Opinion

The Digital RFP is a Frustrating Mess

Recent research tells us what we already know: planning and buying digital media can be highly inefficient. Google opines that 28% of a media buy is soaked up by transactional costs beyond the cost of the media itself. Ad tech firm Nextmark believes that the labor to execute a digital buy comprises 8% of the cost of media.

Regardless of the exact amount of inefficiency, most agree that the current process is not optimal. In fact, one of the biggest time sinks in the media buying process is the request for proposal, or RFP. If you talk to people on both the buy side and sell side of this business, you will hear that the RFP is often the bane of their existence.

People who work at agencies are frustrated because RFPs are still largely managed through email. A single RFP sent to a dozen publishers can result in hundreds of emails going back and forth among the parties. Think about that! For a large agency that sends out, say, a thousand digital RFPs each year that means that teams are dealing with over 100,000 emails a year — just about RFPs.

Most RFPs include Excel files that are attached to the emails. Publishers will often change the format of these files (adding or deleting columns) when they respond to the RFP. Publishers may also change the details in a response — for example, the agency is looking for women 18-25 but the publisher replies with women 18-29. Unfortunately, this leads to media planners having to reformat all the submissions, which takes even more time.

Because the whole RFP process is manual, different teams within an agency cannot easily see what types of rates the other teams are getting from the same publisher. Compounding this problem is the fact that publishers will often call their product different names depending on the client they are working with. The result is limited pricing transparency across an agency, which makes the RFP process less efficient.

Dealing with RFPs is also no picnic on the publisher side. Sometimes a digital RFP is used as a way for an agency to outsource creativity. “Give us something that has never been done before,” the RFP will ask. So teams will scramble to come up with something that the agency hasn’t seen before.

People on the sell side also struggle with the RFP because the process is not integrated into Salesforce, the sales pipeline management tool that most publishers rely on. Without a connection to Salesforce, potential deals must be manually updated each time a deal size changes. This happens a lot in digital media because campaigns can be canceled at any time — even in the middle of a campaign.

You would think that people would have tried to fix these problems — and you’d be right. When Donovan Data Systems, the software provider that many agencies use to manage the media purchasing process, recently introduced a new RFP tool in its iDesk product, many people had high hopes. Unfortunately, the tool proved to be too unstable for everyday use. As a result, most agencies today still rely on email and attachments to manage the RFP process.

The pending merger of Donovan and MediaBank offers a ray of hope for everyone in media struggling with RFPs. The new company, MediaOcean, would give the business the scale it needs to tackle the industry’s biggest process issues, including RFPs. While billions of dollars have been invested in creating new forms of consumer media, very little has been spent on the industry’s infrastructure. Hopefully, the Department of Justice will approve this merger soon so that MediaOcean can build the operating system that we all need.

In the meantime, everyone working in the trenches of the media industry deserves our understanding and support. With every new web site, targeting capability or other technology that gets introduced, it is these people that ultimately have to implement the RFP process with tools that are decades old.

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