Is This the Antidote to the Traditional RFP?
Beyond the pain and strain of it, the standard RFP process often sets agency relationships up to fail. That’s the premise behind a new program from acclaimed agency coach AgencyAgile that effectively redesigns the model. Called Request for Partnership, the program helps clients build solid agency relationships by focusing on how teams work together rather than on historical agency accomplishments, spec work or creative 'dog-shows.'
Key to the program is an in-depth self-examination AgencyAgile leads with the client to align internally on what they really need in an agency partner and how they may unwittingly impede a relationship from the start. AgencyAgile acts like a therapist whereas traditional agency search consultants play matchmaker.
“The industry standard RFP focuses on selling a vision that rarely can be met. It focuses on strengths and aspirations, but agencies and clients actually fail because of their weaknesses and desperation,” said Greg Morrell, co-founder of AgencyAgile. “Our approach is based upon assessing and modelling the relational and behavioural dynamics. Changing agencies is often more a form of scapegoating than an actual cure. Like in dating relationships, the only way things change for the better is if a client has done the work upfront to fully understand what went wrong with the current/previous agency, what they themselves are doing and not doing to maintain a vibrant agency relationship.”
AgencyAgile has helped more than 160 agencies and marketing organisations around the world shift to empowering and inclusive, team-led ways of working. AgencyAgile’s “Request for Partnership” makes several significant shifts from the conventional RFP process, based on their experience of what makes these relationships work.
- Request for Partnership starts with an analysis of past and current agency relationships, including a collaborative workshop with the client team to align a realistic set of expectations and needs from a new agency partner.
- Then the process focuses on how prospective agencies’ people think and partner with clients, not what work they’ve created for others.
- Instead of a 'bake-off' of creative presentations, agency finalists do collaborative, day-long workshops to tackle real problems with client teams.
Edwards Lifesciences’ THV business unit recently used the Request for Partnership process to engage Relevate + Arteric as its lead digital agency. The Edwards THV team had struggled to retain the right agency partner to match their dynamic, growing and changing business.” Through in-depth interviews with their existing agencies and workshops with marketing team members, AgencyAgile identified several factors, including that Edwards had underestimated the complexity of its own decision-making. As a result, what was really needed never made its way onto briefs or RFPs, and agencies came in unaware of the internal roadblocks that could derail them. Success for any of them was challenged from the start.
“We came to realise that we can’t make a long-term agency marriage out of short-term relationships, said Stacia Garner, director of US patient marketing at Edwards Lifesciences. “We need to work with people who understand us at our deepest levels. Buying the sexy package can’t get us the partner we’ll grow stronger with through every challenge that coms our way. That required us to completely overhaul the way we approached the RFP, and even changed it from RFP to Request for Partnership.”
Garner: "We can't make a long-term agency marriage out of short-term relationships."
The ‘Request for Partnership’ issued to a handful of pre-screened agencies spelled out what Edwards has learned about itself as an organisation, and asked for the same clarity from the agencies.
“I thought, ‘Who are you, and what have you done with the RFP committee?’” said Bob Brooks, VP/sales and marketing at Relevate + Arteric. “Everything in this document was different from the thousands of RFPs I’ve seen. They disclosed a lot more than anyone I’ve ever seen. They laid out all their resources. They laid out all the agencies they're working with. They laid out exactly what they'd expect of us, and they didn’t want spec work; they wanted a team that could help manage their processes, stretch their perspectives and innovate. It was like someone was inviting us to be us and just lead with the truth.”
Agencies participated in individual Q&A sessions with the Edwards team, followed by written responses. Based on scoring, three finalists were invited to run an individual working session with the client team. The night before their session, each agency got the assignment for a daylong workshop that allowed the client and the agency team to actively collaborate in real time against a challenge that would build the foundation of the relationship if they were selected. The rules were simple: bring everyone who will work on the account and lead us like you were already our agency.
“We had engaged numerous agencies, from small boutiques to large network agencies, trying to find the one that could provide us with what we thought we wanted,” added Evan Webber, Associate Manager, Digital Marketing & Innovation THV at Edwards Lifesciences. “The breakthrough came from getting everyone from our team in the same room for the first time to look at whether we were providing what an agency would want or need.”
“The AgencyAgile RFP process helped make our decision obvious and unanimous,” added Susan Willig, SVP of Edwards Lifesciences.
The entire process for Edwards lasted four months, with the actual RFP with agencies taking only two of those four months. Edwards invested more time and effort than with previous RFPs, but already the payoff is substantial. Willig said the agreement negotiations and onboarding have been much quicker and easier – a collaboration rather than a battle – because AgencyAgile is involved and the process established mutual trust from the beginning. Relevate + Arteric chief strategist Hans Kaspersetz said he’s practically hands-free on the account because the process gave his Edwards team a head start.
Kaspersetz: "This approach is essential to creating durable relationships."
“I’m going to push future potential clients to consider a workshop like this as a mechanism for evaluating us as a potential vendor,” said Kaspersetz. “This approach is essential to creating durable relationships.”
Meanwhile, AgencyAgile continues to partner across the THV Marketing organization to align and establish new, more agile practices, both internally and with other roster agencies.