RFP Makeover: Ask Smarter Questions, Get Better Results

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If you’re a marketing or procurement team looking for a new agency, you’ve likely got a list of questions you’re ready to include in your RFP document. But are all those questions you have lined-up really necessary?  Are they helpful?  And will they really help you choose the right agency for you?

Well, let’s be honest here – based on some of the homegrown RFPs we’ve seen, chances are your questions are about as helpful as a bowl of lukewarm alphabet soup and could use a shot of espresso.

Too harsh?

Unfortunately, no.  Some of the questions we see repeated in RFP documents really aren’t helpful to marketers or their prospective agencies. Won’t delineate between good and great.  And won’t help find an agency that’s really right for you.  Here are a few examples and how to think about making some improvements:

How many awards have you won?

Answer: 100. Is that the right answer? Of course not, because it’s out of context and doesn’t break out what awards were won and for which campaigns. My colleague Darren Woolley at TrinityP3 in Australia wrote a powerful piece on this ‘cutting through the creative wank of creative awards‘ which makes for an interesting read on how to better ask the awards question.

If you want to short-cut to an insightful and more creative answer, what about asking, ‘what are the top five awards you’re most proud of and why?‘ This would give you a sense of what the agency values as success, whether results are tied to it and how relevant the awards are to your business.

Do you have a process?

We’ve heard both ‘do you have a process...” and “what is your process…” In either case, both are somewhat irrelevant because the answer to ‘do you have…‘ is undoubtedly ‘yes’. And I defy any marketer to look me in the eye and tell me they’re interested in someone else’s process chart!

Very few people are even interested. 

What people are interested in is the specific part of the process that may not be working for them currently. So why not ask that question – i.e. ‘can you help us understand your Quality Assurance (or whatever it may be) within your process to ensure we get the highest quality work…‘? Wouldn’t that be more helpful instead of pages of process charts that nobody’s going to read?

What’s your hourly rate?

Here’s another particularly unhelpful question. Asked in isolation the answer has almost no relevance. It’s like asking what you’d like for dinner – answer: food! 

Hourly rates quoted in isolation, without a scope of work and the amount effort required to deliver on that scope are just a number. Either an hour rate of $X x Y number hours, or a total fee is needed to complete the equation. So if you’re worried about hourly rates, you need to provide a detailed view of your ask for a meaningful answer.

How can you make our campaign go viral?

While an agency (or the internet) might bombard you with a million sure-fire possibilities to make your campaign go viral, the truth is, nobody holds the magic remote.

Campaigns typically go viral because the client and agency deeply understand their audience and have captured their message in a highly original way that then triggers an equally emotional response.

So a better question is to ask would be ‘how will you develop the deepest possible understanding of your audience and marry that with a media solution to reach them‘?

If your agency were an animal what animal would it be?

Hold the phone right there. Unless your ideal agency is a mind-reading psychic ferret, this question is truly best left unasked.

These are just some examples of questions asked in an agency search that need context in order to be relevant and for agencies to be able to answer thoughtfully. Other questions you may want to avoid include answers to questions that could easily be found with a little homework such as, do you have French capabilities, or do you have offices in the US, or are you part of a larger holding company?

The bottom line here is that unless you want to read potentially hundreds pages of information from agencies who have had to sweat for weeks on their submissions, ask fewer but more relevant questions. Restrict answers to a defined number of pages and ditch the snooze-fest by asking questions that will get you the agency that’s right for you.


Stephan Argent is Founder and Principal at Listenmore Inc  offering confidential advisory to marketers looking for truly independent insight and advice they can’t find anywhere else. Read more like this on our blog Marketing Unscrewed / follow me @StephanArgent



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