Why You Should Ditch Marketing Proposals for Strategy

When a company wants to hire a marketing firm or PR agency, traditionally, the process works something like this:

Company decides they want to hire an agency to help them with digital marketing.

Company asks agencies to write a proposal outlining their marketing recommendations & provide pricing to implement the campaign. Oftentimes, this happens through a Request for Proposal (or RFP).

Company reviews the proposals and chooses the one they like best (and often the one with the lowest price tag).

This has been the typical process for hiring outside marketing help for decades and it’s still the way many traditional agencies get new business.

But, we’re not a traditional agency.
 And we believe there’s a better way.

Why We Don’t Write Marketing Proposals

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to a prospect and he asked me to write a proposal about how I could help him market his startup.

Although I definitely had some ideas that might help, I told that we don’t write marketing proposals.


We believe the proposal process hurts both the agency and the companies looking to hire one. Let’s look at a few of the reasons this practice is so flawed.

Ideas are valuable. They should be treated that way.

Ever heard the line, “why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”

Asking a marketing firm to give you their best ideas before hiring them is like getting free milk delivered to your doorstep.

After all, a strategic marketing firm’s best asset is their ideas. They shouldn’t be delivered for free on a silver platter.

Some agencies have no problem giving away their best ideas without any hope of getting the business. Others don’t. We fall into that second camp.

Although most companies don’t use proposals as a free idea factory, that does happen.
  And so does the selection of an agency purely on price, regardless of the quality of the proposal.

The bottom line is that if you want creative, strategic ideas for your business, you should be willing invest in it. You’ll get stronger and more creative marketing recommendations that way and it shows you believe in the value of those ideas.

Proposals undervalue research.

Research is integral to developing a well-thought-out marketing strategy. Although agencies can, and should, spend time researching the company’s industry and competitors, the proposal process leaves out a couple of very important segments of research — your clients and employees.

Without access to customers and employees, agencies are forced to make assumptions about what people love (and hate) about your brand. Talking to customers and employees is a critical component to uncovering potential opportunities for growth and weaknesses that make your company vulnerable.

Sure, an agency can make marketing recommendations without this research. But, the strategy will be much weaker without it.

3. Companies may not know what they need.

Oftentimes, the very reason a company needs marketing help is because they don’t know where they should be spending their time and resources. It should be the agency’s job to tell them (after conducting all that research).

But, requesting proposals from marketing firms turns that process around. It forces the company to determine WHAT they need so they can ask the agency HOW they would implement it.

Essentially, it’s like telling an agency that you need a car and you want them to build it for you. But, what if what you really need is a plane or a boat to reach your goals?

That’s what a marketing strategy can help you determine. Proposals water down marketing strategy and put more emphasis on how well you can execute the tactics.

4. It wastes everyone’s time.

Writing an RFP takes time.
 Creating a proposal takes time. Reviewing all of the proposals takes time.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t carefully research and vet an agency. You absolutely should.

But, the RFP process can take weeks or even months. Why not spend that time partnering with a digital marketing firm to create a comprehensive strategic marketing plan instead?

How to hire a marketing firm instead

So, if you don’t request a proposal, how do you know which agency is best for you? Here are several things to consider and questions to ask when researching and vetting firms:

  • Consider their experience. How do they work? What’s their process? Do they have experience in your industry? What kind of work do they do? Have they worked with clients similar to you? Do they provide integrated marketing help or do they specialize in one area?
  • Review case studies. Do they have case studies about successes for other clients? If they don’t have this readily available online, ask for it.
  • Read their blog, e-letters, white papers and other content. Reading their content can give you a great insight into their process and quality of work. Also, in the digital marketing world, it shows the firm is practicing what they preach.
  • Consider client recommendations. Does the company have testimonials and reviews? What are clients saying? Even better — ask if you can interview the company’s clients.
  • Connect with them online. Follow the agency and their staff on social networks — do you like what you see? Also, doing this gives you a good clue into what their personalities are like and whether you would like working with them. Don’t underestimate the importance of this.
  • Ask about pricing. If the company’s pricing isn’t available online, ask for how they price their work.

There are plenty of other things you can consider when hiring an agency, but this should give you an idea of how to go about it in a way that will be much more beneficial to you and the marketing firm you ultimately choose.

What do you think about this approach? Do you think RFPs and proposals are a good way to hire a marketing firm? Why or why not?

Image credit: Paul Long

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Laura Click

Laura Click

Laura Click is brand strategist, speaker, podcaster and the founder of Blue Kite. Learn more about Laura and her work at Blue Kite.

6 replies on “Why You Should Ditch Marketing Proposals for Strategy”

So glad you liked it, Jessica! And, I’m glad I’m not alone in this thinking either. It’s definitely a switch from the traditional way of doing things, so it takes some education to help businesses understand why we don’t do it that way.

I agree wholeheartedly on this point! And with regards to digging into and researching marketing companies, I’m amazed by how many don’t seem to practice what they preach in terms of social media, blogging, white papers, etc.

Nice to meet you, Kate! Thanks for stopping by and weighing in! You’re right – it’s sad how many agencies and consultants recommend something, but don’t follow their own advice! I’m certainly not perfect, but we try hard to practice what we preach!

Hi Laura,

#3 is big. Turns out this is true for most projects. I often try to get a potential client on the phone and instead of discussing the specifics of their RFP, I like to dig and find out exactly what they want. Surprisingly they don’t always know, which means it’s time for a few email exchanges and another call. Like you, I try to avoid the RFP process, I want to partner with them from the start. Okay, I offer free advice up front and it doesn’t always result in business, but to me the process you’ve described is a better way to go.

You’re so right, Craig. I often get contacted about things like social media, but what the business may really need is better branding or a refreshed website. However, you don’t know those things until you take the time to really dive into their business and understand what’s going on. Certainly, people like you and I can make good, educated guesses, but it’s always going to be better with research and spending sometime with the company.

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