Hello, I’m requesting marriage proposals. To show your interest, please fill out the attached 60 page document, full of ambiguous & repetitive questions. The only two answers that matter are how much you make & how good will you look on my arm, but please fill out the rest anyway, so I know that you are really interested.
Does this sound like a misguided way to choose a spouse? Who would accept a marriage proposal based solely on income & looks? We wouldn’t choose a life partner this way, but businesses are choosing advertising partners in this manner every day. What about other crucial elements like core values, general compatibility, intellect, temperament, and attentiveness? These are important not only for personal relationships, but for business ones as well.
When a request for advertising proposal is published, a lot of companies are looking for the cheapest reputable company they can find. While money will always be an important factor, it seems short-sighted to ignore all the other elements that go into a business relationship. No two agencies are the same. They could be identical in pricing, size, years of experience, & location, but still have vastly different ideas on how you should advertise. Unless you are going to dictate everything to an agency (i.e. place this asset with this media for this length of time with this budget), you really need to consider more than just the monetary cost. Case in point, we’ve seen multiple companies that are unhappy with their current agency, but are bound by an RFP. If the system isn’t working, it needs to change.
What does the company stand for? To be fair, there is usually a question like this in most RFPs. I wonder how often it’s overlooked though. Admittedly, it’s hard not to sound like a door-to-door salesman, and there are certain buzzwords that sound good on paper, but look for specific examples they provide of their values, or look for words (other than buzzwords) that are repeated. This will give you a glimpse of what the company is all about. Or, rather than asking for their core values, ask how they embody YOUR core values. Do you value honesty? Ask them how they handle mistakes. Do you value transparency? Ask them if their clients know how much of their advertising dollars go to media costs.
A company can look great on paper & still not be a great fit in real life. There are a lot of factors that go into compatibility & not all of them can be asked on paper. Think about your best vendor relationships. What makes them so great? What is more valuable to you than saving 1% on advertising costs? Is it a partner that always does more than is asked? Is it someone who gives you quick, direct answers? Do you love that rep that will give you clear, step-by-step instructions? Think about what matters to you & ask questions that evaluate agencies on those priorities.
Intellect & experience go hand in hand. Choosing an agency with intellect is important, because it means they will research new ideas, question things that don’t work, and will have an overall goal in mind. Experience breeds more intelligence. How do they know that the awesome idea you had won’t work? It’s probably because they’ve tried it before. Experience is a great teacher & something new can be learned from every campaign. Finding the right fit of experience & knowledge requires assessing what you truly care about. Do they have experience in a particular field? Do they have advanced tracking measures set up? Can they make the complicated seem simple?
Temperament can be harder to quantify, but it’s still an important component when choosing an advertising partner. It’s also one that can make you miserable if you choose incorrectly. Again, it takes some self-reflection to figure out what you value. Is it important that your agency staff are always friendly & helpful? Do you appreciate thoughtful responses that take all possibilities into consideration? Do you need a partner that is flexible & will handle curveballs and last minute requests with the importance they deserve?
Being attentive seems like a given, but it shouldn’t be taken for granted. We’ve heard horror stories of agencies who wouldn’t accept phone calls and other ridiculous restrictions. Attentiveness is key not only to running smooth campaigns, but also to maintaining a healthy business relationship. If they aren’t attentive to you, are they being attentive to your campaigns? It makes you wonder. What specifically are you looking for from an agency? Do you value communication? Ask how often they visit their clients or how quickly they respond to email inquiries. Do you value updates? How often are they providing performance feedback? Get the answers to the questions that matter to you.
If you feel like you still are getting stifled answers from the agency, ask their client references these same questions. References are always asked for, but so rarely checked. They can help you get a better understanding of who you’re dealing with. The same applies to agency interviews. With so much of communication being non-verbal, it’s crucial to enlist personal conversations to aid your decision process.
Realistically, money does still make the world go round, but if you can’t stand the person you’re on the ride with, it makes for a miserable time. If nothing else, a refreshing new RFP, full of authentic, original questions will be a breath of fresh air to the agencies who fill them out. Trust me. You may even find that you receive more proposals.