Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Test Driving Your Agency During the RFP Process

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I've been trying to rally the industry around fixing the broken client/agency RFP process for quite some time. It's nice to know I'm not fighting this battle alone.

I just came across a great piece in iMediaConnection from back in July by Daniel Flamberg -- 11 ways to rock and RFP. Yes, I've been one upped -- my column that ran in iMediaConnection in March featured just 10 ways to improve the client/agency RFP process.

Daniel makes a lot of great suggestions but I really like #11 -- "Road test the finalist agencies." Here's his POV...

"Don't ask for spec creative or free strategic thinking. Instead, ask agencies to participate in a live 90-minute strategy session. This more than anything will give you a live feel for what it will be like to work with any given agency team.

In structuring the live working session, follow this formula:

1. Prepare real data to identify and document a real business issue or scenario that the agency will face. Supply this to the agency one week ahead of the session. Be sure all participating agencies have signed non-disclosure agreements in advance.

2. Insist that only two senior people and the working team assigned to your business can participate.

3. Limit the session to 90 minutes. Set a clear outcome for the meeting. For example, the meeting should yield a campaign theme and three tactics to address this particular marketing problem.

4. Have your team -- the people who will interact with the agency each day --participate in the session. Run it as if the relationship existed.

5. Use an independent leader. Don't lead the session if you are assessing the outcome.

6. Devise a scorecard that accounts for the quality of the ideas, the creativity of the team, the experience demonstrated, and the chemistry between the participants.

7. Measure how prepared the agencies were and what outside data, information, or experience they brought to the party.

8. Try to understand the relative contributions of the senior agency people versus the working team members.

9. Ask your people which team they liked best and why.

10. Weight this exercise relative to the other intelligence you've developed to make a final decision."

I think this a very practical recommendation that respects both the time and IP of the agencies while still making them sweat a little bit to show the client how they'd perform if selected. I especially like the improv aspect of this kind of session in that the agency will have to respond to the feedback of the client in a live environment rather than hide behind a flashy presentation, rehearsed scripts, and planted questions.

All told, I can't think of a better way for a client to tell if they're getting a cadillac or a lemon -- well, besides transparent agency rankings based on the Ultimate Question but I'm still working on that.

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