Why Prospective Clients Sometimes Don’t Get What They Ask for with RFPs


By Cindy Seebeck


“What makes a good RFP?” is a question we’re often asked by advertisers who are interested in engaging an agency.  It’s asked so often, I thought I’d offer up a checklist of things advertisers want to make sure they include in a Request for Proposal.

Like the saying goes, garbage in, garbage out. That doesn’t just apply to marketing data or computer software.  It applies to the RFP process as well.

Incomplete and vague RFPs result in incomplete and misguided RFP responses.  I’ve been privileged to participate in numerous RFPs and accompanying new business presentations throughout my career and have often noted that the RFP issued by prospective clients could benefit from some mandatory exclusions in addition to inclusions. Like the RFP I once saw that had more legalese and CYA language than it did background information about the business. This, besides being frustrating, is inefficient in an age where time is a precious commodity and time is money.

Here are some of the things I think need to be included in an effective RFP:

  1. Comprehensive company profile

It is always helpful to know as much about the company as possible.  Year founded, core business category, number of employees, where the headquarters is located, satellite offices – all are important details.

  1. In-depth data on brand and product to be advertised

This should include any/all competitors, retail footprint, if it is a B2B or B2C, and what the product is most commonly used for.  Responding agencies will, of course, have their own ideas about the current state of the business, but a backgrounder is important for context..

  1. Financial data/budget

What is the client’s expectation of working budget to achieve the business tasks at hand, and does it include the agency fee, or any incumbent programs?  If advertisers prefer that agencies recommend a budget, that’s fine, too, but knowing ahead of time where current thinking is on budgeting would be helpful in order to avoid unrealistic expectations.

  1. Clear and straightforward questions that will allow the agency to “show their thinking”

Beyond the usual case studies, an agency wants to be able to showcase their strategy and unique approach to your brand.  Ask questions that pertain to your business and will allow for the agency to develop a response that will highlight their unique selling proposition and perspective on what/how they would recommend you market your product.

  1. Sufficient time to prepare the response

This is probably the most important component on this list.  Yes, we all know that companies like to put agencies to the test to determine how nimble they are.  Believe me, we are all nimble.  However, these days with the need for deeper and deeper data analysis and number crunching in addition to deep conversations with numerous media sales organizations, proposals can’t always be turned around quickly.  Well thought-out plans and RFP responses take time.


These five simple components can help deliver clarity and realistic responses when putting out an RFP.  Don’t forget to include them if you’re conducting a review.