PHD holds sessions with multiple sellers, who “love this idea because they waste so much time chasing RFPs that their win rate is often very low.” (Craig Atkinson, PHD US)
Despite all the automation that’s come to media, the request for proposal (RFP) has hung around like a bad retargeted ad. Sellers chase RFPs but only begrudgingly. They complain they put a lot of effort into responding to them but rarely get feedback from the agency. They can even be the instrument of abuse, as when a vendor offered to send agencies lobster rolls in exchange for RFPs.
And many agencies, believe it or not, agree. Buyers say RFPs often feel dashed off. Now some are determined to if not eliminate, scale back their use. PHD US is increasingly eschewing the RFP in making media-buying evaluations, chief investment officer Craig Atkinson said. About half of Mediassociates’ media-buying evaluations are done using RFPs, down from about two-thirds five years ago, estimated Ben Kunz, evp of marketing and content there. Reshift Media, a digital marketing agency, has never sent out an RFP in its six-year history, said Kirk Allen, COO and co-founder of Reshift. “It’s pretty old-school thinking,” he said of the RFP.
Driving the shift is that agencies are consolidating their spending with fewer media sellers so there’s less need to cast a wide net with the RFP. More buyers are pursing the mantra of “fewer but deeper” relationships with buyers, especially as bigger chunks of budgets are run through programmatic (and, of course, Google and Facebook) as the workhorse for campaigns to get reach.
As a result, direct-sold campaigns have grown more original, customized and often involve custom content the media company creates. The standard RFP, with its focus on audience and ad specs, has become anachronistic.
Agencies said that instead, they’re leaning on research, conversation with vendors and in-person meetings with individual or groups of sellers. PHD holds sessions with multiple sellers, who “love this idea because they waste so much time chasing RFPs that their win rate is often very low,” Atkinson said.
Still, it’s too soon to call the RFP dead, buyers and sellers said. Scale is a part of it; one client alone might have dozens of campaigns a year, and it’d be too time-consuming to do briefings with vendors for each one. It’s an exaggeration to say all media has gotten so complex that the RFP won’t do.