropriate budget. An opportunity to pitch next to the other agencies on the same playing field - apples to apples. 

Now, having said that, we do have the experience within the SBA to put together a knowledgeable budget that can scale appropriately. But 9 times out of 10, the requesting client will be so overwhelmed with responses, that they will end up disregarding the proposals that are off the budget mark without having the opportunity to see the sound logic behind that budget, and how it could scale up or down.

Moral of the story is that we want to pitch on your projects, we want to work with you! We hope that by encouraging companies to include a little more information in their RFPs, it will help in receiving more informative responses. We want to get to know you and your needs, so the more you can share, the better. And we know that goes both ways! We want to show you who we are, and what it would be like to work with SBA. Go ahead and throw out a problem solving question - something that you face often during a project - and we would love to show you how we would handle that situation. Anything to ease your mind, while also comparing agencies side by side, to find the right match.

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