I Won’t Dance, Don’t Ask Me

This post kicks off a mini-series on business practices – the best, the worst and the unspeakable. Celebrating 20 years this month, running a PR and marketing agency through economic peaks and valleys gives one a unique perspective on being an entrepreneur, a boss, and a business partner. In this blog, we’ll tackle the RFP, a horrific process regardless of what business you’re in.


Ah, this old Sinatra song’s refrain pipes into my head whenever we read an RFP. XYZ Company has contacted you as part of its beauty contest, for which you will have the pleasure of spending countless hours constructing a document that will enable us to say we made our vendor selection from a sample of three respondents.

We get it, we truly do. We’ve won the contest, and we’ve lost. It’s part of doing business and the costs involved in responding to an RFP are lovingly relegated to the sales budget.

Recently, we participated in an RFP that entailed my least favorite language, especially given their request that we develop full-blown media campaign ideas as part of our response.

All materials and proposals submitted become our property and can be used at the discretion of XYZ Company in its PR and marketing programs.

Let’s make sure we got that right. We give you our best ideas and you give them to another agency – most likely one of our direct competitors – for execution under your brand. Do you also go to your accountant and ask him to do your income taxes for free so you can view the outcome before engaging him? Or call a doctor and ask her to detail three courses of treatment before you schedule a visit? Of course not. And when it comes to something as important as your PR and marketing partner, you shouldn’t insult them by asking for spec work during the RFP that you execute under the auspices of another relationship. It’s tacky.

Score your responses: It behooves the company issuing the RFP to think through its decision-making process in advance so that scoring the responses is objective versus subjective.

Make it personal: The responding firm should establish a relationship with the individual from whom the RFP emanates. Oftentimes there is an opportunity to ask questions, which should always be pursued in the interest of advancing the relationship from faceless impersonal interaction to two people connecting one-on-one. Friending them on Facebook is definitely taking it too far.

Create a short-list: Even though it takes more time, short-list a subset of vendors from the initial responses. It is at this point that it becomes reasonable to request additional information or campaign ideas, providing assurances are in place that they are proprietary to the short-listed firm.

Try, try again: While I personally maintain that the person who invented the RFP should be tarred and feathered, it’s a tried-and-true means of identifying the right vendor partner. Other means are better and we’ll wax on those approaches in later posts. For now, win or lose, tomorrow will be another day.