Building the Perfect RFP

  |  December 15, 2010   |  Comments

Six ways to ensure your RFP attracts the best sites, networks, and target audiences.

As you know, the digital media-buying process is fraught with difficulties ranging from finding the best sites and ad networks that will allow you to get your message in front of your target audience, to dealing with technology challenges, impossible deadlines, delayed creatives, and limited inventory. Often at the core of these challenges are poorly defined media plans that fail to take into account campaign needs, budgets, timetables, and campaign goals.

Let's consider one way to make the media-buying process easier for both you and the publishers you work with in the coming year: preparing a solid request for proposal (RFP). 

Let's face it, getting an RFP written and out the door, and then finding time to analyze and compare incoming proposals is a tough part of any media plan. Not only do RFPs take valuable time to create, but they often don't always attract the best sites, networks, and target audiences that advertisers want to reach. In fairness, on the other side of the equation are publishers who are trying to do the best they can to provide advertisers with a place to run ads that truly care for the needs and interests of site visitors, but who often have very limited direction to help media planners and buyers with their challenges.

In the interest of making the process easier for both media buyers and publishers, I wanted to share with you six insights into RFP creation that can streamline your results and make the responses you receive back from publishers more meaningful and feasible.

1. Define Campaign Goals

It sounds obvious, but if I had a dollar for every time I've reviewed a campaign brief in which the overall goal of the campaign was totally missing…I could probably buy myself a really nice lunch. The bottom line is that if you don't know where you're going, then any road will take you there. Not only does setting goals give you a strong campaign focus, but it allows you to effectively measure and optimize campaigns to assure that those goals are being met.

2. Define Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

While setting clear goals is paramount to campaign success, knowing how to measure whether those goals are being met is equally important. However, the challenges that we often face when trying to determine campaign success is often open to interpretation. For example, many digital advertisers are still focused on achieving high click-through rates as a campaign goal. While click-throughs can be the first step toward campaign success, they do little to communicate more meaningful metrics such as acquisition and conversion.

Realistically, assuming you've set clearly defined goals, you need to hone in on measuring whether the fundamental reason for running your campaign in the first place is being addressed. For a branding campaign, you might measure visitor engagement or actions such as downloading media, applications, white papers, wallpapers, etc. as a way of determining overall brand effectiveness. For direct response campaigns, success indicators are based upon the specific actions taken by consumers and whether these actions coincide with set goals.

3. Define the Target Audience

More than once in my career I've worked with advertisers whose target audience was "everybody." As nice as that would be, reality usually sorts the people who really want to hear from us into a much smaller group than the population at large. Taking the time to accurately define the behavioral characteristics, interests, habits, beliefs, locations, intentions, and timeline of the people you want to reach is a necessary step in order to have any campaign be successful. In the digital realm, reaching the right person with the right message is far more effective than reaching as many people as possible with a generic message.

4. Define the Campaign Budget

How much do you intend to spend on your campaign? You should give publishers a ballpark number to work with. Obviously there are no guarantees that this money will change hands (especially if campaign results don't meet your needs), but indicating how much money you have in the budget and intend to spend within a specific media channel can go a long way toward allowing publishers to match you up with specific opportunities.

Bottom line: tell the publishers on your RFP list not only how much you intend to spend but be very specific about the different technologies, media channels, and creative approaches you expect to be included in the campaign and the budget earmarked for each.

5. Define Your Campaign Timeline

Offer a clearly defined campaign timeline, including a timeline for RFP completion. While the reality of our business is that we generally have too much to do and not enough time to do it, getting a good and accurate response to your RFP is going to require that publishers have enough time to do a good job. Too often in our industry we hear horror stories of RFPs that go out on a Friday afternoon with a deadline of end of day Monday. Most publishers want to do a good job on your behalf, not only to get your business, but to help you find success on their sites so you'll come back in the future. Unrealistic deadlines and turnaround times mean sorting through boilerplate-filled or very generic responses instead of getting publisher responses that can really help you with ad placement.

Also, it's imperative that media planners and buyers provide a timetable not only for the proposed campaign but also to indicate the decision-making process. Let the publisher know award dates (if you have them) so they can focus on other tasks if it appears they're not in the running. Not only is this the courteous thing to do, but it allows publishers to effectively determine whether they have enough inventory to offer during the campaign.

Provide an Overview of Ad Creative Parameters

As someone who worked on the creative side of the fence for many years, I learned quickly that making assumptions is the fastest way to get into trouble. While publishers may want our business, they also need to know early on what ad types, sizes, and formats the advertiser intends to use for their campaigns. Too often publishers eagerly set aside inventory to sell only to find in the 11th hour that the ad creative formats don't match the open inventory slots. In short, it's important to acknowledge that some sites only offer specific sizes of display ads such as leader boards, large rectangles, and wide skyscrapers. If what shows up as the campaign is getting ready to go live are narrow skyscrapers, small rectangles, and classic banner-sized ads, the campaign quickly turns into a nightmare and someone on either the creative team or the publisher trafficking team is going to find themselves working late into the night to fix something that could have been easily avoided with a little prior planning.

While making sure that your outgoing RFPs contain all of these elements won't necessarily guarantee a smooth campaign or flawless execution, using this checklist whenever you send anything out to a publisher will minimize potential future problems and give you much better proposals to work from.

Have a fantastic new year!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rob Graham

Rob Graham is the CCT (chief creative technologist) of Trainingcraft, Inc., where he heads up development of customized training programs for a wide range of digital marketing, entrepreneurial development, and digital media clients.

A 20 year veteran of digital media, Rob has served as the CEO of a multimedia development company; an interactive media strategist; a rich media production specialist; a Web analytics consultant; a corporate trainer and seminar leader; and a chief marketing officer.

When he isn't on the road presenting training workshops, Rob teaches at Harvard University, Emerson College, and the University of Massachusetts - Lowell where he teaches classes on Digital Media Development, Web Store Creation, Software Programming, Business Strategies, and Interactive Marketing Best Practices.

He is the author of "Fishing From a Barrel," a guide to using audience targeting in online advertising, and "Advertising Interactively," which explores the development and uses of rich-media-based advertising. He has been an industry columnist covering interactive marketing, digital media, and audience targeting topics since 1999.

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