Agency New Business – Thoughts on the RFP process

The job of any agency is to bring in more business through the front door than is leaving (either through attrition, resignation or reduced scope) through the back door. At the start of my career I was once told that the annual attrition rate was somewhere around 20% – with the agency business, there are some magic numbers and this one works for a couple of scenarios.

If you’re a small, $3mm agency, 20% is just $600,000. Fairly manageable to bring that in each year. If you’re a $30mm agency, 20% is $6mm. Not many of those accounts come up for review each year.

All this to say that while current clients pay the bills, new business is the life blood of every agency – it determines how fast your agency will grow or contract – so the new business process is crucial. And, for the most part, new business relies on the dreaded RFP process. I would also add that the best way for an agency to bring in new business is to focus on your existing clients. To do great work for them that earns you more of their trust and that can attract other clients looking for great work.

On AdAge, there are some interesting articles about RFPs – how agencies are declining more and more RFPs from clients, how to fix the RFP process, and how agencies put out such poor RFPs themselves.

One small fix for the RFP process

All I’m asking is this: If an agency doesn’t win, tell them why. If the other agency killed it, great. It’s not easy to hear, but that’s OK. To the victor go the spoils. But generally it’s not that clear cut. And while I know it might be difficult to articulate, you owe it to them to try. An agency puts its heart and soul into a pitch. The least you can do is give something in return.

quite a few years ago, I responded to an RFP for the type of project I was personally interested in and that I had quite a bit of experience in. It was a gruelling process, just to complete the forms and provide the cases, and thinking, that the client required. I had to have certain papers notorised, and pull in the partners who we would use to develop the technology component of the solution. The team and I spent many hours making sure this was the best proposal we could make it because we wanted to do the work. We never heard back. Quite by chance, I met the client who had managed the process at a social event and asked them about it. They were apologetic and told me how many other proposals they had received and who they had ended up choosing. But they could have said that with an email, thanking everyone for the time and effort – even if there wasn’t any feedback per se.

Agencies shun low-margin, high-headache biz

“If we’re going to put a tremendous amount of energy into a pitch, we can’t be in the dark. We have to know the fee potential. Some clients and consultants forget that we’re a business, too.”


…one of the biggest problems is wasted energy and resources as a result of poor pitch processes. “What a lot of marketers don’t realize is that bad search processes can cost them, and what many clients don’t consider is that bad searches cost the industry overall.” For example, a pitch that doesn’t follow best practices might mean a marketer has to review the business again a year or two later — or that top agencies choose not to respond in the first place. “If you’re not running a review that feels transparent, that there’s an opportunity to do good work for a fair fee, a client could lose good potential partners. It’s not a nice-to-have to run a pitch well, it’s an outcome that’s beneficial for everyone.”

Agencies’ requests on media companies are out of control too

In many cases the media RFP is essentially outsourced innovation. It is the equivalent of saying, “Our idea is to use this platform, but we have no idea what to do with it.” In fairness, matching creativity with wide-scale reach for a major brand is a true challenge. But there is a better way.

Seth said it best when he said that “the good stuff is more likely to be sold to people who care“.

So, what to do? How to show that you care about the product an agency could produce for you? Well, this is a good start.

how to conduct a review




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