Imagine soliciting the services of an architect to renovate your home.
Candidates would not be allowed to see your home before proposing solutions.
In fact, you would not tell them how many people live in the home, how frequently you like to entertain, whether any of your family members has any physical challenges, what neighbourhood it’s located in, whether you have a preference for Victorian over minimalist architecture or what your budget is.
Instead, you would define a list of features:
- 2 doors
- 10 windows
- a kitchen
- a laundry room
- a yard
Specify generic materials:
Ask for a quote.
And award the project to the lowest bidder with proper papers.
A job well done?
I hope you can see what a preposterous notion this is.
Building a home is a process that takes some months or years. Along the way, you will work closely with your architects and builders.
Their competence may be a criterion, but beyond that you’d want to consider whether they understand your sensibilities and values.
Whether they are attuned to the unique needs of your family.
Whether their experience leads them to see possibilities that you, with no formal experience in architecture, hadn’t even imagined.
In other words, you’d want a partner.
Someone you could trust to push back when you were on the wrong track, to introduce you to un-anticipated opportunities. To watch your back. And yes, to sometimes give you exactly what you asked for.
Regrettably, the unthinkable scenario I described above happens all too often when values-based organizations choose an agency via RFP to help them develop critical communications.
Some organizations are mandated to find the cheapest vendor who can meet arbitrary timelines and show a few attractive design pieces in their portfolio.
What they miss out on is finding a partner who will challenge them to do the hard work of really understanding the people (they’re usually people) they want to serve, so together they can make something that is actually useful.
A partner who will not just nod, smile and execute, but who will push back, when necessary, and fight for the best outcome.
We recently spotted an RFP for a project by an organization who is definitely on a mission to do good in the world. Their RFP was very concise and left several questions unanswered so I emailed some pretty basic questions, not least of which: how they’ll measure success on the project.
What came back was this disheartening reply:
…Based on our Human Resources policies and practices, we are asking for RFP’s to be submitted, however; we are not able to respond to direct questions at this time.
Hardly an auspicious start to a collaboration that might actually make the world a better place.
Perhaps someone will give them exactly what they want, at a price that’s easy to swallow.
But will they get what they need — what will truly help their partners, peers and prospects?
Will they learn and grow through the experience? Will they be stretched?
I guess we’ll have to wait and see. I certainly hope so.
For now, though, we’re going to take a pass.
We prefer to roll up our sleeves and partner with our clients.