I personally find nothing more exciting than receiving a prospective client’s RFP. I love showing off my agency and communicating how we’re the perfect fit for their needs. There’s nothing more fun than wowing clients under conditions in which the sky is the limit!
Yet as exciting as RFPs can be, they’re also one of the trickiest procedures for an agency to navigate. When it comes down to it, agencies are paid for their ideas. We’re professional brainstormers. Our work is, quite simply, our ideas turned into deliverables. Because these ideas are so important, it’s vital to protect them. But how can an agency protect their ideas while still providing potential clients with concepts for consideration?
Here are my tips and tricks for navigating the RFP waters.
1. Evaluate the RFP itself.
It’s tempting to respond to every RFP that comes your way, especially in an economy where many agencies are struggling to hold on. We make sure to carefully look over all RFPs to determine to whom we’ll respond. Aside from the obvious criteria like determining if we like the organization, can meet their deadlines and work within their budget, we also try to detect if the organization is serious about a project or if they’re (que scary music)… “idea fishing.”
Unfortunately, it isn’t uncommon for companies to send out RFPs to a long list of agencies as a free way to get ideas, without any intention of actually hiring a partner to develop the concepts. While it’s impossible to know for sure which RFPs are sincere and which are crowd-sourcing ideas, here are a few signs:
Is the RFP vague? This is often a dead giveaway for idea-fishers. Legitimate RFPs indicate project timelines, budgets, deliverables and methods of work. The more detail provided, the more confident you can be that there’s an actual project to be awarded. On the other hand…
Is the RFP unusually focused on just one “problem” that needs to be solved? Occasionally we’ll see an RFP that presents a problem – for example, a 100-year-old business wants to be seen as “young” again. However, instead of asking for proposals for a specific project to solve this problem (such as a rebranding or PR campaign), they’ll often just ask for general concepts and ideas to meet the indicated need. If these RFPs lack budgets, timelines and concrete next steps, we’ll more often than not take a pass.
Was the RFP issued to fill a requirement? This is especially common in governmental organizations. Many times businesses are required to send out an RFP to a certain number or type of agency, even though they have a firm idea of who will actually be awarded the project. Generally, a little bit of cyber-sleuthing on the organization and their funding can let you know if the RFP is part of such a process.
2. Make it known that your ideas are valuable.
Those who don’t regularly work with an agency and creative types may assume that coming up with ideas is a simple, easy process. As any good agency knows, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Even for a “simple” RFP, we devote hours of research, brainstorming, concepting and writing. This translates into hundreds, even thousands of dollars that isn’t billable or devoted to current clients. It’s important to convey that the ideas presented in the proposal were the result of a careful process, and not a 15-minute cut-and-paste job.
3. Legally protect your ideas
When we feel that a proposal we write is uniquely detailed or comprehensive, we may decide to take legal steps to ensure our ideas are protected. Options include having both parties sign a mutual non-disclosure form, or copywriting the proposal itself (there is a small fee associated with this, but we feel it far outweighs the fallout if our ideas are stolen).
There are other options available to agencies as well, although these can be a bit tougher to implement. Billing for a proposal or asking for a contract in advance of sending ideas might be appropriate in some cases, especially if the RFP is quite large or the agency has previously worked with the company.
Finally, looking at the structure of your own agency is important. TrendyMinds is an advertising and PR agency, but we’re also a problem-solving agency. Frequently our clients come to us for general consulting in addition to strategic, creative and interactive deliverables, and many times this consulting doesn’t require a tangible deliverable. Because of this, we’ve incorporated consulting fees into our structure. This makes it clear that our ideas are incredibly valuable and not something we pass out to everyone for free. It also allows us to take our time in developing more comprehensive and in-depth proposals, and our clients and potential clients appreciate this added effort.
How do you protect your ideas in a proposal? Has there been a time when your ideas have been stolen?
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