1) Know your audience
Before preparing a response to an RFP, think about the company/organisation that issued it. Is it traditional or modern? Progressive or conservative? Consider who will be reviewing and evaluating your submission, and create something that will resonate with them. Resist the temptation to cut and paste; otherwise you’ll end up submitting another generic proposal that won’t get you through to pitch stage.
If you were presenting in-person, you would completely customize your presentation based on the audience. Your attire. Your tone. Your style. The same logic should apply to your written proposal. Whether it’s for a young, fun, creative company, or a stodgy, old, traditional brand, your proposal should make it crystal clear that you understand your audience and see eye-to-eye with them.
2) Follow directions
It sounds obvious, but it’s surprising how often respondents break this basic rule. Limits on length? Don’t exceed them. Intricate or specific requirements? Don’t skip any. If you’re unsure about any aspect of the RFP, don’t guess, get clarification. Companies have detailed branding and marketing guidelines, and there is no better way to lose credibility than by failing to follow directions. Or using Comic-Sans.
3) Tell the truth
RFP responses often require loads of specific information. Over time, if you respond to enough of them, you’ll inevitably find yourself faced with the dilemma of trying to answer a question you’re not well suited for.
As marketing and PR budgets shrink, more companies expect their agencies to take on broader ranges of work. If you can’t satisfy a requirement, explain why. Don’t avoid answering a question with the hope it will go unnoticed—it won’t. Don’t bluff your way through an answer because eventually you’ll be exposed. It might happen during the pitch or further down the road after you’ve won the account, but it’s just a matter of time and your reputation is too important to jeopardize.
4) Less is more
Make sure you tick every box, but don’t put your readers to sleep. Chances are, the person or committee tasked with evaluating responses will have a stack of them to review. If you submit a novel instead of a proposal, you’re essentially guaranteeing your audience will give up reading halfway through, and your efforts will go to waste.
The solution? Say what you need to say in as few words as possible. Use the same approach you would when packing for a holiday. Pack everything you need, then remove half of it from your suitcase. Brevity is universally appreciated.
5) The devil is in the details
In the land of proposals, typos are a highly punishable offense, but an easy one to avoid. How? Proofread your proposal, then proofread your proposal, then proofread your proposal again. Then have someone else proofread your proposal. Your RFP response is your first chance to make a positive impression on a potential client. Remember that 20 pages of brilliance can be undermined in a split second with a simple lazy keystroke.