Podcast #17

How to Create a Marketing Agency RFP

Why are you sending a request for proposal (RFP) to a marketing agency? Your healthcare organization is probably looking for a quality partner to enhance your strategy and help you get patients the care they need. Here's how to create a solid RFP, what research you should do before looking for a partner, how an agency can detect a genuine RFP, and how to find an amazing marketing agency who fits your needs.

Episode Highlights:

Lauren Leone

Lauren Leone: “I think the best partnerships are the ones that recognize that it may take a little time to get to the right partner. If you’re willing to have a call or two with me, you’re not doing a volume approach, and you’ve really narrowed it down, then you will get the best results from my team. You will get the best proposal and the most in-depth research because we feel invested and we know that you’re invested.”

Related Resources

Announcer: Welcome to the Ignite Podcast. The only healthcare marketing podcast that digs into the digital strategies and tactics that help you accelerate growth. Each week, Cardinal’s experts explore innovative ways to build your digital presence and attract more patients. Buckle up for another episode of Ignite.

Alex MembrilloWelcome everybody to Ignite. This is going to be a fun one. I can’t tell you how many RFP requests we get. What I call RFPs, RFIs, we get them every day. They’re so poorly, they’re mainly filled out, the questions and that narrative is so poorly done. I’m very excited. We’ve got Lauren on the line. She’s our SVP of Healthcare Marketing. She’s the one that answers RFPs, when we feel like answering. It’s one out of 10 because they’re usually so vague that we’re just not interested, but this is going to help your organization create an RFP that’s going to get agencies excited to work with you.

Because at the end, that’s what you want. You want to get the good agencies excited to propose their solutions to you. Currently, the RFPs we are seeing do not do that. We feel like we’re a good agency, and we are not interested in 90% of the ones we get. Let’s work on that today. Lauren, welcome to Ignite.

Lauren Leone: Thanks, Alex. Yes, you couldn’t have said it better. The goal is to find a partner, not to grill everyone to the point where they just don’t even want to participate in the RFP. Let’s find a happy medium where we feel like our time is well invested, and we feel like you’re invested in making the right decision.

Alex: This was not in one of the questions I was supposed to ask. It’s very annoying when really there’s just an incumbent there and you’re asking people to fill something out because it’s part of your business. Don’t do that. Everybody stop doing that. Anyways, we’ll move on to another point. What’s the best advice you can give to the marketers who are starting to look for an agency partner? Where do they start in this process, the RFP thing?

Lauren: I think there’s a few levels here. The first is, and I say this in the best way possible, make sure your budget is large enough to warrant an RFP, because an RFP is not just an investment for the agency who has to put it together, you have to develop the document, take initial interviews, answer questions, review the documents, do the presentations, and if all of that is going to be done for a budget that is only going to afford you the ability to actually really run one or two channels, just go out and look for a partner who specializes in those one or two channels.

My first recommendation is: do some research on when is it appropriate to do an RFP. My second comment on that is just we’re looking at what to include in the RFP. I think if you are looking for an agency to be all things to you, then list that very clearly and seek out agencies that represent themselves as such on their website. I can’t tell you how many RFPs we get that are for a full-service agency that need TV and branding and digital, and we’re clearly Cardinal Digital Marketing. Determine what type of partnership you’re looking for and then put that in front of the right agencies because you’re just going to get back these piecemeal requests that you’re never going to use.

Alex: Okay, I love that. Yes. The bigger you are, the more it makes sense to splinter things out, and don’t get your traditional media experts and go get a digital performance expert. Nobody is good at everything. Don’t let anybody tell you they are. They’re not. There’s no way they are because you can only be good at so many things. Okay. Lauren, not a question on you, but something I want to ask is part of what we’re seeing is the spray and pray approach, where they’re sending to everybody. Does that feel disingenuous when you get that? You’re like, “I don’t fit this.” Or how can you tell if the client is serious? How can they express that they are serious and they really do want a response?

Lauren: Are you going for volume or are you going for quality? I would think personally if I were in that boat and the same thing we do when we’re trying to generate inbound leads, I want a couple of really great opportunities. I don’t need a hundred opportunities that are going to take all my time in for no yield. I can tell that someone’s genuine when the service requirements of the RFI or the RFP match what we’re capable of, because they’ve taken five minutes to look at our website. We have a services section and it clearly outlines what we do and who we work with.

I think that’s just a five-minute thing that the person putting out the RFP or doing the research can do. The only RFPs I will honestly respond to when someone says, “I’m sending you this RFP, take a look at it.” Let me know when you want to hop on the phone for 30 minutes. All I want is 30 minutes of your time. I want to know you. I want you to know me. I want to make sure we’re the right fit before both of us think hours and hours of time into this process together only to find out that it was never a fit from the beginning. The best thing you can do is offer 30 minutes of your time to your top contenders.

Alex: Yes, absolutely, and if you don’t, it’s agencies like us that won’t even participate.

Lauren: You won’t participate with that.

Alex: If you don’t give us 30 minutes, this is just to prove the incumbent was the right to– we’re not interested, guys. That’s the first tip off to agency that you’re not interested. Who needs to be involved, Lauren, is it just the marketers, the head of marketing, anybody else?

Lauren: Absolutely, the head of marketing. I think it depends on the type of RFP you’re putting out. In the education space, for example, I love to have someone from the enrollment side. In healthcare, maybe it’s providers are a huge part of what you’re trying to do. Maybe the liaison between the providers, or maybe it’s someone in the patient care side who understands really what the type of patient is that you need and what their pain points are. Just think about some adjacent team members that may be able to contribute as well.

Alex: Love it. What are the most essential components in an RFP that you want to point out? What you want in people to structure their RFP? So you started talking about service alignment and quality over quantity of respondents. When you’re going through that, what are the essential components you’d like to see, and what are the really ridiculous ones people need to stop including?

Lauren: I would like to see the information provided matching the expectation. What I mean by that is, if you’re going out and you’re putting out an RFI, that’s a request for information, and you simply want to understand the capabilities of an agency, that’s fine. If you’re coming into an RFP and you’re requesting media forecasts, and I want you to tell me what mix I should be doing to get the most out of my dollars, you need to provide some guardrails on what the budget is because we have this digital toolbox in front of us, and there are so many channels that we could use.

If I don’t know what your budget looks like, just at a holistic level, I can not make the right recommendation on where your dollars needed to be spent. If I’m unclear as to how your objectives may be split between awareness and patient acquisition and what KPIs you’re going to hold the campaigns to, I cannot make the right recommendation, and if I make a recommendation that is off base from what you really need, you’re either not going to select us or you’re not going to get any results from the RFP that are a value to you. Whomever you do pick, you’re going to have to go through that planning process all over again because they didn’t have the information at the beginning.

Alex: Yes, absolutely. One of the things I just don’t understand is why people are going through the RFP thing to start. Go do your own research. Find the agencies that match. You can see how many people they have on LinkedIn. You could see their capabilities on their website, and then take meetings with them. Grant access to your peer campaigns on read-only, get some NDA signed and go about it that way. I really would like some people to shift away from this RFP, they’re so disingenuous. You’re not going to get the best partners that way is my feeling.

Lauren: Yes, I think what you put into it is what you’re going to get out of it. Every initial call I take with people, I’m saying, “This call is for you to speak with us and understand if we are a good fit, but I’m doing the same with you. I want to understand that you are going to be a good client to us and that we can genuinely help you because that’s what we care the most about, not just selling our capabilities and then hope that they work.”

I think the best partnerships are the ones that recognize that it may take a little time to get to the right partner. You’re willing to have a call or two with me, you’re not doing a volume approach, you’ve really narrowed it down, you will get the best results from my team. You will get the best proposal, the most in-depth research because we feel invested because we know that you’re invested.

Alex: Yes. Quality over quantity, guys. I think some of these RFP pressure comes top down from the CEO or the board, or it’s a nonprofit and they say, “You have to create an RFP,” so they’ll see you didn’t do your due diligence and you didn’t just hire your buddies. Okay, do the RFP, but then do your own research. Reach out to a couple of agencies and say, “I want to include this. Let’s get on the phone.” That’s when we get excited.

Or you’re going to get people that are just excited to be included in anything, and you don’t want those agencies. You do not want those agencies. Lauren, any other gotchas, warning signs you want healthcare orgs to be aware of, that you see, you could say, “Oh my God, not fit, not a fit. I can just see some weird stuff happening here.” Any other gotchas?

Lauren: Yes. I’ve mentioned in an earlier podcast that we did about our healthcare marketing survey that I recognize in-house teams have shrunk. One red flag for me is when any indication in the RFP that someone wants us to basically stand in as their marketing strategy and department as a whole. I don’t sit within your organization. If you think that you will bring in an agency and then have to have minimal to no involvement to be successful is a huge red flag.

Someone, a single point of contact, maybe a handful of points of contact at your organization need to be available to be a partner, not to just have a vendor that I talked to once a month and they all just figure it out for me. So that’s a huge red flag. I think if you’re going down that route, spend your efforts hiring one really great in-house person first before you go that route, don’t put out an RFP for a marketing department.

I really like when partners have their wish list, but there’s also a bit of flexibility. Usually, what happens is I’m getting an RFP and it may have eight things that they wish the agency could do for them and we are a great fit for six of them. If I say to the individual, because they’re willing to take a call with me, “I could take these six things off your plate and do them really well if you could find capacity in-house to do these other two because we’re not great at them,” that’ll be the best relationship that we can form together.

With the people that I’m speaking to, the marketers recognize that that is a value-based relationship. Be a little bit flexible, recognize that if you force an agency to do something that is not within their capabilities, you’re not going to get a result that you’re happy with.

Alex: Be flexible. Agencies are only good at certain things. They’ll tell you what they’re good at and maybe you go find specialists that are good at the other thing. Lauren, hugely insightful. Listeners, this is going to be part of a bigger document and series, so look for our RFP guidance document. Lauren will be sending this to people when we get our RFPs if they’re not up to [unintelligible 00:11:23] they can get educated on how to make it better. I’m excited for that and I hope they will all find value. Lauren, thank you for joining us on Ignite.

Lauren: Thanks Alex.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to this episode of Ignite. Interested in keeping up with the latest trends in healthcare marketing? Subscribe to our podcast and leave a rating and review. For more healthcare marketing tips, visit our blog at cardinaldigitalmarketing.com.

[00:11:54] [END OF AUDIO]

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