7 Deadly Sins of RFPs


As a consulting group that specializes in strategy and vendor selection, we have seen our fair share of RFPs.

Both very good and very bad.

And while we make it a rule not to respond to RFPs, the role of the RFP is a reality for many within the tourism industry, particularly destination marketing organizations.

A poor RFP is not simply an issue for your procurement person.  A poor RFP is the contractual equivalent of a bad first impression…tough to recover from.

For the agency who responds to the RFP, hours of work typically result in frustration with the lack of trust from the client.

They keep changing the deliverable, the schedule and the goals.

For the client or destination, the responding and winning agency simple does get it.

They just don’t understand our objective.

Yeah, you have said that.

You know why?

Because of a bad RFP.

Overly Generic Words and Phrases

An easy trap to fall into when writing a RFP.  The client does not want to give away too much, or does not know enough to ask for specifics.  So the RFP ends up with words like ‘cutting edge’, ‘all-encompassing’ or ‘comprehensive.’  Recently, I noticed a web development RFP that asked for a ‘modern, 21st-century website.

Well, we planning on submitting a bid for an early ’50s-style typewriter solution, but a website would work much better. Great idea!

Approval by Committee

RFPs will be reviewed by the marketing selection committee.

Committee and task force groups can be helpful to the process, but ensure the members of the committee have the correct background to make an informed decision.

Agencies get nervous when they see selection committees, so help reassure them that your group can prepared.

Respond With Paper

Oy. Seriously, don’t force creative or interactive firms to respond to the RFP via paper only.  That stagnates creativity and sends a clear message that your organization is not ready for a ‘cutting-edge’ digital campaign.

Make paper optional.

Asking For Everything

The RFP should state specific requirements, both for the RFP response and the project deliverables, while avoiding the temptation to request generic answers on all possible tactics.

This goes back to point #1, the client does not know what they want, so they ask for everything.

‘Manage our blog, social media sites, website development, SEO, SEM, PPC, Search, Google, Web 2.0, Web 3.0, LBS, Twitter/Facebook/Flickr/Scrbd/YouTube, LBS, Apps, social and other marketing outlets.’

That was from one particularly bad RFP that asked for anything and everything possible.  Even if it meant repeating already existing requests.

No Budget

No stated budget, or range, means the client is fishing for bids.  Likely to use as leverage against the incumbent vendor.  While there is a need to ensure competitive pricing, a RFP should, at the very least, acknowledge the existence of a budget.

Without one, the responding agency is just being used as bait.

Self-Diagnosed Solution

One can spot this issue by the frequent use of ‘We‘ within the document.   While a RFP should state goals and objectives, it should not tell the agency how to accomplish those goals.  A common trait in technology-focused RFPs, typically by specifying the set-up, server or software to be used, the self-diagnoses issue does find its way into creative, advertising and marketing RFPs all to frequently.

In this situation, the client does not need a RFP, they just need a ‘Yes’ man.

An Expectation of Strategy

Demonstrate your knowledge and experience by responding to the following question: How would you position City X, accordingly, to the different segments?

Another common request is the expectation of strategy development based on nothing but the RFP, and perhaps a few supplemental documents.  Good agencies will be concerned that the client does not value the process required to actually develop a comprehensive strategy.  How could they?  They are assuming that a strategy can be developed with little preparation, research or knowledge.

Essentially, asking for your best guess.

Which will be followed by months of second-guessing your work.

Comment? @travel2dot0 or email.