If you’ve worked within the marketing world for a while, chances are you’ve run into a request for proposal (RFP).
Whether you are making the request (client) or receiving the request (agency), you may have very different views on what an RFP means and how effective they can be.
In its prime, RFPs helped buyers to logically categorize and compare suppliers of very similar things (commodities).
Say you’re looking for a new vendor for hospital supplies. An RFP can help you analyze your options thoroughly. From asking for a history of clients, their price point, how many employees they have, to proof of reliability, there can be hundreds of things to be learned.
For an industry as cut and dry as sheets and band-aids and rubbing alcohol, an RFP can help iron out issues that might arise later in your relationship.
But in other more creative industries like marketing, RFP’s can send you down confusing rabbit holes. It’s important to understand when an RFP will help you, and when it might put a wrench in your process.
So, why don’t RFPs work in helping you find a content marketing agency?
- An RFP is a traditional means of hiring an agency, but content marketing is anything but traditional.
- If your company doesn’t know how to fix an issue they have, an RFP wil stifle creativity and strategy in finding your solution.
- You can still effectively find a great marketing agency without an RFP if you keep a few key ideas in mind.
What is an RFP?
A request for proposal is a document that is usually issued by companies that are looking for a solution to a problem they’ve already identified.
The document includes an oftentimes rigid checklist that covers a myriad of things; from prices, history of work, number of employees, as well as a description of the project they need filled. A lot of the time, in the description of the project’s scope, the RFP also includes a timeline.
There can be some benefits to the RFP. When a company issues an RFP, it’s like an advertisement that they’re a hot lead. The RFP shows that they’re ready to buy and they know what problem they want solved. This is any salesperson’s dream.
But, there are drawbacks to the RFP process, especially when it comes to choosing a content marketing agency.
With a rigid checklist, there isn’t much room for a creative analysis of the company’s issues. This kind of selection criteria works best with objective and tangible results. When responses are prone to interpretation, the RFP falls flat.
Where the RFP falls flat
When it comes down to it, it’s much harder to quantify creative elements. Sure, on paper you could say a video marketing firm will provide you 60 second animations for your ads. Pretty cut and dry right? Well what if you end up hating their designs and aesthetic when applied to your brand?
On paper they hit all the marks. Their price point was respectable, their timeline was specific, and their plan seemed foolproof. It doesn’t change the fact that you simply don’t like their work.
Content marketing is a creative space. When companies are graded on responses to an RFP, their work, process, and results are often overlooked.
The presence of an RFP itself implies that the company issuing it knows what their issue is and how to fix it. If that were the case, they would be fixing it themselves, right?
If the company issuing the RFP has little to no marketing department, they won’t know the right questions to ask. The marketing world is constantly evolving. Everyday there are new marketing trends (good and bad) and more data to be learned.
Content marketing is in high demand. In the age of the internet, content is king. It’s a genuinely tough industry to get a grasp on.
When an RFP stifles the creative element, it creates a list of to-do’s. That’s great when you’re dealing with an objective industry like moving band-aids from one location to the next, but in marketing it can lead to failure.
A strategy is key when it comes to content marketing. Without strategy you’re just throwing caution to the wind and hoping something sticks.
A good strategy is what sets you apart from your competition. Here are just some of the benefits a content marketing strategy can provide:
- Consistency within your brand. From publishing cadence to tone of voice, a strategy helps you remain consistent which can in turn build trust and brand loyalty.
- An easier time tracking ROI. With a strategy defining your efforts, you’ll know how and where to track your performance. When you know what works, you can stop wasting time and money on what doesn’t.
- A complete view of the puzzle. With so many methods of driving traffic, the full-picture can sometimes get blurred. With strategy you’ll know where your efforts are being utilized best, and where they miss the mark. Maybe your blog is thriving, but you aren’t utilizing your social media channels. A strategy will help highlight these misses.
- Lead optimization. Content marketing generates leads, with a good strategy this process can be optimized to drive more sales.
This isn’t an extensive list, but you get the point. A strategy gives your content marketing efforts a solid structure and a much easier path to success.
An RFP isn’t going to highlight this. They don’t open the floor for a company to advise you in the area they know best. Not to mention the fact that an RFP essentially whitelabels the relationship during the decision making process.
Sure, you see the company name and logo and even the name of the person filling out the document, but chances are you won’t get to meet the person you’re going to be working with until the deal is sealed.
Rapport between you and your marketing agency is important. The more communication and trust there is in a relationship, the more effectively the two can work together. If you have reservations as a client, you should feel comfortable expressing those concerns and confident they’ll be able to help.
So if I’ve successfully made you wary of the RFP…
How can you choose the right marketing agency?
While you’re looking for the right marketing agency, there are a few things you should keep in mind.
- Know your goals and be open to new ideas. You might be looking for a marketing agency for a multitude of reasons. Maybe your entire content marketing efforts fall short, or maybe it’s just your blog and video efforts. You might also be looking for a more extensive marketing agency, especially if you don’t have any marketing experts on your team. Either way, when you’re looking for an agency you should have a goal in mind rather than a path to follow.
- Look into their strategy. Just because you’ve ditched the RFP doesn’t mean you should become too lax. When an agency presents you with their strategy, stress test them a bit. From case studies to statistics, you want to make sure the agency you’re looking at is legit.
- Ask the right questions. You want to create a conversation. While some yes-or-no questions add value, you’d be better off keeping them open ended as to learn more about their strategy and how it can apply to your pain points.
Just like Goldilocks, you need to find the marketing agency that’s just right.
There are hundreds of different types of marketing agencies out there. From more overhead agencies that will cover all of your marketing efforts to niche agencies to optimize certain aspects of your strategy. Once you identify your issue and have a goal in mind, it’s best to let the experts tell you what the solution is rather than make it up for yourself.
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