RFPs for Christmas: Grinchy Marketers Give Agencies Tight, Post-Holiday Deadlines

Cigna, Mark Cuban's AXS TV and Bosch Automotive Among Those Seeking Proposals

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Last December, Possible CEO Shane Atchison was gearing up for a holiday break -- the WPP digital shop shuts down between Christmas and New Year's -- until an undisclosed marketer put a damper on those plans.

A "dream brand" had sent an RFP for a digital agency-of-record opportunity, asking for responses by Jan 1. "I personally had very little anguish. I did not even tell anyone at our agency," he told Ad Age. "I picked up the phone, called the client and simply said that while this is our dream opportunity, we are not going to be able to respond in the timeline." It wouldn't be the agency's best work and besides, the shop frowns upon working over the holidays, he told the marketer. The executive was impressed and gave Possible a 10-day extension. The shop ultimately won the business.

Marketers who set tight pitch and project deadlines around the holidays are generally par for the course in the service industry. According to various agencies, these past two weeks were slightly lighter on last-minute RFPs than usual, and a few marketers even noted that they were extending response deadlines to the end of January to respect agencies' time off.

Sometimes the year-end hustle is unavoidable, such as a use-it-or-lose-it budget or a retailer digging itself out of the pre-holiday rush to finally find time to review. But agencies are more often left wondering what's driving the timing.

"I'd say it's not a Grinch-like attitude as much as trying to get it off the plate before holiday," said Ken Robinson, co-founder of search consultancy Ark Advisors. "We've gotten a lot of RFPs in the last five days. [Marketers] know they close and assume agencies don't. It's often a misunderstanding of agency schedules." Like Mr. Atchison, he thinks agencies should stand their ground. "Agencies can say we'd like to extend the deadline," he said. "Most often clients will say you're right."

Here's a handful of RFPs that could keep agencies busy over the holidays this week:

Cigna sent a hefty review document to digital agencies in mid-December that's due in the second half of January, according to people familiar with the matter. The scope is unclear at this point, but agency executives described it as "big" and a couple of executives said they would probably need to work on it over the holiday.

AXS TV, which was founded by investor and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, sent a digital RFP last week with an early January response deadline. "No one has to do anything they don't want to do," Mr. Cuban told Ad Age.

Lowe's issued an RFP for "mobile application development" services and assistance on the implementation of a "mobility roadmap over the next several years" in North America, according to a copy of the document obtained by Ad Age. It's for a three-year contract with an option for a one-year renewal across the U.S. and eventually Mexico and Canada. RFPs went out Dec. 17; participant RFP clarification questions are due Dec. 27; RFP responses are due Jan. 3; participant interviews will take place in mid-January and the marketer expects to make a selection in February.

• After receiving request-for-quotes documents and a non-disclosure-act to sign in November, agencies had a few weeks to prepare for Bosch Automotive's digital review for a multi-year contract, set to take place through December and early January. This month, the company also asked agencies participating in the process to simultaneously work on an RFP and a project for the Consumer Electronics Show, which begins Jan 7. The CES project is one of many components of the review and scope, said a Bosch spokeswoman. "The intent was not, 'Let's get it in before year-end.' It's just that the timing of the RFP happened to be at the end of the year," she said.

Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf's creative pitch is taking agencies straight through the holiday. Here's the timeline: Presentation and cost proposals are due Dec. 19; agency selection for in-person presentations the week of Dec. 23; in-person presentations the week of Jan. 6; and agency selection the week of Jan. 13

Group M Next, the events and IP unit of WPP media-agency network Group M, has issued an RFP to other agencies -- both inside and outside WPP -- requesting support for creative design, production video, web and account services related to a big event Group M produces in the fall. Responses to questions are due Jan. 10. Group M Next CEO Chris Copeland said if his shop wanted to "give partners who may be selected enough time to do work leading up to the event, this is the timing you end up with." Agencies have about a month to work on the RFP, which is longer than they'd have if Group M issued the RFP before the holidays, said Mr. Copeland. They'll resume the pitch in early January. "We're sensitive to holiday schedules, CES and year-end wrap-ups," he said. "We tried to be sensitive to all the demands because we experience them as well."

Marriott told digital agencies earlier this month about an upcoming review, and said they'd be briefed weeks later on the scope and next steps. It said holiday timing would be taken into account, according to people familiar with the matter. [UPDATE: According to a Marriott spokesman, the company sent an RFI to agencies in November for an additional digital project that doesn't affect incumbents' existing work. Marriott reviewed the responses in mid-December and told agencies it would send an RFP weeks later.]

Contributing: Maureen Morrison

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