Issuing an RFP: Make planning a priority

By: Robert Chitty, Partner

As an agency that specializes in building brands for clients, we generally encounter three different client scenarios: clients that begin the process of brand development without a plan; clients that recognize they need a plan, but require guidance; and clients that have already completed a plan and are itching to get started. In each of these scenarios, clients may choose to issue a request for proposal (RFP) to solicit the branding expertise of a reputable agency.

If your organization is looking to engage an agency to support your brand development or market outreach efforts, consider making the planning process a priority when pulling together your RFP:

Know what your vision and requirements are for design

We all know that great design drives innovation, but it has also become a loose term for what is considered to be the general flow of noise that is ubiquitous in people's lives today. In an RFP, knowing what is meant by “design” is crucial, and supports the bidding process insomuch as it ensures there is alignment between what is expected and what is ultimately provided.

Is your request for design a simple one-off design project to fit into a larger pre-existing campaign? Or are you looking for an agency to design a visual campaign for you; an agency that understands design literacy and the integral role of design as a construct embedded within your organization's culture? Being clear in these expectations will help ensure that the submissions you receive are consistent with what is requested and the price is accurately reflective of that need.

If you’re seeking creative concepts to be included in bids, are you willing to provide compensation?

When submitting a bid, sometimes agencies are requested to submit original ideas or creative concepts. In our experience, providing an original idea or validating current trends or an organization’s strengths or weakness serves as clear indicators of how much passion exists for a project. If an agency is able to demonstrate their passion, clear talent and enthusiasm at the proposal stage, imagine the final product after you award them with the contract. And certainly, these original ideas can appear as a bonus to the client, especially when compared against other bidders that simply template their offer and bring little knowledge of the client's DNA or assessment of the organization’s present and future state.

However, requesting designs at the RFP stage comes at a cost of time and resources that doesn’t always result in a winning contract, meaning those agency’s take a hit to their bottom line each time. In some situations, clients who request ideas or concepts may opt to offer a small budget to make it worth delivering some conceptual thinking, but this is rarely the case. This cash outlay—offered in the RFP stages of an engagement—is a decent and ethical practice that would inspire greater willingness for bidders to provide high quality original concepts that would enhance the final proposal by way of adding contest and demonstrating value for dollars. It’s something to consider, especially if you’re seeking high quality bids.

Are the key players or decision makers in agreement with what is being requested in the RFP?

Since an organization is complex and comprised of many factors—not limited to a wide range of personalities, leadership styles, governance rituals, experts in various disciplines and politics—investing in the communications and marketing expertise of an external agency ultimately must be supported from all of the key players and decision makers who are involved in the final approval process.

The person in charge at the beginning must have the support of those across the organization and demonstrate an acute ability to balance the range of issues that emerge in order to get the job done, all the while avoiding costly delays, alterations and internal conflicts, and making sure that each precious dollar goes directly towards creating a highly tuned campaign that has impact.


As you can see, there is a lot more to drafting and issuing and RFP than just writing it. Communicating your vision and expectations to prospective bidders as accurately and clearly as possible can save you a lot of time, stress, and ultimately, money.