The Downside of RFPs

Requests For Proposals (RFPs) have been around for a long time and it’s time for them to go away, forever. They are not beneficial or helpful in anyway for the organization nor the creative team they’re sent out to.

I crunched the numbers. I looked up the number of RFPs we’ve received over the years, the number of ones we responded too and the number of successful RFPs we won. The first two numbers are admittedly low. But the last? How many times have we successful bid on an RFP?

0

In reality, RFPs go against everything we stand for. We’ve been in business long enough to earn a pretty solid roster of clients and keep the lights on for over a decade. This means we’ve done decent enough work for people to pay us and still be around today. And you know what else? Along the way we’ve found out what works, what doesn’t work and how to improve and make things work even better.

This is called our process and there’s a purpose why it exists. When I said earlier we figured out a what doesn’t work what I really meant was that we did things subpar that costs us time and/or money, or, worst of all, a less than stellar project. No one wants that, not us, not the people hiring us and definitely not the people buying their products or services.

Two paths, follow your gut and you'll eventually get there. #storytellers

Predetermined Set of Values

RFPs have a predetermined set of values- whether that be views, solution or simply how to go about performing a duty.

To put it bluntly, this simple does not work.

All RFPs I have read have gone down a path to a solution. This could be a deliverable, where to shoot, who to include or even what camera to shoot on.

How does having this information help a project? I have no clue.

Sometimes the author of the RFP doesn’t know they’re providing a solution, which only further hurts a project. My guess is that most respondents to RFPs write proposals verbatim with the language in the RFP and ultimately wins the job. But no one along the way asked “why.”

Everything we do has a purpose and, being the curious buggers we are, we have to know why. We crave this.

RFPs are usually templated

Often times, I found that RFPs were templated and recycled from other projects in the organization or found using a quick Google search.

When RFPs are templated they do not deliver the answer, or results, you’re looking for.

Each project comes with it’s own set of limitations and parameters. A templated set of questions won’t allow either party to dive into the problem and come up with a solution that works, that drive results or creates change.

Furthermore, no two creative agencies are the same. Our proposal and process is going to look different from another video production company. This isn’t to say there is no wrong answer, but there can be more than one right answer.

To put it bluntly, RFPs simply do not work.

RFPs are Old

Beside being old-school, many RFPs are old (and templated, but I already told you that). The language might not speak to today’s world with it’s sophisticated technology and social norms.

One of the RFPs we saw once stipulated that the deliverables must be on Beta tape- a quality format that was technologically advanced in 1984. This RFP was sent out in the mid 2000s!

Even on a conservative level in the mid 2000s a DVD is arguably not a great delivery format.

I was convinced the author of this RFP knew what he or she was looking for and this foreshadowed how the entire project would pan out.

What’s the Point

Where many RFPs fail is messaging to a potential partner is the purpose. Why are we doing this project and what is it suppose to do? Sell more t-shirts and hats? Let someone know about a new product line?

Creatives need to know what the purpose of the project is. Is there a problem we’re trying to solve? For us, this is a conversation where all the stakeholders are present and we’re discussing what we’re trying to achieve, why we’re doing this, how we might go about it, etc.

In the RFPs I’ve seen there is usually a solution present or a hinted one. We never go into a project knowing what the solution is. We’re not experts in everything and certainly not the expert that you are in your business.

But we know how to figure this out, we know what questions to ask and how to get about finding that solution. Hint: It’s our process, again.

RFPs should be a blank slate. Take initiative and find your story.

Budget

Why do RFPs always leave out budget? This is another one I can’t figure out for the life of me. Sometimes organizations don’t have a budget because they honestly don’t know what it costs.

I can only assume it’s because they want to get a project at a lower price point that what it’s really worth.

But, I digress.

2nd Opinion

If you go to the doctor to get a second opinion, you do just that- you get a second opinion. Not a 37th opinion.

Many RFPs authors send it out to as many places as possible. This is a like a hurricane, spreading damages across a large area.

How can one manage to field so many creative proposals and keep track of them? It’s far too easy to confuse the bits you like among  several proposals.

We love to compete for work, but not with that many others. At the onset of a potential project conversation, we usually ask who else is in the mix. We found that when we compete with 10 or 20 or even 30 other companies on a bid that there is simple too much confusion on the other end and respectfully bow out.

Field better proposals with these tips.

How to field better proposals

So you’re ready for your project and you’re looking for video production companies to partner with. Great! Let’s figure out the best way to do this.

Talk with different creatives to gauge if they’re a fit or not. Ask about potential approaches or processes. Share with them the problems you’re having and the goals, too. Let them know who you are as a company, who your users/customers are.

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Don’t be afriad to set the bar high and listen, too. You’re looking for help from people who do this day in and day out. Ask them what has worked for others and why. See if your company can relate. If not, at least you understand how they got from point A to point B.

What questions do you have about proposals and RFPs? Let me know in the comments below.

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Comments

  • Vivian Eisenecher

    Unfortunately, RFPs are a necessary evil. They are also a big time waster for some.

    • Hi Vivian, how/why are they a necessary evil? I believe there is a better way to approach projects that consistently deliver better results.

  • Being an audio guy for many years I have not had the “pleasure” of dealing with RFPs. Although, I suppose the audition process is sort of like and RFP with no real target goal in min other than to cast a voice over person. Some producers won’t know the sound until they hear it.

  • Clover

    Thoughtful insight. Thanks for taking the time to share.

  • Tony

    Tim,
    Although this article has been out there for a while, this is my first time reading it,and I must say it’s right on point. As an owner of a small production company for 16 years. I can count on one hand how many projects we’ve won bidding on RFPs, After many attempts I’ve officially sworn off of them and now direct my energy on building relationships and a good reputation for producing quality work.
    Tony Pierce
    Pierce Media