Let's Bury the RFP

There's a better way to choose a video agency

This is a tale of two brands. Each was tasked with finding the right video agency for their brand. One brand used a variation of the crusty and rather malodorous RFP process to choose their video agency. The other brand found a better way.

Brand #1's Story

Last month a New York brand invited us to take part in their video production RFP process. RFP is a short way of saying "Request For Proposal". A lot of companies used these in the 1980s and 90s as an attempt towards a relatively pain-free (to the client) way to compare vendors in an "apples to apples" kind of way, especially when they were considering vendors who did stuff that the brand needed but didn't really understand. The idea, being a standardized process that required not a lot of effort or thinking, really took root in certain large, legacy-type organizations. Which meant it filtered down to smaller brands, too.

This brand's RFP asked us to come up with a myriad of creative solutions to their business problems. It established baselines for qualifying to do business with the brand, from mundane things like insurance requirements to bizarre demands for three full-time, dedicated video production teams available to the client at all times. It demanded full financial disclosures from each agency, and the right to audit their books- even before working together. And as with many RFPs, there were a ton of other hoops the video agencies would have to jump through. Failure to respond to any request by the client would disqualify the agency from consideration. Also as with many RFPs, the client provided zero guidance regarding budget or type of video productions they wanted beyond "a variety of videos". 

Finally, the RFP informed us that by responding to their RFP, every creative idea we present is owned by them. AKA the "We can take your free consulting and implement your firm's ideas without paying you anything" clause.

This RFP went out to everyone in town, like an indiscriminate shotgun blast. What's more, the client would not do a discovery call, so all we'd have to work with would be the scant information provided in its RFP and on their website. To be fair, they also said they might be open to use sending a short written list of specific questions, predicated on our understanding that they may or may not answer them.

We said no. I told them exactly why and offered suggestions about better ways to select a video production company. Of course I got no response. But that's OK. Their loss, your gain. 

Nobody likes RFPs

Brands should want to bury the RFP because:

  • The solutions you get in an RFP are garbage ideas, born of desperation and ignorance. I won't elaborate, you can think for yourself on why blasting a poorly-thought-out PDF at 20 companies might not engender the most well-fitting or creative solutions to your problems.
  • If you don't truly understand what a vendor does, it likely means that many of the details of your RFP will totally miss the mark. For the brand in question, they were a technology platform that really doesn't understand marketing or video production in any way. The demand that we have three full-time video crews dedicated to their company and on standby at all times solely for them? That's just silly. Nobody will do that, and one of the video agencies who did respond (you know who you are!) freely admitted to me that they're just lying to get the job. We don't lie, except for little inconsequential ones when we're forced into a corner like "Yes, I did notice you've lost weight during Covid!"
  • You get absolutely zero idea of what working with this video agency is like. Because you haven't put any effort into the process. It's NEVER "apples to apples". No video agency is exactly like another. If they are, then they have cheerfully embraced a commodity mindset. So you ought to be rather terrified of how bland, boring, and ineffective your videos will be. 
  • Finally, when you send out an RFP you almost always get only the worst agencies to respond. Why? Because if we're busy, and most of the better video agencies are, we don't have time to waste creating free work for you.

Video agencies hate RFPs because:

  • What we sell is our experience, creativity, and time. RFPs demand all of these from us for free. A well-thought-out response to an RFP could cost us $5,000+ in opportunity costs. 
  • Most RFPs are written "after the fact" to justify the vendor selection you've already made. I know it's harsh to speak the truth, but there it is. Most RFPs are essentially a "cover your butt" thing, not a true selection process. It's like an ad agency getting a "check bid". The best that's going to happen is your agency's lowball bid will force the (already) selected agency to lower their prices. The fact is, most RFPs have very little chance of a positive result for the vendors who respond.
  • When a brand throws down an RFP it tells us that even if we are chosen, it will be the suckiest suckfest ever. Because you're taking an adversarial, rigid, uncreative, top-down, master-servant stance from the start. No, thank you.

By the way, we all feel this way. Most of us are just too cowed and weak to admit it to you. Also to be fair, is there the possibility of an occasional RFP that vaults past the downsides of the form and becomes a worthy tool for choosing a video agency? Sure. We just haven't seen any, yet.

Brand #2's Story: The Better Way

Also last month we were approached by a Chicago company with offices all over the USA and Europe. They, too, were looking for a video agency for 2022. I was and am pretty blown away at how smart they were about their selection process.

Here's how things went down:

  • They found some agencies whose work they liked and related to.
  • They talked to us. Via Zoom. For an hour. They explained what they were looking for, told us about them and their hopes for video this year. They asked questions. And they listened. It was purposely pretty casual yet serious, and... it was fun!
  • We sent a very short proposal that was perfectly tailored to their needs.
  • Then, they asked if we'd be interested in a small pilot project. You know, to actually see what it'd be like to work together.
  • We said yes. We killed it and the process was a blast.
  • And now we're their vendor and they're our client. We're both pretty thrilled about it.

Doesn't this sound like a better way to find a video agency? 

We certainly think so.