Is the RFP Dead?

We rounded up the best thinkers in content marketing to address the current state of the RFP process. Here's what they had to say:

"RFPs never really worked for us. For us, it's been a process of really picking the ice, talking to clients, one on one, and we start those relationships by going to a lot of conventions. It's very different than the general market. We follow up with a visit, and during a face to face we'll do a rundown of past projects, like DirectTV, General Mills, Blue Cross Blue Shield. And we'll present what our vision is with renderings--mock ups, prototypes, showing them how this actually looks in the eyes of the consumer, rather than a mental trip of how it looks in the eyes of the consumer. So we try to enamor a client with the eye. We'll work up to four weeks on a project, and spend anywhere from $2,000 to $8,000. We just did that for Kraft, to show how the content looks on the iPad. For that we have content we can use, but we'll make new graphics, with teams in the States and in Mexico, which helps us scale it faster with less expense."

-- Michele Fasctlisch

"The RFP is alive and kicking when it comes to a particular strain of content marketing -- company newsletters and magazines, specifically. We do see a lot of RFP activity, but it's less than 20 percent of our business, because we don't choose to answer many of them. Our own marketing efforts use every channel: RFPs, referrals, sales calls, trade relationships, and networking at the c-suite level.

"As for pipeline, we try not to be presumptuous. The foundation of brand journalism is listening and asking great questions. You have to be a little cynical, and arrive at great insights that will offer solutions. This way we have something to talk to a brand or association about, rather than something to sell them. I wouldn't want to waste a potential client's time sending a salesperson, because what we're providing is not a commodity. The client is aware of the problems and challenges they're facing, and we have a process that can help them."

-- Gordon Locke CEO, D Custom

"There is a growing need to approach every pitch or client presentation with the same demands of the best RFPs today. If I'm a brand, I want you to tell me the big idea. But don't get lost in your history. Tell me how can it be integrated into our own thinking, and what you bring to the table that we can't get ourselves. And don't forget the measurement plan. And don't forget to talk to your people. Not just who they are and how you work, but what is your team's secret sauce? Why are we going to make a good team together? In the end--almost all the time--there is a personal component that weighs in on any decision."

--Marcia Avrum

"We don't get a lot business from RFPs. Maybe we do one or two a week, but I've always thought they're not proactive. We're very much pursuing leads ourselves. We don't necessarily market to a lot of the huge brands. Education is a huge area for us -- health clinics, individual doctors. We sell ads for a number of big news weekly magazines, special sections within these magazines, like an education section in Newsweek, for example. Eighty percent of the people we speak to, we've had conversations with in the past. Twenty percent are new leads. Every year, we tend to try new things, but all the sales people cover thousands of leads. From the overall outreach, depending on the project, conversion rate could be as good one out of 15, or as low as one in 100. Advertorial is appreciably higher -- 25 to 50 percent better. We're good at discerning what sort of advertisers will respond to our overtures."

-- Steve Chanin, Mongoose Atlantic

"I don't think the RFP is dead. However, I do think companies are changing the way they look at solutions around content marketing. My guess is this is pretty much the reality. Most brands or companies that desire our services have trouble putting it in an RFP to clearly describe what they need. It's a consultative analysis. They'll call on their favorite vendors. Specifically, in terms of building our pipeline, we're getting more involved with companies that don't clearly understand what's involved. We signed a deal this week, a huge media company, very sophisticated in terms of content -- they're not just buying words. They had a particular problem, and they called us from a committee meeting."

-- Brice Bay

Points of Light from Doug Weaver: Re-think your value proposition

"Your point of contact can't just be one person -- you've got to have a lot of contacts in the agency. It's a combination of patience and diligence. I've got to be plugged in at the C-suite, but you've got to be sending them insights, thinking about the success of their business, not just how much they're buying from you. Brands pay a premium for people who make them smarter and think about their business.

Don't expect you're going to get a second call. You need to engage, there's no fact-finding call anymore. There are too many players. A major agency recently told me they had 6,475 vendors in their system that they had written checks to -- and those are just the winners. You can't just go and be gracious and uncover the pain. The more time you spend asking, the less time there is to make something happen.

As you organize your point of view around the brand, bring them a challenge, bring them a market opportunity, move them out of their comfort zone. This can be difficult for sellers who want to be liked. If you want to be liked, join the Elks Lodge.

How do you create urgency when there's no closing or air date? The key is getting close to the customer's own calendar. Go on their website, look on the press room on the site. What holidays are important? When are they launching the new product? Don't focus on your own calendar. Say 'We've looked at your situation and we know the thirty days following fathers day and graduation are key to creating awareness around the product.' What we lose sight of is, what's the business goal of the brand in terms of educating about a feature or product? Tie it to a bigger business goal or marketing goal. Introduce the specter of competition, how they can beat the people in their cross hairs. They all have their own battles.

The Tao of Innovation

"The biggest change I see is agencies and brands working together much more closely. A lot of agency/client relationships have been fairly austere: you go away for four weeks and come back and there's a big reveal. Innovation doesn't really work that way. The client is a stakeholder. They're participating every day. There are defined end points, but you're not always sure how you're going to get there. When you're taking about innovation, you're talking about accepting a culture that involves failure and learning, embracing complexity. Sometimes it's more time consuming or expensive, and often times you don't nail it the first time. It's a much more unscripted process, but a willingness to change midstream could really pay off. We set up desks here for our clients, and we work from our clients' offices. It's not a one dimensional relationship manager. That person isn't someone we have at Arnold anymore. Now, what you get are people who can handle relationships. Working with American Eagle, we have a user experience designer, a software guy who has a good understanding of strategy. You want the client to see value in the person you put there."

-- Matt Howell from Arnold, Managing Partner, Global Chief Digital Officer