How To Keep The Kitchen Sink Out Of RFP Documents

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Well-written agency RFIs, RFPs, RFQs – or whatever you choose to call them – should be concise requests to help determine whether an agency is or isn’t capable of fulfilling your scope of work requirements.  So it can sometimes be an eyebrow-raising experience when a telephone directory-sized document, filled with redundant requests appears in agency inboxes.

These seemingly endless reams paper that ask way too many, unnecessary, inappropriate and often thoughtless questions, serve little or no purpose other than to create unnecessary work for agencies that have to complete them and a corresponding amount of unnecessary reading for clients who have to evaluate them.

Marketers who choose to chuck everything – including the kitchen sink – into their RF whatevers, need to pause before hitting ‘send’ and ask themselves the relevance of each question, whether it might be removed and how their documents might be streamlined.  Here are a few examples of kitchen sinks that we’ve seen that don’t need to be included:

How many offices do you have?

132.  Happy?  It’s a pointless question.  If you’re asking because you want solutions for a particular market – say so, and ask the question accordingly. For example, “what resources do you have on the west coast?” would yield a far more insightful answer.

How many awards have you won?

650? Is that the right answer? Of course not. It’s a kitchen sink question because it provides no insight whatever. It doesn’t answer whether the agency won 20 awards for the same campaign, how old the awards might be or what kind of awards they are. Try, “what are the three awards you’re most proud of and why…?” Wouldn’t that give more insight around the awards and the work the agency believes is their best work?

Obvious questions with obvious answers

We sometimes see kitchen sink questions along the lines of “Do you have account management as part of your offering…?”  Well if you’ve done your homework on the agencies you’re reviewing, the answer should be obvious – and if it’s ‘no’ then you’ve likely shortlisted the wrong agencies.

What’s your process?

Truly an eye-rolling, put you to sleep, who cares, and nobody’s ever going to remember kitchen sink question.  Every agency has a process of some description.  Whether it’s a simple four-step – discover, ideation, create, measure – or a detailed twelve-step approach, it doesn’t matter.  The point is – they’ve got one and your ability to evaluate “do you have a process” can only be ‘yes’ or ‘no’. If you have process challenges that you want addressed – ask a specific question such as “help us understand your quality assurance process” to drill into the aspect of process that’s relevant for your business.

‘Differentiating’ questions that make no sense

Yes, I’m talking about those nonsensical kitchen sink questions that lead nowhere such as “if your agency were an animal, what would it be…?” I don’t know why you’d ask a question like that, much less how you’d evaluate the answer.  If you want to ask a differentiating question, just ask “What do you think differentiates your agency from others?”

Last three years of financial statements

People, you’re not asking agencies to complete a mortgage application and agencies are under no obligation provide financial statements. One of the few reasons you should be concerned about the financial stability of an agency is if you’re handing over millions of dollars for a media buy. And if that’s the case, ask for a financial reference.

Annual billing by client

Some kitchen sink financial asks go deeper and ask for annual billing of the agency’s top ten clients.  Just think about that for a minute.  Would you be ok if the agency disclosed your spend to a third party? I doubt it. So please don’t ask the question.

Future business plans

We’ve seen RFP documents that specifically ask for agencies to disclose their future plans by sharing their five or ten year plans.  How can this kitchen sink question be relevant to your advertising / media activities?  If you’re concerned the agency might be sold to another entity for example, include a ‘change in control clause’ in your contract.

Too many case studies

We saw one client-written RFP recently that asked for seventeen (one seven) separate case studies ranging from strategy to print to out of home to direct marketing to ‘interactive television’(?). This is a classic hallmark of a marketer who’s not thought through their requirements to define what’s really important,. So instead of thinking about their own challenges, the marketer chucks in everything (and the kitchen sink) – likely forgetting they’l have to read and evaluate 17 case studies x say 10 agencies.  That’s 170 case studies to be evaluated!  Good luck.

Unfortunately, many of these questions are cut-and-paste questions from other documents or RFP templates that have been pulled from the internet.  Some are pulled from procurement documents for product based sourcing initiatives that just aren’t relevant for service based initiatives.  Either way, if you’re struggling with preparing an RFI,P,Q documentation that would otherwise include the kitchen sink – call for help.  It’ll be less work for agencies. Less work for you.  And you’ll almost certainly get a better result.

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.

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