The Indie RFP Consultant

Does the prospect of spending a huge amount of cash with a digital agency feel like a punt?

Will you email a well-meaning but confusing set of half-cooked ideas to any digital agency found on Google in the hope of getting a response that will solve your problems? Are you willing to spend effort decoding and trying to compare tens of non-standard responses from well-meaning but clueless digital wannabes?

Not every commissioner of digital projects has a procurement department or the time to learn how to run a Request for Proposals (RFP) process. That's OK. The RFP process isn't hard but can be a bucket of woe and blind alleys with "email this to everyone" attitudes still in the mix.

Today's savvy commissioners however, are spending RFP dollars with indies who can identify potential agency partners for a good fit in terms of experience and value for money. It's an exercise in pre-qualification arising from nothing more than expert knowledge of the digital agency scene and how stuff gets made.

Removing frustration and risk

It's important to recognise that not all agencies will respond, or should respond to RFPs. Commonly, an agency too big for the client will not treat the client as an "A Lister". They will not feel the investment in the RFP process is simply worthwhile.

Correspondingly, ambitious smaller agencies while flattered at being asked to respond, will waste resources by responding when they don't have the capacity and experience to do the job. But somewhere in between will be a shortlist of suitable agency partners and this is where the agency veteran can add real value to an otherwise hairy ride.

Independent RFP consultants who come from an agency background are a good bet for clients and agencies. Clients benefit from deep-knowledge of digital project life cycle with efficient identification and handling of potential agency partners. Agencies benefit from the agency experience of the RFP consultant who already speaks their language.

Simplicity is liberating

The RFP process need not be formal and simplicity trumps everything. Commissioners should keep things general in the RFP process and workshop their needs without going into detail. This part of the project lifecycle is not about detailed scopes or specifications: it's more about getting resource, talent, experience and the right chemistry cooking.

It's worth remembering that pre-qualified agencies suggested by an independent RFP consultant are already roughly in the right zone for getting the job done. With this in mind, clients are freed to concentrate on the bigger picture.

For any size project, pre-selecting 5 agencies to receive an RFP should only be done following informal telephone calls and site visits with those agencies. Once the potential agency partner has a feel for what's coming, only then can you really qualify them as being in the zone.

Simple, structured and concise agency written responses should be used to whittle down to nothing bigger than a three way pitch. Why three? There's a realistic chance of success for the competing agencies and three pitches are manageable in a day for the client. Pitching isn't mean: it's a chance for personality and chemistry to have its due influence in an otherwise fairly dry process. Embrace it.

Managing the RFP process

The writing of RFP documents, agency interviews, gathering requirements, handling questions, setting a schedule of RFP events and pitch management all pop out quite naturally when both clients and agencies are working to a common and expected framework.

Frequently there's a budget, a looming deadline, a lot of unknowns and the need for little help to get things moving. Remember this: hiring an independent RFP consultant may seem unnecessary, but their true value is knowing where to find good agencies and how to communicate with them in a way which will allow the project to happen.

Invitation to tender case study