Only You Can Prevent RFP Robbery

A few years ago, I was one of about ten people who watched a show called “K Street” on HBO. It was about a fictional DC lobbying firm, with actors playing lobbyists, run by a real political superstar, James Carville. I bring this up because in one of one of the episodes, Carville was asked by a would-be client to provide counsel on a project for which he would not get paid. His response was “no” because “ideas cost money.”

We’ve written before about how RFPs are the worst way to hire a firm. One of the reasons is that organizations that try to select a firm via RFP often ask for free, speculative work of firms whose only source of revenue is fees for work. Quite literally, in many professional services business, “ideas cost money.” But those who put out RFPs too often don’t respect that.

Recently, we heard of an RFP that demanded:

-A complete PR plan, including a targeted media list and proposed stories to be pitched to each outlet
-A messaging document, with recommended messaging to be inserted in to ad and PR campaigns
-A through media buying plan, including specific outlets and costs.

This was all as part of a proposal, in a selection process, for which there was no compensation. The firms were to base detailed plans on an eight page RFP document and a brief phone call with a marketing director.

It can be, essentially, robbery. The gun to your head is the chance at a contract, especially in a challenging economy. That enables them to steal your ideas, with no respect for you. A big issue here is that firms are judged on the quality of work they provide with no client relationship, no depth of preparation and completely based on speculation. Essentially, the RFPs demand and reward works of fiction.

We know of at least three firms that gave the organization exactly what they asked for – detailed work product, for free. In this case, the agencies who give away work for free with the hope of getting paid for it someday are accessories to the crime of robbery.

So, there is only one way that this abhorrent behavior on the part of governments, nonprofits, corporations and other organizations is going to stop. Agencies need to take these RFPs and throw them away immediately upon receipt.