Say hello to part six of our “how to write a brief” series, where we’re looking at how to write a RFP.
So far, we’ve covered:
- How to write a branding brief
- How to write a design brief
- How to write a web design brief
- How to write a rebranding brief, and
- How to write a marketing brief
But today, we’re talking about RFPs and how to make the most of them.
As usual, we’ve included a free RFP template – because, as you’ll know by now, we’re the givers in this relationship.
First off, let’s take a quick overview at some of the benefits of producing an RFP:
- An RFP helps you set out specific project goals
- An RFP helps to share information about your process, objectives and timescales internally
- An RFP lets you compare vendor capabilities side-by-side
- An RFP enables you to move beyond consideration and make a commitment
So, if you’ve got your cappuccino ready, let’s get cracking!
What Makes an RFP Different from an RFQ?
An Request for Proposal (RFP) is slightly different from a Request for Quotation (RFQ). Quite simply because the latter is where you get down to cold hard cash. When you know exactly what you want from your project and your vendor, and are ready to be gobsmacked or – hopefully – pleasantly surprised by the financial details, that’s where your RFQ comes in.
On the other hand, an RFP lets you shop around and evaluate your options before settling on a vendor. An RFP should ask specific, detail-oriented questions that give you accurate insights into your potential suppliers.
Your RFP doesn’t need to be Marienbad My Love (forget War and Peace, this beast comes in at a staggering 2.5 million words). Rather, it should be formal, direct and to the point. It should give your vendor everything they need to know about you, while helping to guide all the important information you need to know about them. The result should give you a clear comparison of capabilities and maybe even culture fit, so that you can make the best decision for your project (and budget).
Your RFP outlines the goals and anticipated deliverables of your project, helping everyone involved (and their bosses!) to gauge its success. It helps to get everyone on the same page from the start, as there will likely be a lot of moving parts, particularly if you’re working with an external brand or marketing agency.
What’s more, it’ll act as a sort of project purge exercise. So, you know all those ideas everyone and their dog have been bouncing around the boardroom? Well, writing an RFP will help you to wade through all of that and put together a comprehensive and coherent brief – while allowing you to wrap your head around the deliverables and fully understand the logistics: what could be brilliant, what could be a complete disaster, and what key information you might be missing.
Writing an RFP will not only help you to take a step back and take a better look at what you really need to achieve from your project, but it’ll also help to establish a better understanding for all parties.
Who Should Write an RFP?
At Canny, we’re no strangers to helping people with their RFP.
They’re not easy to write and, if you’ve never written one before, you’re bound to need a bit of guidance.
But, the majority of the input should come from you: the business owner, or marketing executive/director of the company in question.
After all, you’re the one with the genuine insight and information about your business. You know the problems you’re facing.
You’re the Yoda of your brand in a room full of jedis.
But, even if you only have some loose ideas around your RFP, a good branding agency will help you tighten it up and get your project on track.
Your agency should be engaged enough to dissect your brief and ask you thoughtful questions.
Remember, an RFP isn’t the finished article. It’s the crucial first step.
Good branding work comes from good partnerships. And learning to trust that your agency has your best interests at heart will deliver better long-term results.
Now, what should go into your RFP?
Let’s have a look…
What Should Be Included in Your RFP?
Writing a clear and well-considered RFP is no easy task. There’s plenty to consider and probably multiple objectives to factor in.
So, you can expect a fair amount of deleting, reworking and much-needed caffeine breaks. But don’t fret, this template will help.
Ultimately, you need to make your RFP easy to understand for anyone who will be following it, but comprehensive enough to give a solid overview of your project or campaign.
Before we get into the good stuff, it’s important to be aware that – depending on your specific project – your RFP might need some other things:
For example, it could involve a website project that needs a website design brief, a design project that has its own unique design brief, or even a business that’s in need of a rebrand to align with your marketing objectives moving forwards.
But for now, we’ll try to keep things general.
So, what should be included in your RFP?
As a top level overview, an RFP should include these things:
- Business & brand overview
- Project objectives
- Target audience/markets
- The problem(s) you’re facing
- More about your business
- Competitor information
- Brand strategy
- Scope of work & deliverables
- Project timescales
- Project budget
- Contact information
- How the project will be awarded
- Required response
Let’s jump in and take a look at writing an RFP based on the outline above.
An Overview of Your Business and Brand
If your RFP has been created specifically for external resources like a design agency, the last thing you’ll want to do is make any assumptions or leave out any of the juicy stuff about your organisation.
Just because you know your company inside out and have had to describe what you do a hundred times before, doesn’t mean that your agency is as clued up as you are. In fact, you can safely assume that they won’t be. Even if they’ve had a quick snoop on your website before chatting to you.
As a starter for 10, here’s 4 key questions that are really useful for you to have the answers to:
- What do you do and how do you make your money?
- How do customers currently buy from your business?
- What makes your business different from its competitors?
- Why do you do what you do
The context behind your business and the sector you work in is extremely beneficial for any agency working to deliver your marketing brief.
Every branding project relies on all parties having a crystal clear understanding of the company they’re working with and the sector they’re working in.
So, the more you can disclose about your business at this stage, the better. (You can leave out the details of your party trick, though. Small talk comes later.)
The Objectives of Your RFP
If you’re planning on writing an RFP, you most likely have some very specific end goals in mind.
Perhaps your business has moved in a new direction and you need to target a whole new audience group. Maybe you’re planning a product launch or even communicating a rebrand.
Whatever the reason, this section is perhaps the most important of your RFP. It’ll go a long way to explaining your reasons for planning a project – particularly if it requires a big slice of your marketing budget (after all, we know that marketing funds can require a bit of persuasion.)
Having a clear idea of your campaign goals will also show everyone involved what success looks like for you.
If you’re hoping that through your project, you’ll see a surge in website sales or a specific 25% increase in service enquiries, you need to include this in your brief.
Your RFP objectives should be specific, measurable and realistic.
Having a set of “project success factors” can really help everyone know what their responsibilities are and will help to avoid any disillusionment (or reprimanding from the boss) down the line.
We suggest including 3 Success Factors (or KPIs) in your RFP that your agency can use to measure against. Any more than this could end up diluting your project efforts.
Your Target Audience and Market
Here at Canny, we’re advocators of a customer-first mentality.
You could say we start at the end. The end-user that is.
So that means, always finding out who our clients are trying to speak to at the start of any project.
If your RFP hasn’t been created with a target audience in mind, then it’s no wonder you might be struggling to drive those website enquiries.
It’s vital that both you and your design agency have a clear picture of what your target audience looks like.
In an ideal world, running a focus session or sharing a survey with your customers will help to gather those really tasty morsels about how your target audience perceives your brand. And how best to communicate with them.
But we know that can be tricky and time-consuming.
So instead, give our post about creating killer customer personas a read.
Essentially, you want to take a bit of a deep dive into the reasons why your customer should engage with your brand, why they might not be already and what pain or gain it is that you’re trying to either overcome or provide.
You can do this by asking insightful questions about your existing customers.
Or, picturing your ideal customer and building your persona around them.
Again, this will depend on the type of project you’re planning and whether you’re trying to tap into new or existing demographics.
If your business is undergoing a change in direction or expansion into new markets, now is the perfect time to re-evaluate your target customer.
This exercise will really help you to tailor your branding project – from the visual assets to the tone of voice and messaging – and achieve the results you’re after.
If you’re really struggling, we’ve got a Customer Persona Worksheet that you can download to help!
On top of thinking about demographics and psychographics (which will come in very useful for things like social media ads), you should be asking empathy-driven questions that will help you drill down to the true, tangible value of your product.
That tangible value is what’s going to help you to create a brand or campaign that’s memorable, clearly positioned and relatable to the right people.
We love asking the following simple questions:
- What are your customer’s values/what do they care about?
- What do you want them to care about?
- Why should they care?
- Why don’t they care?
- Why would they be loyal to your business?
- Why would they avoid your business?
By tackling these questions early on, you can work to overcome any potential barriers or align with any specific customer cravings through your communications.
Depending on your project and how specialised your objectives are, your RFP may have multiple target audiences or maybe even just one. If there are a few different personas, you’ll need to explain how the message will vary when communicating to each one. Don’t worry too much about this, though – it’s likely something your brand agency will be able to help you with.
Just remember: your customer is selfish and doesn’t want to feel like a side dish. They want to be your main meal. No one really wants to be the dough balls when they can be the house special.
What we’re trying to say is: creating blanket statements that attempt to speak to everyone, will probably end up resonating with no one. Your audience will know whether you’re actively trying to communicate with them rather than just casting your net wide and hoping for the best.
The Problem You’re Facing
OK, so we’ve talked about who you’re trying to reach. But the question is, if your target audience isn’t currently engaging with your brand – why aren’t they?
The objectives of your RFP are one thing, but the actual problems you’re facing as a business is something else entirely. While your objectives focus on where you want to be in the future, the problem(s) you’re facing focuses on the here and now.
So, at this stage of your marketing brief, it’s worth taking a step back and figuring out the problem you’re facing. And the roadblocks that are stopping you from achieving your KPIs.
- Our target audience currently [x] but we need them to [x]. They currently won’t / can’t because [x].
The reasons why could be any of the following:
- Our tone of voice isn’t resonating with our audience
- We haven’t got our message straight
- Our campaigns don’t reflect our brand values
- Our proposition is unclear
- Our competitors are doing it better than we are
- We don’t have a clear understanding of who we’re trying to target
- Our content isn’t working
- Our social campaigns aren’t generating any engagement
- We’ve merged with another company and have lost who we are
- Our offering has changed, so we need to reposition ourselves
Insights like these will hugely help your brand agency to pinpoint where to focus their efforts.
Although it can seem a little self-deprecating, openly and honestly facing the things that are preventing your business from succeeding head on is the only way to solve them.
You’ve done the hard part, which is realising the problem you’re facing.
Now, steer into it. And, with a professional branding agency by your side, you can overcome it!
More About Your Business
By now your RFP will contain a solid overview of your business, the sector you work in and the objectives you’re hoping to achieve.
But now, you have a chance to share even more about your organisation.
- What have you done to arrive at this point?
- Who makes up the business?
- What are you most proud of to date?
- Why did you get started?
- How do people benefit from your business?
- What is the current perception and reputation of your business?
- What is the most important part of your customer journey?
- What kind of qualities do you want people to associate with your business?
- What is your brand strategy? (More on that later)
Give us the longer version of the elevator pitch.
The more your design agency knows, the more they can help!
Now, unless you’re the purveyors of a particularly niche product – or the very first to market, we’ll assume that you’ve got a fairly good idea of who your competitors are. Or, the companies you most admire in your industry (even if you hate to admit it).
But now’s the time to figure out whether you’re trying to stand out, or fit in?
There’s not a right or wrong answer here. And this will probably be reassessed with every project that you run – depending on what you think is or isn’t working.
A good understanding of your competitors can help your brand agency to get a grip on what they’re doing well, what you’re doing better, what messages they’re putting out (and to who) and how you fit into the competitive landscape.
Helping your branding agency to know your competitors not only saves valuable project time, but enables discussions about them to take place at an earlier stage in the RFP process.
It also means they don’t stray too close to what your competitors are doing when creating your campaign.
Try listing out:
- Competitor name
- Website link
- What you like about them
- What you don’t like about them
- How you see yourself in relation to them
- Who they’re targeting
- What they’re saying in their marketing communications
If you’ve never run a competitor analysis for your organisation before, check out our guide on how to perform a brand analysis on your brand’s competitors.
Remember to approach this exercise as neutrally as humanly possible. We know it’s tricky when you’ve got a particular hatred for the bloke that runs that rival business, but try to look at things objectively. Imagine looking through the eyes of your customers, rather than your own.
If this is something that you’re struggling with, ask your brand agency to complete a competitor analysis for you, so you know you’ll be getting insights from fresh and unbiased eyes.
This section could also include example websites that you admire from unrelated industries. That one that you just love to have a browse of every morning, the one with the tone of voice that always makes you smile or the brand that you think has absolutely nailed their visual identity.
Whatever it is, this insight can be worth a thousand words for your agency. Explaining your “vision” isn’t always easy. So, providing examples of what you do and don’t like early on will help to steer your supplier in certain directions from the offset.
Remember though, there’s a difference between having preferences and being narrow-minded. A brand partnership will only work if you’re open to each other’s suggestions.
If you have a fair idea of your existing brand strategy, then it’s a good idea to include it in your RFP.
Your brand strategy is made up of:
- Audience personas
- Competitor research
- Brand positioning
- Brand story
- Brand values
- Brand mission
- Brand touchpoints
- Brand messaging
- Tone of voice
- Brand identity
We’re almost certain there’ll be elements of your strategy that no longer resonate with your target audience, don’t reflect the direction your business is going in or make the people in your boardroom cringe every time they’re mentioned.
If there’s any element of your brand strategy that isn’t hitting home for you anymore, it’s well worth talking to your brand agency about these before proceeding.
The last thing you want is to go to the trouble and expense of creating the perfect campaign, only for your bounce rate to soar thanks to your outdated website, inconsistent brand messaging or unconsidered user experience.
Scope of Work and Deliverables
Depending on your project, you may need any of the following:
- Landing page design
- Social media assets
- Video content
- Copywriting or copyediting (blogs, eBooks, white papers, landing pages)
- SEO & content strategy
- Tone of voice creation
- Branded merchandise
- Collateral (letterheads, brochures, Powerpoint slides)
- Project management
- Brand identity
- Front-end coding (HTML/CSS, animations)
- Back-end coding
Now is the time to consider what deliverables might be required, based on the objectives and the ways you’re hoping to reach your customers, like we chatted about earlier.
There’s a good chance that there may be deliverables that you hadn’t accounted for, which your brand agency will be able to discuss with you based on your project requirements.
But, including a good estimate of the scope of work in your RFP will enable creative agencies to gauge the project timeline and budget – whether or not it’s feasible given their schedule, or whether it’s financially worthwhile – before proceeding with the proposal.
This question often helps agencies decide whether they can be involved with your project or not. Particularly if you have a deadline in place – for instance, an industry event or brand launch that you’re trying to coordinate your campaign with.
If you’re looking for a rapid turnaround time and the agencies you reach out to have a lot of work on, they might decline the offer to work together.
“ASAP” is not an acceptable answer when talking about timescales either. There needs to be a reasonable level of understanding here.
Things don’t just happen overnight. And each project is unique, depending on their scope, objectives and amount of deliverables.
Timescales should really be put in place by your design agency when you decide to move forward.
Try to avoid reaching out to branding agencies at the last minute. The earlier you can bring them in on your plans, the better!
Let’s talk about that 6-letter word that should really be a 4-letter one: budget.
Generally, nobody wants to talk dollar too early or show their hand first. But think about it this way:
You have a call with a design agency. You introduce yourself and briefly discuss what you’re after. And then you send over your RFP.
It contains everything they could possibly wish for from a brief: your objectives, your current brand strategy, your in-depth customer personas and your timescales.
But. Wait, what? No budget information?
Your branding agency reads through it and comes back with a proposal.
It’s double the budget you’ve been allocated. You’ve lost hours of your time – and so has the agency who put the proposal together.
By being clear with your budget early on, you can make sure everyone is on the same page right from the get go.
Thankfully, we have an article about project budgets, and why it’s important to share your budget with your agency.
Even if you can’t go down to the exact penny, including a suggested budget range will help your agency to not only determine what deliverables are feasible, but also give you a more realistic idea of the results you can expect to achieve.
However, unlike an RFQ, the budget information in your RFP will be much more of a ballpark. You should be in a position where you’re open to suggestions and negotiation.
At the end of the day, your RFP is almost your way of testing the waters and shopping around. Your RFQ, on the other hand, would be highly specific and would usually be used when acquiring standardised, off-the-shelf products or services that would be the same across the board.
Contrary to your RFP, an RFQs should only be used when you’re already well aware of the marketplace conditions and offerings. This allows you to compare similar solutions based on price, rather than learning about solution offerings you may not currently be aware of.
Now, you don’t need to list the budget to the penny. But just giving some indication of what you’re working with goes a long way!
If you’re really unsure on how much certain things cost, we have some great posts about pricing out design and branding services that are listed out below:
There’s nothing more frustrating than “design by committee.”
Trish from PR thinks your campaigns need to be more trendy. Suzy from HR preferred your social media account when it had more gifs. And the CTO loves the term ‘big data’.
We know it happens. But it can be managed.
There always needs to be a lead point of contact in any branding project. And that’s where you come in.
More often than not, the writer of the RFP will be the one who will lead the project.
But whoever the buck may stop with, you need one voice of reason that can be used to add balance to the discussions and go between both the agency and the company. You need a project lead.
Clearly listing out the contact details of this special someone, as well as the best time and way to get hold of them will help things run a lot smoother.
The branding agency should also do their part here and once the project kicks off, they’ll assign a member of staff (usually an Account Manager or Account Lead) to handle their side of the communications.
How the Project will Be Awarded
If you’re considering working with a number of branding agencies, or firing out your RFP to several choices, then you need to make sure they know how the project will be awarded.
For the record:
We don’t believe in distributing your brief to a huge number of agencies. It’s not respectful of their time.
That said, we appreciate you’ll want to collect several proposals and opinions. 3 to 5 agencies is a fair number to approach.
Not sure how to choose a branding agency to work with?
Check out this post about choosing a graphic design agency.
Now, how will your project be awarded?
Typically, there are several elements at play:
- Cost/value for money
- Quality of work
- Previous experience
- Alignment to the RFP
- Suitability of the agency
There are any number of factors you could use to judge the responses.
It’s normal to write into your RFP the percentage and weighting of each of the awarding criteria.
This helps to show your design agency what’s most important in your decision making process.
The required response section of an RFP is pretty straightforward to write.
You need your agency to know what you’re expecting back, by when and how to submit it.
It’s simply a case of listing out what you expect to receive back.
Perhaps this is as simple as:
- A written response to the brief
- Why the agency sees themselves as a good fit
- Examples of relevant work
- Testimonials from happy clients
Tell them how to submit their proposal, what to include, by when, and you’re off to the races. Let them get creative with the rest!
Or, perhaps you’ve got specific questions you want to tackle to help speed up the proposal process. These will likely be based on the problems you’re facing, which we talked about earlier. So, they might include the following:
- What steps would you take to maximise return on our content efforts?
- How would you go about solidifying our brand offering?
- What experience do you have of working within our industry?
- How do you monitor and stay ahead of trends in our industry?
- What do you see as your agency’s core values?
- What do you see as the key thing we could do to help differentiate us from our competitors?
- Do you understand who our customers are and what they want?
- How often can we expect a progress report on our project?
If you want to see creative examples from prospective branding agencies as part of the response to your RFP, make sure you ask them for ideas based on a fiction rather than existing project. And make sure to hire whichever supplier has ideas you intend to use. Otherwise, you could be guilty of acquiring free work.
Conclusion: How to Write an RFP or RFQ
Now that you’ve seen how to write an RFP, it’s time to start reaching out to branding agencies.
If you’re still not sure on how to find a branding agency to work on your rebrand, you could get in touch with us to have a chat about your project.
Remember, an RFP is a useful tool that should be used when trying to source a branding agency for your project, but it’s not set in stone. It should be a flexible document that can be added to and modified as your chosen agency submerges themselves into your world!
It’s not unusual for goals and objectives to change, especially when outside influences come into play and throw the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons.
But that’s fine. Just be prepared to go back and forwards to hammer out the details.
Your RFP is a fab initial document to have, but it should grow with your project.
What do you think? How did you write your RFP? Let us know in the comments below.