The Growing Problem of RFP-Mania

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MARC BROWNSTEIN: You know things are out of hand when small-to-mid-size agencies like Brownstein Group are receiving rfp’s for small projects. Not long-term, retainer relationship opportunities. I’m talking about 15 weeks and done. Assignments that used to be handed to us after a conversation. And for that, we receive the privilege of competing among several agencies for the honor of being chosen for that project. P-R-O-J-E-C-T.

What’s going on in the agency world? Have clients suddenly, and collectively, decided that every assignment they have is worthy of a bake-off? Have budgets shrunk so much that there isn’t enough meat on the bone for a sustained agency relationship? Or, what worries me more is the possibility that clients just don’t want to get married anymore. Today, it’s “Let’s play hard-to-get, and then just date.”

Crazy thing is, while we have said "no" to most of these short-term shoot-outs, we have actually competed for some of them. We rationalize it by convincing ourselves that if we get a project opportunity from a substantial company, it will open the door for more such projects. Our experience: yes and no. There have been times when one successful project has lead to another one. But it hasn’t lead to the kind of relationship that we agency optimists envision when we green light an rfp response. More often, it’s been one-and-done.

My guess is that, essentially, some clients are comfortable keeping their business close at hand, and maintaining control, versus turning the reins over to a marketing agency. And this is a trend that agencies like ours have to be very careful about pursuing.

Wouldn’t it be great if small-to-mid-size agencies everywhere could engage in rfp collusion for project worK -- and just say no!
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