Nothing instils more angst in agency PR experts than a request for proposal (RFP). You know what’s coming before opening the email – a Sisyphean amount of work on an insane timeline. Just because RFPs have been how clients choose agencies, doesn’t mean it should be the way forward. Here are five reasons to consider abandoning this practice:

1. Agencies are forced to prioritise responses over client work

There are only so many hours in a day and, even if you’re working most of them, the notoriously short timelines coupled with vast asks make RFP responses an “all hands on deck” scramble to submit on time. Existing clients would be livid if they knew their work was backburnered during these periods, even though they continue to issue RFPs that put agencies in this difficult position.

2. RFP participation inflates hourly rates

Before an agency starts booking travel to attend a pitch, its already sunk at least £20,000 of time into the RFP response. The investment is so high that any profit is nearly gone before a contract is even signed – and that’s if the agency wins! The only way an agency can recoup its losses on RFPs is to factor it into hourly rates. Services could cost clients less if agencies weren’t required to invest so much in client acquisition.

3. Wasted resources on both sides

A client often knows which agency they want to partner with. The other agencies are invited to respond to fulfil a procurement requirement, compare pricing, or even to keep the current agency on its toes. Some could argue it’s unethical to hold a competition that’s fixed, but no matter which way you look at it, everyone’s time is wasted.

4. There will be a team bait-and-switch

Agencies aren’t structured to staff ahead, so they have to win large accounts first. This means the majority of the team paraded around at a pitch will not have enough capacity to be heavily involved and/or are more seasoned than those who will actually be doing the work. By engaging in a small, paid project instead, a client can more easily evaluate an agency since they are working with real team members delivering actual work.

5. RFP responses are unusable

After all that effort, the winning pitch generally isn’t even used. It’s a test. Even if the thinking is clever, strategy sound and creative gorgeous, it’s not enough because the agency wasn’t privy to confidential research/insights integral to the development of a usable plan.

It’s recommended to hold a strategy/planning day instead. This way the agency is given access to this information to develop an informed plan (for a modest fee) and the client receives a usable deliverable (whether they move forward with the agency or not).

Strategy/planning days and trial projects are better ways to assess an agency than an RFP. Also, it enables clients to consider smaller boutique agencies that aren’t structured to invest in RFP responses, but could be a perfect fit and much better value.