Request for proposal? We’ll get back to you

March 19, 2013

Last year, we were invited to pitch for a media campaign for a major international manufacturer of industrial products. The brief was to come up with a campaign to re-invigorate the brand with new advertising and a PR campaign designed to create clear blue water between the company and its competitors. Alongside an incredibly talented team of senior creatives from one of our key partner agencies, Tiga UK, we worked hard to create what we judged to be a compelling pitch that ticked all the boxes. Having packed our presentation documents and visuals, our team travelled up the M40 to meet with the client and make our play.

We didn’t get it.

OK – you can’t win them all. But recently, we discovered that the account in question, actually wasn’t…in question, I mean. The company actually had no intention of relieving the incumbent of the account, and appeared to be merely testing the waters. Or possibly even fishing for new ideas at our expense. Alas this is not an isolated incident. Late last year, we we received a Request for Proposal (RFP) from a European government department. In this case, the sector we were being asked to work in was a new one for us. We were completely honest about our modest experience in this area; but having been assured that the lack of track-record was not a problem, we embarked on putting together a comprehensive strategy to achieve the objectives within quite a tight budget. The 30-page proposal took some serious midnight oil to put together, occurring as it did during our busiest period. But we did it and the document was couriered at considerable expense to the headquarters of the organisation concerned.

We were turned down; The reason? a lack of track record in the sector.

I recently came across a great article by John Warrillow on Inc.com in which he argues that an RFP isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. The thrust of John’s argument is that by going head-to-head with competitors, you are devaluing your offering (and theirs). By competing on price/cost you are sacrificing your USPs and margins in a race to the bottom that does nobody any good. Least of all you. It’s a convincing case and one that I think will inform our decision to respond to RFPs in future. I for one would rather focus on delivering the best quality of service to clients who value our particular expertise, rather than waste energy scrapping over a morsel dangled from above.