They are costly, time-consuming and easily pirated. Requests for Proposal are a controversial topic among independent planners, as reported in our last issue (“RFPs: Really Feeling Pressure,” June 2007). But there is another side to the story. The in-house planners issuing RFPs have their own frustrations with the proposals they receive. Here, they share their side of the RFP divide.
FLAT FEE, YES; HYPE, NO
Armed with an MBA and years in international event management, Kathleen Moore, vice president and senior event marketer for New York-based JPMorgan Treasury Services, knows what she needs in event proposals, and here she shares it:
I do several events a year that have a lot of moving parts and require an event management company's support. Although I have worked with the same two or three organizations over the past several years, I do occasionally send a project out for bid, especially if it is in a location where my “usual suspects” may not have expertise or contacts.
I send a fairly detailed RFP, with objectives, audience demographics, details about past events, if applicable, as well as any specific elements that I'd like to see in-cluded, and anything I think should be avoided.
What I like to see in a proposal is creative, conceptual thinking that seems to be derived from my RFP. I also like to see that the company has energy and enthusiasm for what they do. I prefer a theatrical, interactive approach to my events rather than one that depends heavily on decor. People often get too caught up in the scenery, which — unless it truly contributes to people interacting and participating in the event — shouldn't be the main focus.
I also ask for a line-item budget, including a flat event management fee based on how the company prices its time, experience and expertise — not based on a percentage of the overall cost of the event. More complicated events command higher fees.
Big mistake: Not quoting a flat fee
If you do cost-plus, I'm going to make you do it over.
If I give a budget range, I don't expect the estimated budget to be that exact number — that makes me think people are retrofitting their concept into my dollars. I also understand that the company's estimates are based on what I've asked for and what they are proposing, so if either changes, I understand the budget will change as well.
I also look at the budget to see how the cost of decor, for example, balances with the cost of entertainment, site rentals, and food and beverage. That helps me see where the company's focus might be and what they think is important.
If the date for an event is locked in, I expect the sites that the company is proposing to be available for that date, so I ask that the bidding company put any prospective venues on hold.
Big mistake: Not having the venue I've set my heart on being available.
What turns me off is a lot of hype about the company in the proposal. The company should presume I know something about what they have done in the past since I have asked them to bid on the project, so I don't need long explanations of their history and operating philosophy. I do appreciate that chemistry counts, and I do want to hire people that are compatible and stimulating and good at what they do, but I can usually figure that out from meeting them in person and talking to others whom they have worked with.
If the company salesperson brings the operations manager along on the site visit, that's a plus. I like to meet the actual people I will be working with, and I bring any of my own colleagues who will be playing a large role as well.
I'm also suspicious of lavish packaging and elaborate site visits, with private drivers and lots of people from the company hovering around. I ask myself, “Who's paying for that?”
I also value timely responses and consistent contacts. I understand that people sometimes leave their companies and sometimes that happens in the middle of the proposal process, so what I appreciate in those cases is the attention of senior management to my needs, in spite of their internal changes.
There are trade-offs between large companies with lots of inventory and in-house staff, who can provide “one-stop shopping,” which reduces rentals costs, and smaller outfits that contract everything out, reducing overhead but perhaps increasing costs in other ways. So I try to judge if the larger company might be more rigid because of all the built-in resources or if the smaller company might be too dependent upon outside resources that might not always be available. I am pre-judiced towards the smaller outfits but realize that sometimes bigger is better. Those smaller companies must have good industry connections and be very good at production management and stage management. I've been lucky so far.
RFP DO'S AND DON'TS
Claire Stroope, CMP, has seen both sides. A former independent planner and catering consultant, she is now senior manager of global meeting services with Redwood Shores, Calif.-based software giant Oracle Corp. Here, she offers a checklist that separates winning from losing proposals.
The most common proposal mistakes:
Proposals sent without page numbers.
Too much detail. Make your point or pitch your strategy and get to the point. Evaluators normally receive more than one proposal, and if yours is long, chances are it will leave a negative impression — and they are going to skip over a lot.
Proposals that are too short. If you have a relationship with the company you are pitching, don't build your proposal on the assumption that certain facts are already understood. If someone else reviews the proposal, they will be lost.
Proposals with math errors. Do your homework and quadruple-check your numbers.
Too much hype and spin and not enough getting directly to capabilities and why the supplier is the best fit for the job. “Many companies don't realize that it doesn't matter how creative they are,” Stroope says. “In RFPs — especially with large firms — a score card is created and then weighted.” Even creativity won't make up for proposals that don't meet all specified criteria. “If they don't answer all the questions, they can lose the bid — and often do.”
Not following the directions of the RFP.
Failure to pitch additional ideas if they are encouraged.
Not passing on the RFP if in fact the job is not a good fit. “Many companies will bid anyway just to get in the door,” Stroope says. “The truth is if you waste the evaluator's time, you may have wasted your best shot at getting in on the wrong job, and it could take you months or years to recover — and lots of dollars.”
What the best proposal writers do:
They do their homework.
They include quotes from and photos of their senior management.
They answer all the questions that are asked.
They include all the questions and the answers to their proposal (so the evaluators don't have to switch back and forth between documents).