Two weeks ago, Heidi Browning, our executive media director, spoke at the Search Engine Strategies conference on a panel entitled "Weird Science: The next generation in media planning and buying." What initially started as a straightforward panel quickly became a passionate debate between vendors and clients about the challenges and pitfalls around the standard RFP (define) process. At the time, I'm sure the panelists and audience were surprised the conversation jumped so far off topic. But given the surge in proposal activity in the market, it's not so surprising.
Clients aren't as reticent to change agencies as they were when the Internet was in the penalty box. Now, with a creative renaissance well under way, there's a lot of activity as marketers chase big-result ideas.
What was the dialogue's essence?
When engaged in heavily managed pitches, agencies expressed frustration about not being able to interact with prospects to better understand them, their strategies, business objectives, processes, and organizational dynamics.
Clients feel agencies could be more respectful of the process and are sometimes unresponsive to agencies' specific questions and needs. They want agencies to be more forthcoming with strategic insight, such as the kind of insight shared on the panel.
Both sides want the best thing: a great partnership that's mutually profitable. But they have different ways of getting there. Adding procurement to the decision process adds yet another layer of complexity agencies must manage -- and manage thoughtfully.
The Internet is hot again. Client budgets are increasing. Agencies are aggressively hiring. With business heating up, agencies have to be very selective about what to pitch and to assess their likelihood of winning before they enter the fray. As an agency head, I first ask our team if we have a relationship with the prospect.
Why? It's very hard to pitch someone you don't know. It's the ultimate first date. It requires the agency pull out all the stops, making it a high risk and expensive. You hope there will be a high return.
With this in mind, I thought about the RFP process: how it stands today and how both sides of the partnership could make it better.
To join Organic, all senior hires must present a case study in which they pitch a group of Organic team members as if we were prospects. I hear several "pitches" a month this way. Plus, vendors pitch our agency all the time. When I add these experiences to my own pitch experience, I always get the same five get-it-rights:
Being in the agency business, I have five things prospects could do to produce a better outcome from the process:
I hope these thoughts will continue to fuel our collective conversation about how we can all get more from the RFP process, make more informed business decisions, and pitch to win.
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