Like Colorado, the government of a small country in the Pacific had recently legalized the recreational use of marijuana.  While pot smokers rejoiced, the Minister of Public Safety knew that she had a leviathan task to overcome.  Time was of the essence, and once the law was passed, she immediately contacted her procurement consulting arm, Zweisimmen & Bern, in search of an advertising and public relations agency that would be able to create an effective full-scale campaign to prevent the population from driving while under the influence.

“Quite frankly, I can’t afford to go at a snail’s pace,” stated the Minister, “The P.M.’s going to be scrutinizing my department and the increase in the number of accidents on the road, so not only do we need to find an agency that’s able to generate concern in marijuana-induced DUIs under a limited budget, but we also need to onboard this shop as soon as possible. Can you run through my list of eight agencies and complete the selection process in two and a half weeks?”

Arnold, a lead analyst at the consultancy, balked at the timeline.  Having worked for over ten years in sourcing, he was no stranger to criticisms of selection processes that dragged out too long, despite his team’s ability to wrap up the process in three weeks. Avi Dan captures the Internet’s general sentiment towards the Request for Proposal (RFP) process timeline, stating that it is “too slow for a marketing world that functions at the speed of light, and it is too wasteful for [all parties].  It can take five or six months, or even a year to finish….”

However, several factors made the two-and-a-half week timeline an unreasonable goal.  In drafting a response to the Minister of Public Safety, Arnold outlined the following points to demonstrate that a thorough selection process of this scope requires at least four to five weeks, from initial contact with agencies to picking the finalist:

Week 1: Introducing the process to potential candidates and creating the RFP.
  • It is important to spend time reaching out to potential candidates, and scheduling a brief but critical discussion where one can assess the agency’s capabilities, willingness to participate in the RFP process, as well as the their interest in committing to a relationship with the client.  Furthermore, as a standard procedure, prospective clients should screen for any potential conflicts of interest with each agency and ensure that there are no conflicts that exist with the agency’s current client base.  This way, the list of bidders can be refined.
  • Secondly, both procurement and those seeking the agency’s services should collaborate and draft an RFP that contains detailed information on the expectations of the client. A good RFP—one that will enable the bidders to craft responses that cater to the assignment—is one that does not provide only standard boilerplate information.  Boilerplate RFPs will be returned in kind, with generic answers that will make it difficult to distinguish one shop from the other.  Such a scenario demonstrates to agencies that the client did not spend the time to conduct preliminary due diligence, and so agencies, regardless of their industry, may not want to participate due to the perceived lack of engagement and poor collaborative mindset.

 Week 2-3: RFP release, briefing session, Q&A
  • Once the list of agencies is narrowed down (as a best practice, eight is too large a number for an RFP process.  A more suitable number participants is four or five, in order to for decision makers to fully process proposal materials), the RFP documents may be released.  In some instances, it may take a day or two for the team members at the agencies to regroup and determine whether they would be a good fit for the project, prior to confirming their intent to participate.
  • During this time period, the agencies will be working hard to craft a detailed response.  The client may want to schedule a briefing call with the bidders to ensure that the vision and strategic objectives are conveyed directly, and to provide the opportunity to answer any questions based on the information shared in the RFP.  To eliminate variables that cause confusion to the agencies, a briefing call may also be a good opportunity for the client to provide additional data and/or research related to the assignment.  The candidates will also be utilizing this period to perform their own research.

Week 4: Review submissions, conduct deep dive with finalists
  • Once agencies submit their initial RFP responses, it is important for the client and procurement to review the responses and select finalists from the pool of candidates. As the objective of the RFP process is to help secure a productive business relationship between two parties, one of the most crucial steps is to allow the two sides to have a direct conversation in the form of an onsite pitch presentation.  In instances where only four or less agencies are invited to the RFP process, it may make sense to go straight to a pitch presentation without downselecting.
  • In any case, agencies should be given the courtesy of being notified a few days in advance, since they are dedicating valuable resources and traveling time to be present.
  • Once onsite pitches are complete, the client may need some extra time to regroup to select the bidder. 

To conclude, Arnold explained to the Minister why such steps were important in the first place.  Given the limited budget and need for an effective campaign, it was necessary to have opportunities for the Minister to clearly express her objectives and vision to the agencies.  Furthermore, there needs to be enough time and information available to the agencies for them to convey the factors that make them the best fit for the assignment.

Simply rushing to select a bidder based on superficial factors increases the risk of selecting an partner that falls short of expectations.  This issue is, after all, quite common in today’s advertising world, where, according to a Forbes article, 67%of clients believe that the parties could be better aligned.  Ultimately, if the Minister does not allow for enough time to make a truly informed decision, time, and money may be wasted in the effort to revise work and/or select a new agency.
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Katherine Wang

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