Seeing red: why RFPs are sounding the death knell for our sanity

Nick Williams, senior vice-president and partner, head of public affairs, at FleishmanHillard, fumes at poorly presented requests for proposals.

Requests for proposal are the lifeblood of our business, but RFPs routinely sound the death knell for our sanity – demanding industrial quantities of second-guessing and advanced powers of telepathy. Why has the succinct and coherent request for consultancy support become so rare?

The art of writing the perfect RFP is under challenge, in an age where drafting skills amount to little more than an aptitude for cutting and pasting. While RFPs have always come in three forms – the good, the bad and the ugly – it’s the latter that’s on the rise. The reasons are clear.

First off, there are ‘first timers’: RFPs written by someone who has never worked with a consultancy. These are easily identifiable: lists of multiple objectives, voluminous information and a lack of precise definition of the services required.

Next up, the kitchen sink approach: RFPs that scream ‘written by committee’. These comprise an assortment of differently styled paragraphs outlining the competing demands of the internal maelstrom that took place to draft the RFP. If you’re lucky enough to win, this is just a foretaste of how you will have to work with the client.

Last but not least, procurement-led RFPs are increasingly common.

To succeed in the multi-round knockout process, you will have to account in detail for every penny spent, and luck out on ‘jargon bingo’ by ensuring your response includes the 20 keywords dreamt up to sort the wheat from the chaff.

My solution?  Best practice workshops on writing client RFP should be high up the demands of the industry. But I am not holding my breath. Once the process is over and you have won, the last thing you are thinking of is how the RFP was initially drafted.

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