The Devil is in the Details When Issuing RFPs

Identifying and hiring a new agency is often more of a commitment of time and resources than typically considered. Between the abundance of traditional agencies, new mid-size and boutique firms, and even small virtual agencies, there are many experts that can fill your needs.


Hiring an agency is like hiring staff and forming a new department, each firm needs to be properly vetted and pass key interviews, reference checks, and testing in order to be hired. Ultimately, the choice will represent your organization and, in many cases, be the outward facing representative for the multitude of programs and initiatives you will have them undertake.


In a new article for CommPRO “PR RFPs:  Client Best Practices”, we outline key things clients can do to ensure that the process is conducted in a way that will encourage agency engagement in their process.  


Here are the key takeaways: 

  • Before issuing an RFP, send a shorter and quick-to-complete RFQ to agencies that you have researched based on their industry experience and communications expertise. This is important not only to better understand their capabilities, but to determine their interest and ensure there are no conflicts.
  • RFPs should only be sent to a shortlist of agencies that have been researched, pre-screened, and which appear to have the right mix of capabilities and experience to meet your needs. Don’t ask agencies to complete an RFQ or RFP if you’re just testing the waters or the budget hasn’t been signed off on. It’s a waste of time and will damage your reputation.  
  • The RFP must include all the information an agency to determine if they are a good fit and want to participate. The clarity of the RFP’s scope of work, program goals, and measures of success, as well as the inclusion of a budget, are essential to agency participation. 
  • Respecting agency time, it is important to make the process of completing an RFQ and RFP quick and efficient. A good rule of thumb is to ask only for the information you really need to pick firms for presentations.
  •  Based on the RFP, pick two or three (at the most) finalists for presentations and evaluation of fit, since this is the step that requires the most work. Be prepared to provide agencies the courtesy of feedback on presentations.

In addition to these points, clients looking for agencies to develop comprehensive programs or develop materials as part of the hiring process should plan on compensating them for their time.


It should be no surprise that these best practices are at the core of CommunicationsMatch™’s online RFQ/RFP tool, Agency Select™, which was developed in partnership with RFP Associates. Our qualifications-based search process is the starting point for creating shortlists of agencies or professionals based on industry expertise and capabilities. And, the streamlined RFQ and RFP templates make it simple for clients to create, send and review proposals. For agencies, they provide the information needed to make the decision to respond, quickly and efficiently.


As we write in the CommPRO article, following these client guidelines for RFPs is essential. “Fishing expeditions, rigged processes, lack of a budget, short deadlines, or poorly structured RFPs discourage agency engagement.” 


We should be clear, that while we have focused on the client side of the RFP process, agencies also need to have a disciplined process for responding to RFQs and RFPs. We recently highlighted ways in which they can increase their new business win ratio, and will build on this in an upcoming article.      

Simon Erskine Locke, founder & CEO, CommunicationsMatch™, Steve Drake and Robert Udowitz principals, RFP Associates.

Former corporate communications and agency leaders, Locke, Drake and Udowitz partnered to deliver the industry’s first integrated online agency search and RFP tools, Agency Select™, and help clients with projects that range from finding agencies in local markets to complex turn-key agency of record assignments.