Agencies have been grumbling about the client RFP process for years. And justifiably so as current RFP practices typically create an artificial environment where the agency is tested on its stamina and hunger for the business, and focus on how an agency reacts to a high stress sell situation rather than truly identifying the RIGHT agency for the job.

Having gone through numerous RFP processes throughout my career at various agencies, I can confirm that not all RFPs are met with glee when received. Many agencies have a sneaking suspicion that they are part of a cattle call where a dozen or so other agencies made the ‘short-list.’ Others are resentful that they are providing their best thinking and ideas without really knowing the evaluation criteria or scope of work.

RFPs also tend to be unclear and with limited information. Having worked on the client side myself, I don’t really know the rationale for it other than to serve as a medieval torture device. Despite an agency’s best effort to glean more information from the client, many times the information is not forthcoming. This forces the agency to invest time and money into conducting costly research on their own and to blindly go about addressing the request.

And in spite of the efforts put into a pitch, which include time, resources and finances, at the end of the day, the best and smartest agency doesn’t always win. Clients may have been looking to give the incumbent a wakeup call or to keep them on their toes, or they select an agency that they feel most comfortable with – and that’s not necessarily the agency that demonstrated strategic strength or ability to challenge the norm and push the envelope.

While I appreciate that this system will weed out the weaker agencies, it is still a very archaic and more often than not, unfair process. So, in its place, I’d like to propose a different approach. One that allows both parties, client and agency, to start off on equal footing. One that allows the agency to issue a Request for Client (RFC) asking the client to also submit a proposal elaborating on why the agency should work with them, and what their anticipated scope of work would be now and over the next few years. Additionally, the RFC would address how the client expects to work with the agency; what makes the client an ideal partner; what makes their business interesting to the agency; why they are considering the agency as a potential partner.

So what’s the benefit of this approach? Well, I see both parties benefiting. First, it will initiate a relationship that is based on mutual transparency and respect. Second, it will ensure a fair process where those agencies that are selected to participate in the RFP and who ultimately choose to participate are clear that they will be evaluated on the same criteria and scope. And last, the RFC will work to ensure that the selection process will consider not only strategic smarts but will also emphasize the value of a match between the client and agency based on mutual expectations, work styles, skill sets and chemistry. Weighing all these factors will increase the likelihood for long-term partnership success and minimize the agency churn that many clients go through every couple of years or so. Further, this approach will allow both parties to pull together the right talents and resources, and ensure the appropriate amount of time and finances are invested into the effort.

I read an interesting article in AdWeek recently about the Zappos’ agency search and the many frustrations expressed by the agencies involved. It sheds more light on why this process doesn’t have to be as painful as it’s become. To read this article, click here.

Also just for kicks, click here for a hilarious take on dysfunctional client relationships posted on YouTube.