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How to (not) Write An RFP

How to (not) Write An RFP

Part of our business involves responding to RFPs (Request For Proposal). These are usually long and cumbersome documents released by clients for work they need help to complete so that other companies or vendors can submit a proposal. While there is always important language in an RFP that has critical legal consequences affecting the terms of the project making it necessary for those sections to be written by lawyers for only other lawyers to comprehend (meaning to dispute in court or mediation later on), the actual sections of the RFP that address what the project entails (the statement of work) and what the client is wanting (deliverables) are unfortunately drafted by those same lawyers, or worse, well-intentioned laypeople attempting to write like legal counsel.

This makes it incredibly difficult, if not outright impossible many times, for companies and vendors wishing to to fully understand or address what the client is asking for and appropriately respond to the RFP. So, with nothing but unconditional love and sincere appreciation for clients offering opportunities to work with then, below are some suggestions to help draft a concise, clear, and cogent statement of work for the the deliverables you want when authoring an RFP.

1.            Keep it simple and straightforward: Boilerplate is legal language that gets reused over and over in contractual documents. It has a very useful purpose in a court of law. Courts of law are expensive places to do business. Include a description of the statement of work as an addendum to the RFPs boilerplate that is written in clear, kitchen table talk language that explains what you need and what you expect to get. If your spouse reads your statement of work and does not understand it, odds are most submitting vendors won’t either.

2.            Use your own vernacular and expertise: Some times, a client will try their hand at vendor-speak in their RFP’s scope of work description. That can be a well-intentioned, but very bad idea. If you are not fluent and experienced in media production or facility design or the development of training, stay within your comfort zone and area of expertise to avoid using terminology that may be off-target from what you actually want. Speaking in an unfamiliar foreign vernacular (whether legalese or vendor-speak) risks clarifying what you meant in an expensive court of law.

3.            Include all your expectations: When vendors are not sure about the complete scope of work, they add additional hours in the proposal to cover anticipated time to figure it out. When you are specific about what you want, when you want it, and how you expect it to be done, vendors can be more accurate in their bidding, which can often result in a lower cost estimate free of inflated project management costs to cover anticipated “unknowns.” Being frank and direct in describing what you want will actually result in a better end-product and at a lower cost.

4.            Schedule a kickoff meeting: Whomever you select to be your vendor with the winning RFP response, the very first thing to happen next is a face-to-face sit down with all the parties who (1) have approval authority and (2) will actually be doing the work to go over what the RFP asked for, what they interpret that to mean, and resolve any misunderstanding or confusion resulting in firm resolution of said confusion (little legalese there for your reading pleasure).

5.            Government exceptions: All the above is moot when dealing with almost any type of government agency.

Hopefully these tips in preparing an effective, articulate, and concise statement of work for your RPF will result in less confusion, project angst, fewer change orders, and a happier experience for all involved.

Duncan Kennedy
Duncan has 20+ years experience designing and producing digital media, signature events, and destination experiences for clients.