RFPs for You and Me

The art and science of advertising agency selection

The time has arrived.

The decision has been made. Your casino company is looking for a new agency.

Your job is to orchestrate the search.

You are the point person. The leader. The conductor of the search.

The only problem is that you are not sure how to start an RFP.

An Agency RFP from the Beginning

Establish Your Needs

Every casino in every market has diverse needs.

Collaborating with your executive team, develop a list of the agency skills that best fits your strategic goals, market conditions and unique marketing requirements. Understand that advertising agencies have different and varied skills. Take the time to put together a list of your particular needs to help reach that perfect agency match.

Get the Word Out

From thousands of agencies, how do you reach the right agency for you?

Create a press release or announcement regarding your RFP that can be circulated through the various casino-centric boards. Distribute through social media and digital. Focus on casino-centered media and word will move quickly through the agency world.

Culture Club

Outside of agency deliverables, it is vital that you determine non-technical skills that fit your culture. Working with an agency is something like a marriage or relationship. The best working relationships create the best working environments for agency and client.

Once you have narrowed your requirements, the next step is to develop a Request for Proposal document.

General Property Information

Include written paragraphs with a general description of your company and what makes your property unique. Create a verbal description including amenities, restaurants, hotel, and specific features. Is your property a resort, a regional gaming property, small local property, or mega resort?

Demographics, Markets and the Competition

Describe the size of your market and include data you have on demographics and make-up of your market. If you have market studies that compare your property to the competition, include the competitive study and identify your competition. If you are a small property, include market data that comes from your local chamber of commerce. Add the top counties or zip codes that attend your property, so the agencies have a picture of your media market.

Agency Role and Scope of Work

This is where you explain your needs to help identify the agency with matching skills.

The purpose of an RFP is to provide a fair evaluation for all candidates and the criteria against which they will be judged. Describe the circumstances and market conditions that your property is experiencing. Explain your goals, such as creating an enhanced brand, a revamped media plan, or a fresh creative approach. Are you looking for a data-driven agency with strong analytic skill sets or an agency with massive media buying power? Do you need strong creative or strategic planning skills?

Project Schedule

Once you create your RFP, develop a schedule, typically three to four weeks, for agency response. Create a timetable for release of the RFP, deadline for submissions from agencies, selection date for finalists, dates for agency presentations, final selection and notification.

Selection Group

A key process to a successful advertising agency RFP is the organization of your selection team. Advertising and media agencies are responsible for the brand. The brand represents your entire organization. Your brand is the reflection of what you are and what you market as a company.

It’s good practice to create a selection group comprised of non-marketing team members who are key influencers from operating departments.

Branding, advertising, and media selection will affect the daily operations of the casino, hotel, food and beverage and other key departments. Adding non-marketing team members to your selection committee is simply good inclusive practice.

Criteria Grid

Develop a percentage-based criteria grid that starts with 100 percent and assigns percentage levels of importance to areas of agency delivery demonstrated by submissions and final presentations.

Believe me, this is a vital step that will save you hours of pain while evaluating boxes of RFP submissions to arrive at finalists. The evaluation grid can also be shared with your selection team as a working tool to use while absorbing each agency finalist presentation.

There is no typical evaluation grid. This is where you quantify your needs to help identify the agency with matching skills that can help. An example would be Staff and Culture 15 percent, Creative Process 15 percent, Media Planning and Analysis 30 percent, Promotional Development 10 percent, Industry Experience 20 percent, and Digital Media 10 percent.

Agency Questionnaire

Create a questionnaire to discover key data from prospective agencies.

Questions might be agency profile, history; number of employees, excluding subcontractors; services and ownership. Consider asking about agency culture, including philosophy and business approach.

What is the agency creative process? Ask for an outline of the agency’s strategic process, including approach to branding and positioning.

What is the agency media planning and buying philosophy, including digital media? Explore reporting processes and public relations skills.

What are the agency’s capabilities? Are services executed in-house, including account service, creative, media, interactive, print, audio and video production? Request the percentage of work that is in-house versus subcontracted.

The Fine Print

Request a reference list of clients worked with in the past as agency of record.

Ask for case studies in the gaming, hospitality or entertainment industries demonstrating capability to deliver a compelling brand proposition.

Compensation structure and detailed pricing and fees for services based on the provided scope of work and staffing required in managing your account.

Ensure that agencies sign a confidentiality agreement and a conflict-of-interest document to verify that your selected agency does not operate with your competition.

Final Selections

After rounding down to the finalists, offer dates for in-person presentations to the selection team. To prevent bleary-eyed, fried minds, try not to load too many presentations into a single day. Breaking up a limited number of agency presentations into a few days will keep perspectives fresh.

The Winner

When you reach the point of selection, remember that you will move from prospect to client for the final agency. Ensure your contract points are clearly defined and workable for both sides. You are looking for long-term success based on mutual trust.

Art and Science

An agency RFP process is a procedure that hopes to find the perfect fit through analysis, research, evaluation and common sense. The science of the staged analytic approach has to be combined with an artful search for a cultural fit.

While the deal fits your budget and the creative is impactful, you have to ask yourself if you are willing to get into the trenches with this group of people when the pressure is on.

The most important part of the search may not be the flashy digital ads or the whiz-bang media planning presentation. Instead, think of agency selection as adding a working arm of your marketing department that happens to operate in another building.

When its 4 p.m. on a Friday and something goes south, you want to make sure that the agency you select will come through for you and make it work.

Tom Osiecki 18 Articles