By Steve Burkhart, President, North America

I have seen them all — the good, the bad and all of the in-betweens. The ones that were fair and respectful. The ones that were exploitive and thinly veiled attempts to get free work from many agencies.

RFPs seem to be a fact of life for anyone in the agency business. They are the crucible that must be fully embraced to grow and thrive. But there could be another way.

Recently, I had a would-be client for a very sizable global company tell me he simply didn’t believe in RFPs. I am not sure if he used words such as “charade, circus, or dog ’n pony,” but clearly he neither liked them nor believed they led to the best choice of an agency.

To him, it was about the team you put on the floor, the team’s true level of commitment — not the one you talked about. It is about the actual experience of said team, not the slightly disingenuous approach of referencing a lot of case studies across a global network.

I found a lot of agreement with him.

We in the agency world know RFPs are what all PR firms eagerly anticipate and dread at the same time. While we know they can be nothing but a requirement for the procurement department, we also know they can be the only pathway to the coveted win.

But what if … what if RFPs were abolished? How would the selection process happen? Here are four ideas.

Start with in-person meetings. Chemistry is such a big part of picking an agency. Why not start there? Meet with three agencies you believe have the capabilities to meet your goals and then schedule 90-minute meetings with each. Don’t allow any PowerPoints, notes or other props.

It’s just you and them, and the agencies will be completely naked, in a manner of speaking, without the bullet points or rehearsals to back them up. Ask all of the questions about capabilities, proprietary approaches, experiences and personal backgrounds. You’ll get more authentic answers than through the crafty writing skills of the agency partners.

Ask for the “real deal” case studies. Ask for case studies, but only ask for case studies the proposed team actually delivered. It is so easy for the big global firms to pull case studies from across their networks and their many specialty practice areas. But did the proposed team actually work on those successes? Often times, the answer is no. Case studies should be a true reflection of the experience you are buying.

Schedule another in-person meeting. Test the observations, insights and concerns you had from the first meeting. Invite new persons to the meeting to see if their observations align with yours. Allow a PowerPoint at the second meeting, but request no more than 10 slides. Can your proposed agency be concise, insightful and strategic for your entire business? Did they even bring the same team as the first meeting?

Get a topline proposal of what’s included and for what price. Make sure your agencies package this with KPIs.

Then make your choice. It could be the best one you have ever made.

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