One Small Fix for Broken RFPs: A Little Feedback, Please

Marketers Have to Make RFPs More Worthwhile If They Want Agencies to Keep Responding

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A recent article in Advertising Age reported that agencies are declining to take on every new request for proposal that marketers toss their way, citing smaller fees, shorter deadlines, vague briefs and unreasonable demands. The pressure on CMOs to deliver overnight results, an ever-evolving media landscape and shrinking profit margins are all combining to decrease the quality of RFPs and increase the number of agencies that feel they have to say "thanks, but no thanks."

To that list of RFP problems I'd add one more: the total lack of closure.

When you win, clients are effusive in their praise. "You had us at the anthem video," they say. "Your analytics person is a rock star!" "Your chief creative officer is an amazing human being." You know, the usual.

But when you don't win, the feedback is less forthcoming. After everything an agency puts into a pitch, hearing "The client just wasn't feeling it" doesn't cut it. After setting up focus groups, fielding research, producing videos, booking travel -- all on our own dime -- hearing "The client just felt the other guys were a better fit" is the business equivalent of "It's not you, it's me."

All I'm asking is this: If an agency doesn't win, tell them why. If the other agency killed it, great. It's not easy to hear, but that's OK. To the victor go the spoils. But generally it's not that clear cut. And while I know it might be difficult to articulate, you owe it to them to try. An agency puts its heart and soul into a pitch. The least you can do is give something in return.

This isn't about changing your mind or challenging your decision. It's not an appeals process. All anyone wants is to learn from the experience so they can be smarter next time. Scottish author Samuel Smiles said, "We learn wisdom from failure much more than success." Which is another way of saying: Give it to me straight.

You asked us to fix your business model, design a completely different go-to-market strategy and create a fully integrated marketing campaign that works across all channels in the span of two weeks. That's a tremendous amount of time and energy that we put into helping your business. All I'm asking is that you spend a little time helping ours.

Mark Simon is chief creative officer at Lowe Campbell Ewald.
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