The Case for Including a Budget in Every RFP

When we discuss our approach to agency search with a prospective or newly engaged client, one of the questions inevitably asked of us is:  Why should we include a budget in our RFP?


To which we respond:  If you don't want to share your budget, you might re-consider whether you are really serious about issuing the RFP at all.


Publishing a budget as part of your RFP is not a magic bullet -- you certainly need to include a well-thought out scope of work as well -- but it is essential to ensuring a smooth-running, transparent agency search process, and it's critical to finding the very best agency for your organization. 

Why do we insist that clients share a budget with prospective agencies?  While there are a number of answers to this question, they can be summed up this way:  publishing an agency budget is one of the most important steps you can make to ensure you'll find the very best agency for your organization and your communications needs.


Some clients argue that leaving out a budget forces candidate agencies to be more creative and produce more strategically sound proposals. Others say, “I need agencies to tell me how much we should be spending.” 


But issuing an RFP shouldn’t be a game of “Gotcha,” or “Can You Top This?”  Its purpose should be to elicit the agency’s best thinking, given your stated scope of work and what you plan to invest.  And, has any company or association ever decided what to spend on PR by asking its PR agency?


Indeed, your budget (including expenses) should not only be front and center in your RFP – it needs to reflect, accurately and fairly, your stated scope of work.  If you plan to spend $100k, you do yourself and the candidate agencies a huge disservice by layering into the RFP a $250K scope of work!


Providing a sound budget enables responding agencies to eliminate the guesswork, deliver their best and most creative product, and compete on a level playing field.


Here are the other reasons to determine and be up front about what your organization intends to invest in an agency relationship:

  • You won't waste your time evaluating agencies for whom your budget is too small or (less often) too great -- RFP Associates has seen several instances in which a number of agencies that fully intended to respond to an RFP did not because they couldn't live with the budget as outlined.  Had those agencies played through, submitted a proposal, and been invited to present, imagine the resentment on both sides when the true budget would have been revealed.
  • You and your organization are taken more seriously by responding agencies -- Our research tells us that agencies that see no evidence of budget in the RFP are suspicious of the issuing organizations.  "They're probably just fishing for ideas, and either have no intention of hiring an agency -- or already know who they're hiring," one agency executive recently told us.
  • You'll know very quickly whether you are asking for too much in your scope of work -- Responding agencies will make it clear, in their questions, proposals and presentations, whether your budget is fair and reasonable, or requires trade-offs and cutbacks on services and programs.  

Responding to an RFP is serious work for agencies. When they decide to pursue your business they have to prove themselves on so many detailed levels that guessing on the budget should not be one of them. As you review your candidate agencies you’ll be glad in the long run when you can compare them on equal ground.

- Steve Drake