August 31, 2023

How to Write a Digital Marketing RFP to Get the Best Agency

Finding the perfect marketing agency for your organization can be challenging when there is a sea of options to choose from. The agency you partner with shouldn’t just help you achieve your goals, their values should align seamlessly with your company to act as an extension of your team. This is where marketing requests for proposals, or marketing RFPs, come into play. 

Crafting RFPs can pose a challenge due to their time-consuming nature, but some companies might not even know what to look for or how to create a comprehensive guide for agencies to build their proposals in the first place. As a growth marketing agency, we understand the importance of finding the perfect fit for your marketing efforts. It’s not a one-size-fits-all process and every digital marketing agency has a different approach to achieving success. 

While a marketing RFP is not always necessary, it can be a valuable tool for businesses looking to create a partnership with an agency they trust. But, if you don’t know where to start, you’re in luck! In this blog, we’ll explain what a marketing RFP is, when you might need one, and how to choose the agency you want to work with. 

To help, we’ve also created this comprehensive marketing RFP template that you can download and use as a guide.

What is an RFP?

Before we can dive into how to write a marketing RFP, we have to understand what an RFP is. An RFP or a request for proposal is a document from your company that details the needs for a project and can help you filter through prospective agencies to see which ones can best fit your needs. This differs from RFIs, which focus more on getting additional information from agencies before completing their RFPs, and RFQs, which are for companies that know exactly what services they’re looking for and want quotes from agencies. If you’re overwhelmed with the acronyms we’ve thrown your way, don’t worry—check out our blog that helps explain the difference between RFIs, RFQs, and RFPs. 

When putting together an RFP, you want to get granular—include specific goals, timelines, and any budget constraints that could impact expectations. It’s also important to set them up for success by asking for specifics on their end like the full scope of work (SOW) and deliverables required for agencies to craft a proposal that fits your needs. 

When you’re crafting an RFP for marketing services, one of the things to avoid is asking agencies for a completed strategy. An agency can only provide a strategy if you can provide full access to your company's systems, and full strategies can only be built after analyzing your previous efforts and historical data. Marketwake’s CEO, Brooke MacLean, suggests:

Focus less on the tactical strategy and more on the agency’s approach to how they should lead the scope forward to reach your goals. The best strategies require time, research, analysis, and expertise which is not something agencies will be able to provide at the RFP stage. An RFP will not be your strategy; it should be used to gain insight into the team dynamics, values, and the approach each agency will take if they win your account.

Brooke MacLean

CEO

The agency you choose to work with should feel like an extension of your team. While you do want them to offer a different perspective, you still want to find the right connection to maintain a long-term partnership.

When Do You Need an RFP?

To tell the truth, most businesses will never need an RFP. A lot of times when brands are looking to work with an agency, they may use referrals, scour the web, or even see ads targeted toward them to help make their decision. This can probably help you get pretty far in the process. After scheduling a few intro calls and receiving a handful of proposals, you’ll move forward with an agency or move on to the next one.

However, there are times when you may need a more comprehensive understanding of the agencies you want to work with. Or, you may have a budget that makes it worth it for agencies to jump through hoops and fight for your brand. Here are some ways to know if you need a marketing RFP:

  1. Your budget is extensive
  2. Your projects are complex
  3. You have numerous stakeholders or need board approval 
  4. You want to evaluate various agencies with a consistent set of criteria 

If your brand meets any of these factors, it may be worth it for you to start sending out marketing RFPs to the agencies that interest you.

Additional Considerations

Remember, agencies correlate the depth of RFP requests with the price you are willing to pay for the work. In other words, more complexity means a higher price tag. 

That being said, if you have a very long, intricate, or detailed RFP process, assume you should have a large enough budget to warrant it. Ideally, you should place your budget within the RFP. If you don’t, ask yourself if your budget warrants this detailed of an RFP you are requesting. Often, it doesn’t, and a simple conversation plus a proposal will suffice. 

Also, an agency may spend 50 to 80 hours answering your RFP. This is substantial, unbillable time. Don’t make agencies jump through hoops that you have no intention of hiring them for. If you’ve already selected an agency but are required to submit an RFP for your process, make it succinct so agencies don’t waste hours of valuable time on an RFP they have no shot in winning.

Crafting a Schedule for the RFP Process

So, you’ve decided an RFP works best for you. You’ve sent out your marketing RFPs, received a few proposals…what do you do now? How do you choose an agency that works best for you? Below we have outlined the steps—from building the marketing RFP to evaluating responses—that will help you find a team to partner with, not just a vendor that might meet your needs. 

Depending on the complexity of your project and how many people will be involved in the review process, your marketing RFP can span anywhere between a few weeks to a few months. Here’s a suggested timeline breakdown of what this could look like:

  • Day 1:  Announce or send your RFP for marketing services to agencies
  • Day 4: Deadline to RSVP for participation
  • Day 8-11: Set up opportunities for agencies to submit any clarifying questions and provide opportunities to answer those questions
  • Day 22:  Deadline for agencies to submit proposals 
  • Day 28: Select finalists from the proposals and ask them to prepare final pitches or presentations
  • Day 40-45: Conduct presentations for each finalist
  • Day 50: Select your final agency and set a target start date

Structuring Your RFP Document

Now that you have an idea of what your timeline looks like, let's get into the nitty-gritty of what your RFP should look like. 

Here’s a basic outline of what your marketing RFP should include:

  • Introduction: Provide an overview of your company and the purpose of the RFP
  • Project Overview: Describe your business, industry, and current marketing efforts
  • Objectives & Scope: Clearly state your marketing objectives and define the scope of your work
  • Desired Outcomes: Detail the specific outcomes and measurable goals you aim to achieve
  • Target Audience & Market Analysis: Provide insights into your target audience and market dynamics
  • Budget & Timeline: Specify your budget range and desired project timeline
  • Evaluation Criteria: Outline the key criteria you will use to evaluate each agency's proposals

While this can vary depending on your needs, the one thing to remember is that being clear and concise is key. While you want to give enough details for companies to understand your goals and efforts, you don’t want to be too extensive. Instead, provide opportunities for them to clarify any questions if they come up. 

Common Marketing RFP Mistakes

1. Asking for a Full Strategy

It’s impossible for an agency to provide a full strategy right from the get go. This requires access to your systems, analysis of past efforts and results, thorough research into your audience, and a ton more that should begin once you have agreed to partner with an agency. Asking this from them so early on is seen as seen as bad practice and will never give you the substance you want.

2. Not Asking About Approach

While you shouldn’t ask for a full marketing strategy, you should try and ascertain the agencies approach to building a strategy. Be sure to ask how they align each tactic and if there is anything you have seen from what they have presented to you that you might want to change.

3. Setting Unrealistic Timelines

While agencies should be giving you their best in an RFP, you have to do a little bit of work too. What you’re asking for shouldn’t be too much in a short amount of time. A realistic timeline will provide better results overall and create a strong partnership between you and the agency that doesn’t harbour resentment.

5 Next-Level Questions to Include in Your RFP

The questions you want to address in your marketing RFP may vary for different reasons. You might have specific needs within your business or industry that you can address in these questions. Based on our years of experience in the field, we’ve also provided five game-changing questions to help you find the right agency. You can learn more about each of them in our blog, but here’s a quick overview:  

  • What is the mission/value of the firm? 
  • What is your approach to marketing?
  • Can you provide a list of KPIs you will track for each channel?
  • Can you provide 3-6 examples of our work and the results it achieved?
  • Tell me about what makes you unique - culture, personality of the team, etc.

By using these questions you can get a better understanding of each agency—whether its their mission and values or their processes. There aren’t any right or wrong answers, it’s simply about what aligns with your company’s culture and goals. 

Managing the Agency Pitch Process

Once those marketing RFPs are sent out, it's good to have a plan already in place on how to tackle the pitches that come your way. Here are a few components to consider in advance:

  • Naming the Selection Committee: When you’re putting together your selection committee you want to consider the size of the project and organization. While one person can make the final decision, having a committee of people from different departments can make sure everyone is on board to sign off on the decision. 
  • Determine the Selection Criteria: Think of this like the rubric you’re going to use to assess the proposals and agencies. Use this criteria to outline what your business is looking for specifically, and see how different agencies align with those needs. This also helps keep the process more objective, especially if you have a larger and more diverse committee. 
  • Create an Agency Scorecard: Now that you have your rubric, it's time to start grading these proposals. Creating a scorecard system can give you an idea of where agencies fall in the respective criteria. While it can help you better understand their strengths and weaknesses, it's important to recognize that this doesn’t necessarily have the final say in who you select
  • Finalize a schedule: Make sure you have a clear schedule for both your committee and the agencies that are submitting proposals. Make sure that agencies have enough time to clarify any questions they have and craft their proposals, and give your committee enough time to carefully consider the proposals that have been submitted. 
  • Set a Project Timeline: Setting a clear timeline for your project that includes all key milestones and dates can be beneficial for both you and the agencies. First, it helps you plan out a more realistic schedule, but also for agencies that are submitting proposals, this can help them understand how to allocate their resources to help achieve your goals. 
  • Confirm Availability of Committee Members: Make sure the committee members are available at a given time so you all can sit down and go over proposals and assess them as a team. It’s best to collaborate and have discussions to get a more holistic view of which proposals work best for your goals. 
  • Provide an Adequate Time for Agencies: It’s important to be considerate of an agency's time and resources as well. A reasonable time to aim for is about 2-3 weeks for them to craft proposals, but it also helps to communicate with them and see what works with your internal schedules as well. 
  • Selection Committee Sign-Off on Finalized RFP: While a selection committee is meant to sign off on a final decision, they aren’t necessarily meant to make the final decision. Allocate that role to one specific person to avoid delaying the process.
  • Identify an Initial Target Pool of Agencies: Narrow down your list to two or three initial agencies. Connect with them over a call or in person to get a better understanding of their proposal, but also who they are, to see if they align with your company and your project's needs. Try to include a variety of agency sizes and consider working with places that aren’t in your local area. 
  • Pick the Perfect Agency: Once you’ve assessed all the agencies at a much closer level, it's time to make a decision. Remember, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all agency, it's all about what fits best for you.

Researching and Shortlisting Potential Marketing Agencies

One of the more difficult parts of managing the agency pitch process is researching and making a shortlist of the agencies you want to work with. To start this process, we recommend evaluating all your proposals with a scorecard system. Consider how well they answered the ask for your project, if they skipped any questions, and how much attention to detail they put into their proposal. Continue your research beyond the proposals and do a deep dive into the top agencies. Consider their brand and their values. Do they align with yours and the goals you want to achieve? Look at their portfolio, the clients they’ve worked with, and what kinds of services and expertise they offer. 

Once you’ve narrowed it down to your top two or three agencies, reach out to them and have them walk through their process. This does two key things, first, it can address any questions you might have from their proposal and allow them to dive deeper into their thinking, and second, it also gives you a chance to see if there is any chemistry between the two of you, after all, you are trying to foster a long-term relationship. This process isn’t that much different from hiring a new employee in your company. If their proposal is like their resume, the interview process will allow you to see more of them, their personality, and their soft skills—and ultimately how that could fit with your company culture. 

One big mistake to avoid is eliminating options solely based on price. While your budget is an important factor, price is one of the elements that can always be negotiated depending on the agency. Just make sure you focus on who is serving your needs and understands your company best. To get a better understanding of how to outsource marketing successfully check out our blog. 

Final Thoughts on Marketing RFPs

While Marketing RFPs are not always needed, they can be a great way to find the agency that best fits your needs in a sea of options. However, if you have a large budget, a complex project, red tape to get past, and you’re looking to evaluate multiple agencies at the same time, a marketing RFP may be the right choice. To create a well thought out and effective marketing RFP remember to implement a clear plan and process first to make sure you don’t end up wasting valuable time. 

As a full-service marketing agency, we understand how important it is for our clients to find a partner that fits their needs. Download our comprehensive Marketing RFP template below to build a successful RFP and help you find the right agency.

FAQs

What Is an RFP in Marketing?

A marketing RFP, or request for proposal, is a document your company uses to highlight the needs for a project. After outlining who you are and what you’re looking for, marketing agencies can use this as a guide to submit proposals. 

How Do You Write an RFP for Marketing?

When writing a marketing RFP the important things to include are an introduction to your company, an overview of the project, your objectives and scope, your desired outcomes, who your target audience is, an additional analysis of your current marketing efforts, a desired budget and timeline, and, finally, the evaluation criteria you will use to assess the agencies that submit proposals. 

Where Can I Find Marketing RFPs for Free?

Marketwake understands that in order to find an agency that fits your needs, you need to craft a strong marketing RFP. Download our marketing RFP template to help you craft one that can help you find our ideal agency. 

What Makes a Successful RFP?

A successful RFP includes specific details for each element included, while still staying clear and concise. It’s important to clearly define elements like timelines and budget constraints, as well as what you’re looking for in proposals so marketing agencies have a good idea of what to include.

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