Arduous reviews must go

The story could have just as easily appeared on the pages of PRWeek: "Review Ignites Agency Ire." It's no secret that PR agency executives have a bucketful of grievances when it comes to the RFP process.

The story could have just as easily appeared on the pages of PRWeek: “Review Ignites Agency Ire.” It's no secret that PR agency executives have a bucketful of grievances when it comes to the RFP process. Arduous probably sums up the litany of issues, ranging from processes that are “too long,” “confusing,” or make “unreasonable requests.”

At the same time, clients complain that agencies don't come prepared and insult their brand in the process or, worse, showcase a stellar team only to whisk them away when it's time to get the work done.

This week, though, it was the advertising industry's turn to complain. In an unusual move, an agency made its complaint about the Zappos ad review public by blogging about it.

The economy has exacerbated the tension between the two sides, but particularly because of the new demands on agencies. Hungry for business, more firms are showing up at more pitches, even for business once deemed too small. Long-term relationships are increasingly going up for review, due in part to the need for CMOs and senior communications staff to prove to management that they're getting the most for their dollar. In-house team upheavals and layoffs that have traveled through many corporate corridors have added to the problem.

Business is business, and the client will in some ways always have the upper-hand. Ultimately, it's their check to write, and corporate or marketing objectives that need to be met. But organizations should realize that running a poor RFP process won't endear them to firms – and word travels fast as to who knows what they're doing and who doesn't. Some rules to follow for the in-house side:

  • Don't put an entry-level person who's never handled an RFP in charge of the process.
  • Put the same amount of time into it that you expect the agency to put into its pitch.
  • Do not allow reviews to drag on for months. Three to 6 weeks was once standard.
  • Don't do a review just for the sake of it. This has been written into corporate policy, but if you don't mean it, don't waste everyone's time and money.
  • Complete plans should not be required for the first round; reserve fuller sketches for final rounds.
  • Be gracious. Try and understand how agencies run as businesses, so that you can negotiate on transparent and constructive terms.
  • If procurement is a necessary part of the process, make sure that a senior in-house communicator is working internally to ensure that it does not jeopardize the process and goodwill.

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