Beware of Agencies Pushing Back on "Elaborate" RFPs

So, we recently experienced a first – and not a positive one, from our perspective.  A very respected agency pulled out from one of our searches because the RFP was "too elaborate.”  We asked, but were not able to determine:  Did that mean it was too thorough?  Too detailed?  Or did it require too much effort to respond?


It's true that most RFPs issued for PR services are recipes for disaster, and ask too much from competing agencies. But if an RFP is structured well, and is part of a transparent and unbiased process, then is it really too "elaborate" for the document to include comprehensive and detailed information so an agency may respond, smartly and comprehensively? 

We believe that more is best.  If you read one of our typical RFPs (about eight pages) you'd note 75% background, facts, and statement of work; and 25% requirements for the response, along with deadlines. What's the goal of an RFP anyway?  From our perspective, it’s to empower any agency to compete and win on a level playing field. 


So when we hear that one of our RFPs is “too elaborate,” we understand that the agency leveling that charge would rather be sole-sourced and not be required to compete for our client’s business.  But when a client hires RFP Associates, we understand that it wants to hire the best, most qualified agency – not the easy (but ultimately riskier and most expensive) process of sole-sourcing. 


We’ve learned, and our clients have learned, that a well-prepared and -written RFP must include:

  • Overview of client business/organization.
  • Explanation of why the RFP is being issued, and what overall the organization hopes to achieve.
  • Detailed, descriptive information on the business/organization and its key objectives/strategies.
  •  Information and background on any relevant history, sensitivities which might affect the organization’s public relations program or stance.
  • Details on whom the company or organization considers to be its key stakeholders.
  • Overview of expected scope of work.
  • A budget (see our blog on this topic).
  • Requirements for benchmarking and measurement.
  • Proposal submission details. 

Are RFPs with these elements too “elaborate?”  We think not.  A better descriptor for a good RFP is “comprehensive” – providing enough information to ensure the best agency will win your business and earn your confidence. 


Postscript: That "elaborate" RFP was responded to by six agencies and won by a large, well-known firm.


- Robert Udowitz