The Fiesta Nobody Loves.

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As we enter the fall season and another online advertising year begins to ebb, the human-powered agency RFP process continues — against all odds — to cling to life.  For those looking in from the outside, the RFP (request for proposal) is a weekly ritual in which an agency sends out digital planning requirements to five times as many sites and networks as they’ll be able to buy from.  The sales reps get all lathered up, put their entire organization into Def-Con 4 status, and turn a detailed proposal around in 36 or 48 hours with relatively little quality information and — unbeknownst to them — very low odds of really being considered.

Just about everyone you talk to wants this thing to go away.  Clients see it as a waste of their billable hours; planning teams feel that it burns out their people; publishers see it as a massive resource drain;  and holding companies are desperate to automate it out of existence.  It’s the Rod Blagojevich of business practices.

The Drift is proudly underwritten this week by PubMatic, which empowers publishers with one holistic platform to sell advertising more intelligently.

Whatever decisions the clients, holding companies and agencies may choose to make, my advice to publishers is:  don’t wait!  Take charge of the RFP process by making active choices today — or tomorrow you might not have a business left.   Specifically, I encourage them to manage across three critical dimensions:
Visibility: Without quality information and lead time, most reps end up looking like a bunch of blindfolded kids hitting the RFP pinata and hoping candy spills out.  As you’re deciding whether to commit resources and fresh ideas to an RFP, ask whether we knew it was coming.  If your rep is surprised by either the timing or content of the document, then you’ve probably got very little chance. Don’t waste much time on this one.

History: If you’ve never really gotten much of a fair shake from an agency, then you’re probably not going to get one this time around either.  Some shops just don’t value either the metrics, models or content you offer.  Your rep might hope things will change, but hope is not a strategy.

Capabilities: Does the RFP crossing your desk ask for something that your company is really good at?  Pretty good at?  Too many reps feel that they have chase every potential order, no matter how bad the outcome may be for all involved.  The smart ones figure out how to politely turn these back and create a more custom — and bigger — opportunity for themselves.

If this sounds like I’m saying don’t pursue 70% of the RFPs your team gets — well, that’s kind of what I’m actually saying.  Well, at very least, don’t blindly throw time and resources at them.  Go for leaner responses, off the shelf stuff, abstracts instead of fully blown out proposals.  You’ll end up with a 20-25% success rate anyway, and you won’t have drained the bank chasing the wrong 75%.

Then send your team a message:  the job is about what you do in the weeks and months before the RFPs come out.  The job is to create opportunity, not simply to harvest it.   The best organizations and the best reps are already doing that job.

I will be keynoting two important events next month.  Next Thursday, October 6th, you’ll find me kicking off Admonsters’ OPS New York event.  And on Thursday, October 13th I’ll be hosting PubMatic’s AdRevenue 4 Premium Publisher Conference at the Times Center in Manhattan.  I hope that you’ll look into both.

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