How to Write a Request for Proposals
So, your marketing project is moving forward, and you’ve been tasked with finding the best agency partner to help. Great! But…now what?
Clients often ask how to tackle writing a request for proposal (RFP) for marketing services. It may seem like a daunting process, even if you understand the project at hand. This blog is intended to provide some general guidance. Realistically, there are many more details to discuss, depending on the project, but these guidelines are a good place to start.
After putting out your request and hoping to find a great partner, there’s nothing worse than receiving a misguided proposal that doesn’t meet your needs. Keep in mind, the responding agencies may have different ways of approaching your challenge than you expected. They also may have different areas of specialty and varying levels of familiarity with your industry. It’s important to keep an open mind when considering the proposals, you receive. However, there are things you can do on the front end to help ensure you receive a proposal that is actionable.
When it comes to writing a request for proposal, one basic guideline goes a long way: The more information you provide on the front end, the better-quality proposals you will receive.
When writing a request for proposal address the following topics:
Background of your organization
What does your organization do? Why do you exist? Answering these basic questions give help agencies a foundation to understand your company or organization. Importantly, it will help them determine if your project is a good fit for their agency. This background information may already be readily available on your website, but make sure it’s up to date and don’t be afraid to update it and add details that are relevant to the project at hand. Expect to spend time with the selected agency after the RFP process so they can get to know you better but include enough details in the RFP so that the basics are covered.
Project goals & description
This section is your chance to describe the end result of the project you are planning. Who is the target audience you’re trying to reach? What characteristics do you know about them? Why is it important to reach them?
Regarding the project itself, let’s say you are looking for a new video. Explain where the video will be used, and what you hope it will accomplish. Is the video a piece of a larger project or initiative? Explain your goal to help give an idea of the end result. Do you want to increase brand awareness, inspire action or something else?
A partner will need to understand the big picture even if the RFP covers only a portion of the overall project. For example, if you are requesting a proposal for a fundraising campaign website, explain the goal of the fundraising campaign and why it is important to your organization.
What is your vision?
In this section, describe what will the new materials look like, sound like and how they will be put to use. If it’s a new video you’re after, does it include real people, or animation? Is there a narrator? Special effects? Where will the video be used—on your website, social media, or in front of a live audience? If you’re seeking a new website, what features will be needed? Perhaps most importantly, provide examples of similar projects, if possible, to show what you’re looking for.
What are the challenges?
Whether you’re looking to build your brand awareness or produce a social media content plan, explain what barriers will need to be overcome. Give enough history to adequately describe the challenges of the project so the agency can come to you with solutions. Level with your potential partners on the front end about obstacles or limitations so they have the background needed to put the plan into action when it comes time to begin the project.
Staff & resources
A detail that is often overlooked is telling your prospective partners what resources are available to help them complete the project. Is there staff who will be assigned to help with various aspects of the project? Perhaps you have a staff member assigned to coordinate communication. Will you share previous research to help the partner get up to speed? If appropriate, mention whether you have established brand guidelines that should be followed.
Deliverables & specifications
Of course, agencies will need to know what deliverables you are expecting at the end of the project, in addition to any specification requirements. Clearly list all items the agency will be responsible for producing. Include details such as file formats (where relevant), video length or contents of a campaign plan. You may want to mention any “nice-to-have” deliverables that are optional but not required. Your agency representative will thank you for providing all these details on the front end to eliminate guesswork.
Laying out the project timeline is an essential part of the RFP document. When do you expect different stages of the project to be completed? What is your overall deadline for project completion? When considering these questions, remember to give the agency enough time to do the project well. Speed thrills but remember that you will not always receive the best results if you rush a project to the finish line. Consider the reasons behind your deadline and allow as much time as possible. State whether there are firm deadlines and consider sharing the reasons for these deadlines if possible.
The top question you’ll likely receive is “What is the budget for this project?” It may be tempting to omit this key piece of information to see how prices compare between proposals. But by including budget guidance you are not only giving the prospective partner valuable insight into the project scope—you’re also ensuring that the responses you receive will be in line with your expectations. With an undefined budget you may receive excellent ideas and options, but they’re not useful if they are completely out of your company’s reach. On the flip side, an agency may not go deep enough with their plan if they underestimate your budget.
Process & requirements
This section should address the basics for proposal submission. Include details such as a deadline for the proposal (include a specific time of day) and requirements for proposal submission (email vs. printed copies, file format, page limit, etc.). If there are specific sections that should be included in the proposals, indicate them here.
Also address whether there is a specific question/answer period, any other milestone dates during the evaluation process and your expected date for making a decision. Will there be interviews with finalists? Make sure to include a contact person with phone and email address for questions and submissions.
As a side note, always leave yourself plenty of time for the review process. You’ll be receiving multiple proposals with lots of details, so you will want to spend enough time with each one to be confident in your decisions.
Speaking of the review process, it’s helpful to explain how your review committee will come to a decision. Are there aspects that will be weighed more heavily than others (i.e., budget, or past experience)?
Think about what you would like to know about the agency that will aid your decision-making process. Do you want to know the backgrounds of team members who would be involved in the project? Would you like to see examples of similar projects the agency has completed? Would it be helpful to see a list of other organizations the agency has worked with in your line of business? Include a list of all required criteria so that agencies can provide information to aid your decision.
The above recommendations will go a long way in helping you when writing a request for proposal. But each project will have its own specific questions and challenges. Reach out to an experienced account executive at AMPERAGE Marketing & Fundraising if you have further questions about what to include in your future RFP’s.