The Rocket Blog

To RFP or Not to RFP, That is the Question
By Tonya Thompson on Jul 21, 2015

Things couldn’t be going better...

Your company has evolved and you’re ready for your website and online presence to do the same. After internal meetings defining the parameters of what you need, the timeline you want, and the budget you have to spend on it, the next step is hiring a talented web design and marketing agency for their expertise in turning those rough-sketched ideas into reality. For many companies, especially larger ones, this next step involves the often-used and potentially inferior process of conducting an RFP.

 

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The benefits are there at first

“There’s less leg work involved if you go the RFP route,” says Raquel Hinson, Account Executive at RocketFuel. “Chances are, if you send out an RFP in a city the size of Memphis, you’ll get between 8-15 responses."

Hinson suggests that RFPs can help in defining parameters to ensure you’re comparing apples to apples in the services you’d be receiving from each agency. She notes potential discrepancies between agency offerings that might not otherwise be clear when RFPs are absent, such as whether the agency uses proprietary content management or open-source content management; or whether it’s templated design and development or custom design and development. “If everyone who responds stays within the RFP criteria,” she says, “chances are you’re going to be comparing apples to apples.”

So what are the downsides?

With those benefits, it seems that an RFP is the way to go, right?

Not necessarily; at least, not if you have high expectations for the end results of what you're paying a creative agency to do for you. Among the top downsides to the RFP process is its limitation. While it may help make the decision process easier for your company or organization, and help you compare similar companies offering similar services, you’re still requesting a very broad example from a creative agency that, if it is doing its job right, needs to spend time and effort collaborating with you – the client – to ensure that everyone is on the same page in the creative process.

“The design and development of a new website, a branding campaign, or a new digital marketing venture should be collaborative,” Hinson notes. “You might end up spending three months, six months, or even years in a relationship with whomever you choose. Meeting with them in person may give a perspective that you otherwise wouldn’t have from just reading the RFP.”

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Creativity takes time and collaboration

Added to that, when you request that the creative process be delineated in a 15-page RFP, you’re obviously not going to see the full potential of the team you’re thinking of hiring.  If the scope of the project is narrowly defined through an RFP process that truly allows you to compare apples to apples, there could be issues with functionality or design that will go beyond the scope of the RFP.  Essentially, if you pen in a creative team too much with a predefined proposal, you might be missing out on a chance for that same creative team to take your project to better places than what even you envisioned at the beginning.

“It’s always great when a client has some idea of what they want but this is what we do,” says Hinson, “and a design agency should be hired to consult on your project, not to just execute your plans. We are the experts in advertising, marketing, web design and development. You’re the experts in your business.”

 

It's being phased out by companies in the know

So if you don't want to limit the potential of the final creative result, does that mean you should scrap the idea of an RFP altogether?

Many experts agree you should.  John Warrillow writes in his article published in Inc., "Most RFPs are sent out so the decision maker can say they tendered it. Buyers feed secret information, hints and suggestions to the company they want to win, and more often than not, the decision is made in someone else’s favor before you even submit your proposal."  Regarding RFPs for SEO projects, Moz co-founder and contributor Rand Fishkin writes, "The RFPs I've gotten (with the exception of a few wholly reasonable and respectable requests) typically follow a structure designed to grill and intimidate smaller companies and individual consultants while rewarding needless paperwork and excessive self-promotion (an area where many of the worst large firms are particularly skilled)."

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Final thoughts

Creator and entrepreneur Steve Jobs once said, "Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things." 

With this in mind, consider the creative process that is impossible to summarize in an RFP and ask yourself: Do we really need to go the RFP route for this? If it isn't mandated, then why limit yourself or the creative team you hope to hire?

To learn more about the creative team that fuels RocketFuel's web design projects, go here