By Sandy French, Founder

In the over two decades we’ve been creating and managing direct response (DR) campaigns, I can count on one hand the number of clear and comprehensive requests for proposals (RFPs) we’ve received.  In fact, in about 75% of cases, we don’t receive an RFP at all. I find this remarkable. An RFP is the critical document that should drive the agency selection process. It is invaluable to both the organization and agency as it ensures there will be a fair and comprehensive process to forming a partnership.

To help you with your next direct response RFP, here is my list of RFP content essentials and mistakes to avoid in the process.

Content Essentials

A well thought-out RFP should contain these essential elements:

  1. Corporate background: Provide information about your organization. The agency doesn’t need more than half a page (that’s what Google is for). Paint a picture – include company highlights from past to present, as well as an overview of your products/services, what makes you unique, and your competition and culture.
  2. DR campaign overview: Why are you doing a DR campaign? Whether you are new to DR or a seasoned player, some event has driven the decision to spend time and money on DR. Is your competition using it? Are you losing market share? Do you need a better ROI? Are you moving from direct mail to DRTV? Do you need to increase monthly donations? Helping the agency understand what you’re trying to achieve and why is very helpful in shaping strategy.
  3. Campaign scope: What exactly are you asking the agency to do? The more detailed the scope, the better. A simple example would be creative, production and media for a new DR campaign consisting of:• DRTV: 120-second and 60-second commercials.
    • DR Online: SEM, SEO, display, landing pages.
    • DR Radio: 30-second and 60-second commercials.Now, in some cases, you may not know exactly what you need, which is why you are seeking the services of an agency. In that case, spell out as much as you can and talk about your wish list. Let the agency map out what they feel is best for you based on their experience and your budget. It’s also helpful to spell out the resources you have at your disposal that may impact the budget (e.g., an in-house web designer or internal call center).
  4. Objectives and measurement: This is one of the most critical components, yet it is frequently given minimal thought or overlooked altogether. When this section is missing from an RFP, I often ask, “how are your marketing efforts being measured?” From this, we can help define some measurable objectives, but it doesn’t make much sense to do a DR campaign if you can’t also define and measure success. Here are some examples of simple and effective DR objectives with metrics:• Drive 2,500 calls at a cost per call of $25.
    • Convert 40% of calls at a cost per sale of $45.
    • Drive 4,000 web visits and convert 50% to monthly donors.Sometimes the systems are not in place to get more detailed, so do the best you can with what you have.
  5. Agency requirements: This section is straightforward, but read the responses carefully. How the questions are answered speaks volumes. For example, are the answers clear, comprehensive, logical and well laid out?Information you request should include:• Agency background: history, client list, unique selling proposition and case studies.
    • Values: this speaks to culture, which is integral to the agency-client fit.
    • Summary of agency services.
    • Work samples.
    • Recommendations on how to execute the campaign (top-level recommendations).
    • Team who will work on the account, which should include senior staff.
    • Pricing: broken down based on the budget you supply. A range will suffice.
    • Timeline based on your desired campaign launch date.
  6. Selection process: Outline the next steps in the agency selection process with dates.
  7. Contact: Every agency will have questions. Make sure you provide a knowledgeable person as the contact, and who will be available to answer calls and return emails.

What Not to Do

  1. Don’t ask the agency to come up with extensive creative presentations during the RFP phase – this is what they get paid to do. Creative ideas or concepts should suffice. You don’t need more than that and the agency’s proposal to make a decision.
  2. Don’t skip a face-to-face meeting with the agency before making a decision. A successful partnership is based on expertise and culture fit. You still need to look each other in the eye before you start the dance.
  3. Don’t use the RFP process to figure out your marketing plan or whether you should do a DR campaign in the first place. These should already be determined.

The RFP process is critically important, but it doesn’t need to be complicated. If done correctly, you’ll end up with several great agencies to choose from. And, most importantly, it will increase your opportunity for a successful DR campaign moving forward.

We can help you grow your brand and drive results.