Vague RFP’s don’t help anyone.

Let’s use websites to prove a point.

Scenario 1:
Client: How much for a new website?
Designer #1: Hmmm. Depends on what you’re looking for.
Client: Just base it off of what you would like to do for us.
Designer: #1 How about $250,000?
Client: I don’t have that much.
Designer: #1 How much do you have?
Client: I don’t want to tell you because I’m afraid I’ll be taken advantage of. I guess we can’t work together…

Scenario 2:
Client: How much for a new website?
Designer #2: Hmm. How about $5,000?
Client: Sold!

Weird huh? But unfortunately it happens time and time again. From the two examples above, can you tell which designer would have done the better job? Can you tell who would have been easier to work with? Basing the decision off of cost assumes something that is unequivocally wrong… -that the end products will be equal. Face it, every agency wants you to spend a million dollars on your project. It would give them room to do really exciting groundbreaking design that flips and twists and wows everyone. Just because they asked for it doesn’t mean they should be penalized. They might be able to do something great within your actual budget as well. Deciding things by a blind bid:

  • Penalizes studios with lots of abilities, and aspiration.
  • Rewards agencies who may not totally understand the job, have lower standards, or are better at guessing your budget. (not a requirement to be a great designer)
  • Ignores the real goal of the RFP/bidding process: Value for money.

The best way to prep an RFP or question an agency is by challenging them with a budget. It’s much easier to to compare apples to apples this way… Clients don’t want to do this because:

  • They’re afraid the studio might have done the job for less.
  • They haven’t determined a budget.
  • They want to get untainted recommendations from the agency on what they should be spending.
  • They’re embarrassed that their budget might be too small.

These are all understandable reasons except for the last. If you take a budget to an agency that knows what they’re doing, they’ll be honest with you if your budget is too small for them. It doesn’t mean that you’re cheap, or small, or a bad person. It just means that agency is staffed to handle bigger projects than yours, and has overhead accordingly. It can actually be a great starting place, as the agency will likely recommend someone to you that they respect who is more fitting for your needs.

The real goal is to compare agencies based on the same criteria. If you don’t establish those criteria, you’ll be no better off than when you started. Every agency has a different methodology, and will solve your problems differently in different scenarios.

The website example above is somewhat clear cut. Bidding on entire campaigns when there are production budgets, and schedules involved can be really tough for a studio. It might seem that a campaign is a campaign just like the next, but they’re incredibly different. If you take a notional budget to a studio, they may talk to you about websites, email campaigns, and PR. Take that notional budget multiplied by ten, and they might talk to you about billboards, print ads, direct mail, and other mass media. Giving them no budget at all means they would have to cover every single option. If their bag-of-tricks is deep, it can be an impossible task.

Let’s not even open the whole subjective “taste in design” can of worms. Suffice it to say that design ought to be a huge part of your decision making process. Advertising is not a cost, it’s an investment. Better design is stronger insurance that your investment is safe. It’s pretty tough to quantify the value of design in a blind bid.

The most succinct RFP you can give a studio is a budget, and a list of goals. That gives them an opportunity to spread their wings. It gives them an opportunity to show you the amount of value they can provide for your dollar. It gives you a way to more accurately compare value for value. It lets you focus on the truly important questions that will effect your project more than anything else:

  • Does this studio do good work?
  • Do I trust them?
  • Do they seem easy to work with?

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