“You are invited to tender….” is an opening sentence that commercial teams both welcome and dread in equal measure. This is often the first step in mutually beneficial long-term relationship, which allows both client and vendor to flourish. But the path to finding the right partner can often be hindered by an ill-conceived buying process.
Well drafted RFPs are a pleasure to work on: they make vendors think, allow for creative solutions and ultimately give the client the best outcome. When they are badly executed however, they put vendors off.
We recognise that buying a new media monitoring or communications analysis service can often be a challenging process, but it also offers you a tremendous opportunity. You have the chance to get buy-in from key stakeholders, to set management expectations and reflect on how you define success.
Below are some practical tips to help you get the best out of an RFP process, including some common pitfalls to avoid.
- Things to consider before you start
- Five simple steps to achieving the best results
- Common pitfalls to avoid
Before you start, there are three key things to consider:
RFPs are time consuming for both sides so set yourself up to achieve the right outcome by enlisting everyone with a stake in the decision making process from the outset. Ensure you are clear on their goals and make certain that the service you are asking for delivers what everyone needs. Often, tenders result in no-one appointed if this initial step is not completed.
Be clear on what you want to achieve from the monitoring and measurement service, but don’t be prescriptive on how they are achieved. State your objectives and define what challenges you are trying to solve but leave room for the agency to be creative and consultative in its response. The hallmark of a trusted partner is one that offers ideas instead of ticking boxes.
Media analysis is not a commodity purchase. It’s a consultative partnership, so schedule time in the process for face-to-face meetings (or conference calls) with prospective agencies. It’s incredibly important to meet the client service team – not just the sales team – because it will be the chemistry and how you engage that really matters, rather than the nuts and bolts of their offering.
All tender processes are slightly different. However in our experience, clients that have achieved the best results have followed these five simple steps:
They do their research
Before the RFP is issued, do some research. Search online and ask colleagues and peers for recommendations on agencies and schedule meetings or calls before issuing the full brief. Use the calls as a prequalification stage so that after weeding out agencies that didn’t feel like the right fit, you have around five strong contenders on your shortlist. It’s better for all parties.
They are realistic about what they need
Set out a scope rather than a wish list. Be realistic and specific on your requirements regarding countries, languages and media types etc. Countries are important as its unusual for a program to be truly global. Also set out the markets and competitors that are most important as you may scale your analysis according to tiers If possible provide a budget range to align expectations and ensure you have responses that are all viable options.
They are open to new approaches
Include open questions – how, what, when, why, describe – that leave room for the agency to be creative and consultative in its response. Remember to share how you intend to use the measurement reports and who will receive them so that the agency has a clear picture of your requirements. Some tenders actively prevent conversations with the comms team. This is a mistake to avoid. You should encourage a dialogue between you and prospective agencies as the more you can share about your expectations the better. If necessary, issue a Confidentiality Agreement.
They value people and experience
Technology is great but don’t end up with a solution that is over-reliant on portals or automation. Tech and AI is fantastic for crunching data but it’s experienced human analysts that give you the insights you need to prove PR value and optimise your comms strategy. Ultimately it’s the way the consultants use the data that will make the real difference for you.
They are well-timed
Be mindful that after the contract award there will be a set up period followed by a period of collaborative adjustment before the service can run as ‘business as usual’. You should request an implementation plan as part of the RFP and try not to deviate from this plan. Good analysis services are not just turned on at the flick of a switch so work together towards mutual milestones.
Follow these steps and you’ll be on your way to finding the perfect measurement partner.
So, what about the brief itself? Here are some common pitfalls and tips to overcome them:
- The brief is too generic… or too specific. Aim to convey your requirements, but leave room for creativity
- A rushed process works for no-one. Allow 5-7 days for agencies to review the brief and submit any questions by email, after which a prompt response will help keep things moving. Issue a single response to all participants to ensure that everyone receives the same information and clarifications (but don’t share who asked the question!). After that allow sufficient time for every potential partner to do their best work. Around 4 weeks should be sufficient.
- Prescriptive response formats. Tick boxes are useful for some elements but you should make room for creativity. If you’re concerned about waffle, consider limiting responses by word count to focus on key points.
- A focus on vanity metrics or outputs. Don’t just list the metrics you need. Ask the agency about outcome-based measurement to make sure you are measuring things that matter
- Ensure there’s a presentation stage. Even if there is one stand-out winner from the RFP process, we suggest meeting the top two contenders to discuss and compare their approaches. Involve your internal stakeholders to ensure you’ve got their support and ask questions that ensure expectations are aligned. Be sure to meet the agency team you’ll be working with.
So when it comes to putting your media measurement out to tender, remember – the best match needn’t cost you a fortune. In fact, the best partnerships aren’t built on price. The relationships that work best are those built on trust and understanding. Start there with your RFP process, and you can bet you’re on a good track.
This article was written by Jason Weekes, Commercial Director for Europe and the Americas for CARMA International, the global communications evaluation consultancy. He has spent the last 16 years helping clients prove and improve the effectiveness of their communications programs and has developed services for some of the worlds’ largest companies and political institutions.