Alternatives to the RFP Process

Most of the time, companies view the Request for Proposal (RFP) as the only option for seeking help with a marketing project, program, or initiative. RFPs are not the only solution and can often be a waste of time, money, resources, and effort for both clients and agencies.

Clients want solutions to problems but, more often than not, everything you need to know about RFPs is not always straightforward. The RFP process creates an artificial environment where the proposed solutions are superficial. Just like standardized testing, an agency may be good at “taking a test” or filling out an RFP, but may not be the most qualified for the job.

Related: the Do’s and Don’ts of the RFP Process

RFPs don’t have to be the only option. Consider alternatives to the RFP process in order to form a healthy and long-lasting agency-client relationship:

Discovery RFP

Discovery RFPs are particularly useful for larger, pricier, and/or long-term marketing initiatives. Clients pay an agency to act as a quasi-consultant to get an outside perspective on the business’ marketing strategy and uncover insights about the internal marketing processes. The output of a discovery RFP is called an “artifact” which is a report containing raw data, analyses, and a summary of the agency’s findings.

Role Play With A Sample Project

Instead of asking the agencies to prepare half-developed spec. work, offer to pay for a minor project that allows a chance to develop chemistry and think through ideas as a team. Giving a sample project to an agency exposes the client to the strategic and creative process of the agency firsthand.

Talk Through The Project With Partners

Sometimes clients send out a proposal to 50 agencies, meaning they have 50 proposals to sort through - a waste of time for both parties. Asking for a brief conversation with potential agencies can weed through those that are not a good fit with minimal effort.

Invite a selection of agencies with the necessary expertise that are within budget to brainstorm solutions. Fairly compensate the leaders for their time and award the agency that has the best ideas with a partnership. Try to maintain a relationship with the other agencies for future work.

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A conversation or “date” as opposed to a formal process or pitch will help both parties understand each others’ needs and capabilities more thoroughly to determine if it is a good fit.

Read Related - The Evolving Pitch Process - Why Brands Should Approach Agency Selection Differently

Seek External Referrals

Use references from trusted sources such as team members with past agency connections, current network, or resources like AgencySparks that has already vetted expert agencies and can recommend likely fits. Saving time up front allows for more time to focus on executing.

A Detailed Request For Information (RFI)

RFIs act as “fact-finding” documents since the client may have very little knowledge of what is needed to solve marketing challenges. Asking the agency to answer questions about their qualifications and offerings and providing case studies and examples of work often results in an easier way to narrow the pool. A partnership may not sprout from an RFI, but the process helps the client better articulate their ask and exposes them to qualified, reliable agencies for future work.


If an RFP is a necessary procedure, make sure to articulate the needs in as much detail as possible and have a transparent conversation with the agencies under consideration to lay out expectations.

For more help, read The Do’s and Don’ts of the RFP Process.  


 The Do’s and Don’ts of the RFP Process.