Reading Between the Lines: RFP Reading 101

There’s little more exciting in our business than receiving a request for proposal (RFP) from a company or brand you’ve always wanted to work with. It gets the adrenaline going and the creative juices flowing…sometimes even before you’ve finished reading the whole brief. Often, your own experiences and mindset prejudice you, and cause you to make snap judgments before you’ve read the full RFP document. And not just read it but read it. While even the most seasoned PR pros know there is no magic formula nor silver bullet to deciphering the RFP and winning the business…it’s important to train your mind to focus on what the brief really says…to read between the lines.

At Pollock, we strive to approach each new RFP and potential client with an open mind and clean slate. It’s a tightrope walk to balance what the client says it wants and what you, in your infinite wisdom, know is best for the brand. In the planning process, always ask for at least one Q&A session, the first one after you’ve done some initial research and brainstorming. Use that time to test the waters. Soft-sound a strategy or an idea and listen to hear if the client hasn’t tried that approach before because of fear or because it’s off target. Even if you’re on a group call with other agencies, don’t’ be afraid to tip your hand about a creative idea to determine if it’s worth pursuing. Even the most ferocious agency competitors can’t steal an idea once you’ve brought it up to the client.

Sometimes you can’t win for losing. The client might say to offer up your most creative, blue sky thinking but, what they really need is a plan that will actually work for $100k. Do you give them a core plan up front and save the best for last? Or, do you throw caution to the wind, convinced that they’ll surely borrow money from R&D when they see your brilliant ideas? Find a way to give them what can realistically be done, but to tease with more. Maybe it’s a pilot program, a test market, a regional survey, or something else that’s scalable and still meets their business and marketing objectives.

Of course, you can do it all right and still get it wrong. That’s part of the fun and the challenge of new business. But, remember, each new RFP gives you a new chance at success.

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