Agency RFPs and Football – they have more in common than you think

This is the time of year when I lose my husband to his basement man cave every Sunday (and Monday and Thursday!) night. Luckily his passion for football kicks in right when I need to focus on what I like to call “RFP season” for our agency—the time of year when brand teams are locking down their key agencies for the following year, either for existing brands or brands to be launched in the near future. (The two activities have some overlap that I’ll explain in a minute.)

Usually a request for proposal, or RFP, asks that the responding agency have relevant disease state and category experience. On the surface, this seems like a reasonable expectation. The potential client wants to work with an agency that has proven experience and success with brands “like ours.” It becomes more complex, however, when you consider that an agency is made up of people. And people move around.

When I try to explain this phenomenon to my husband, I use a football analogy. Imagine, I say, that you can either handpick a football team made up of star players who have each achieved success in their given position—quarterback, center, fullback, lineman, etc. — but not all of them have been part of a Super Bowl win. Or you can pick a team that won the Super Bowl 2 or 3 years ago—with no guarantee that the key players who were on that Super Bowl team still play for that team. Which would you choose?

This is a difficult question for sure. The Super Bowl team may have some of the same players on their roster and they may have the same coaches and management that were around during the last Super Bowl win. The handpicked team of star athletes, however, will have to learn how to play as a team.

(Hint: One of the key secret ingredients to any agency team is the combination of art and copy. Rather than asking to see examples of creative campaigns executed by talent who may no longer be at the agency, ask to see creative from the proposed art and copy team who will be working on your business. This will give you a much better idea of the type of work this team can produce.)

The more I think about my football analogy through an agency lens, the more I start to lean heavily toward the handpicked all-star team. The success of today’s healthcare brands is built on a cohesive plan that spans multiple disciplines–HCP, DTC, and Payer. It is critical to have experts in each discipline on the team in addition to account management, art, copy, and editorial.

To help evaluate the cohesiveness of the teams pitching for your business, use the in-person agency pitch to see how they work and present as a team. Does it seem fluid? Well-thought out? Does everyone know their role? Or do they seem disjointed?

Yes, you want to develop a clear list of criteria to evaluate your agency candidates. But don’t discount an agency from the get-go because they don’t have historical experience as an agency or case studies to share. You may be overlooking the perfect team to propel your brand to success. Be open to examining the team’s full range of experience both inside and outside their current position and role.