As a follow up to the 9 ways the RFP fails in digital media buying, this article shows how today’s digital media landscape has rendered the RFP obsolete.

The RFP process has been used in the advertising business since the beginning.  But the dynamics of the media landscape has changed significantly since then.

50 years ago, in the Mad Men era, there were few media options to choose from.  Think ABC, NBC, and CBS. Budgets were big. Planning cycles were long.  Everyone knew everyone.   It was easy to create your consideration set. The RFP process worked well in this environment of limited and static supply.  We did not have all these problems with the RFP back in those days.

Fast forward 50 years to today. We are in the digital media era. There are tens of thousands of digital media options to choose from and the landscape is evolving every day. Budgets are relatively small. Planning cycles are short. Staffing is a revolving door for both buyers and sellers. We have lots of problems with the RFP.

Today’s problems with the RFP can be traced back to today’s media landscape as follows:

1. False Positives – Smaller budgets and faster planning cycles mean less time to pre-qualify programs. Buyers sometimes take a “shotgun approach” in an effort to avoid omissions. A rule of thumb is to RFP three times as many sellers as you need for your media plan.

2. Omissions – with tens of thousands of options to choose from, it’s practically impossible for a buyer – experienced or not – to find and include all relevant programs in their consideration set

3. Contacts – with tens of thousands of programs and frequent staffing turnover in the sales department, it’s practically impossible for a buyer to keep their contact database complete and up-to-date.

4. Delays – as a result of the shotgun approach, there are many proposals to gather. Some RFPs are ignored or go to the wrong person. The biggest and best sellers often have a backlog.

5. Non-responders – as a defense to being on the receiving end of the “shotgun approach” and knowing they may be “column fodder,” sellers cherry pick which RFPs to which they respond.

6. Bad Formats – In an effort to streamline their proposal process, sellers have each developed their own standard proposal templates.  These templates vary widely from seller to seller.

7. Incomplete proposals –Knowing they may be column fodder, sellers take shortcuts to minimize the amount of time they spend on proposals that they don’t think have a high expected value.

8. Time Consuming – a combination of the problems above make the RFP process time consuming: writing the RFP, finding the right programs for the consideration set, tracking down the contacts, sending the RFPs, responding to the RFPs with proposals, gathering the proposals, reconciling the formats, evaluating the proposals.

9. Expensive – time is money for both buyers and sellers

The RFP continues to be a valuable tool at the line item level in cases where the probability of including a given program in a media plan is high. For example, if the advertiser has successfully used the media program in the past or a high degree of confidence for other reasons, the RFP is useful for getting updates, inventory counts, and negotiated pricing.  However, because of the problems described above, the RFP cannot be expected to source every program in a modern media plan.

The RFP process works well in an environment of well-known and relatively static set of choices. However, the RFP breaks down when there are an overwhelming number of dynamic choices. Today’s digital media landscape is clearly the latter case.  While still useful in certain cases at the line item level, the RFP is not well-suited for creating comprehensive digital media plans.