Frank Olivo

Frank Olivo is the founder of Sagapixel. He writes on a number of topics related to digital marketing, but focuses mostly on SEO.

Insider Tips on Writing an RFP for Digital Marketing Services

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Writing an  RFP for digital marketing services can be a challenging, especially if you are not a marketer with a deep understanding of the channels your agency partner will manage.

We receive all kinds of RFPs from different types of organizations. Some are incredibly well-put together; other contradictory, tangled messes that fail to ask important questions about us. Most fall somewhere in the middle.

I’m going to share what I’ve seen companies include in their digital marketing RFPs and a few items that I haven’t seen that I know should be included.

I’m going to provide tips on writing an RFP requesting information on:

I’m approaching this from the perspective of what I would look for if I, an agency owner with firsthand experience marketing through all of these channels, had to prepare a request for proposals for my own company.

First, Does It Make Sense to Prepare an RFP?

Indicators you should produce an RFP

Preparing an RFP is a time-consuming process that may not even be necessary. Here are a few indicators that you should consider putting out an RFP:

  • You have a clear picture of what you are looking for in an agency
  • You have an organization with many stakeholders and decision makers that want input into the selection process of your marketing agency
    • The need for an RFP may be even more pronounced if your agency partner will be working across business units or departments
  • You want to ensure you’ve created a pre-established way of comparing your agency partners

Indicators you should just meet with agencies and skip the RFP process

  • You’re not sure what you’re actually looking for in an agency partner
  • There’s one stakeholder, so no need to get input from other stakeholders
  • You don’t have a large budget—agencies that are capable with working with smaller budgets are unlikely to put hours into a customized proposal for your company if you have a small budget. This will result in your company missing out on some potentially good partners that may be able to help you, but unwilling to put 4-6 hours into formatting a custom proposal.

The Ideal Structure for a Digital Marketing RFP

Your RFP for digital marketing services needs to include sections including:

  1. An overview of your company and your past marketing efforts
  2. An overview of the solutions you need from your digital marketing agency
  3. Project goals and KPIs
  4. Agency requirements
  5. Prospective budget (this applies even if you need your agency to propose a budget that will meet your key performance indicators (KPIs)
  6. Proposed format for proposals
  7. Timeline for your project
  8. Selection criteria
  9. RFP questions

Most of these are easy for a non-marketer to address, but there are a few that will likely have you stumped.

The goal of this article is to get you through those items.

An Overview of Your Company and Your Marketing Challenges

In addition to a short background of the company, your target audience, and your positioning in the market, it can be helpful to include information about your previous marketing efforts.

For example, a company that previously had an internal SEO team that was unable to deliver on your business goals should share this information with potential SEO agencies. This will enable agencies to respond to your RFP with solutions that address your past challenges, allowing you to determine if you feel they will be able to overcome past obstacles to success.

This section should also include the names and titles of the people at your company that will be responsible for the engagement.

Your RFP Needs to Provide an Overview of Marketing Solutions Needed

It goes without saying that your RFP needs to explicitly state what marketing services you need.

Be sure to go into details of the account data you will and will not make available to respondents and how you would expect prospective agencies to use what you provide them (I’m going to go into more detail below).

If you are open to working with different marketing agencies to handle different channels, you should share this in your RFP. It’s very hard to find a digital marketing agencies that is able to deliver A+ work across every marketing channel available, and you should encourage respondents to share the channels in which they excel.

How Does the Agency Handle Pricing?

I have some strong feelings about agency pricing. We’ve done white label work for agencies that handling pricing in all sorts of ways, and several of these pricing models don’t sit well with me.

There are four pricing models that exist for digital marketing agencies:

  1. A straight hourly model – you pay for the time worked. This is usually taken from a budget paid monthly. We use this model because I like its transparency.
  2. A deliverable model – you pay for deliverables. This a hidden form of an hourly model, where the agency guesses at how much time it would take to produce your deliverables, then add 25%-40% to account for unforeseen circumstances and revisions.
  3. A value model – you pay based on how much revenue they estimate they’ll be able to generate for you. Not too different than the price going up at a car dealership if they notice you wearing a Rolex.
  4. Percentage of ad spend (only applicable to paid media).

Figure out which of these sits best with you and your organization.

Tips for Your Digital Marketing Agency RFP by Service

Your RFP will likely request information on some combination of the services below.

I’ve included some tips on information to request that will help you to vet each of the agencies that submit a proposal.

Search Engine Optimization RFP Tips

SEO may be the marketing channel for which to write an RFP.

Odds are you are not an SEO expert and you’re not even sure what to ask for or look for. Be sure to ask for all proposals to include:

  • How they handle communications, including how the agency will provide data. Reject any proposals that will not allow you direct access to your analytics. Looker Studio, Agency Analytics, or any other 3rd party analytics solution doesn’t count.
  • Does the company handle content production or will you need to provide writers and editors?
  • If you are a less established company going up against large incumbents, ask your prospective SEO agency if they feel you’ll need link building and how they would propose going about it.
  • The industries and client types with which they have the most experience. If you are competing largely for local intent queries, you need an SEO agency that focuses on local clients, not a necessarily a content marketing-focused or big data-focused agency. No SEO agency does every subarea of SEO equally as well—you need to find out which of the following areas of SEO your prospective SEO agency focuses on:
    • Local SEO
    • Content marketing
    • Big Data & Analytics
    • Technical SEO
    • Link Building
  • Find out if any of the respondents have experience with companies in your niche. If not, you’ll be paying them to learn about it (which may be unavoidable in some circumstances).

Pro tip: take a look at the Linkedin of the companies that respond. While not everyone at the company will necessarily have a profile, you’ll get a general idea of the company makeup.

An SEO agency where lots of people have the word “SEO” in their title is likely to be a good option. One with lots of “client success managers” and “account executives” is likely more focused on keeping customers happy or signing new ones that they are focused on SEO delivery.

Google Ads RFP Tips

First, ask the digital marketing agency to include a link to their Google Partner badge. Being a Google Partner is table stakes for doing PPC; don’t work with anyone that doesn’t have a valid badge.

Make sure you ask the following:

  • What level of access with you have to the account?
  • How will the agency handle communications and what will your meeting cadence be?
  • How does the digital marketing agency approach campaign optimization?
    • How frequently should you expect negative keywords to be added?
    • How do they go about selecting campaign formats (Smart Campaigns vs. Performance Max vs. Responsive Search Ads)
    • Ask them about the bidding types they lean towards. Automated bidding is best for campaigns that collect enough conversion data, while Enhanced CPC often delivers for campaigns with lower budgets that don’t get the requisite conversion volume. Agencies strictly using manual bidding are likely using outdated methods.
  • What experience do they have in your industry?

Social Media RFP Tips

The first thing to ask for is a few case studies. This should include client social media accounts they worked with, as well as the start date of the engagement.

Take a look at the before and afters of what they were able to accomplish.

Make sure you ask:

  • How they stay on top of emerging trends
  • How they would envision different social media platforms aligning with their buyer’s journey (i.e.TikTok and YouTube are great for discovery, Instagram and Facebook are better for engagement with existing customers, etc)
  • What level of access will you maintain of your accounts
  • What methods do they use for content amplification? Some social media agencies control influential profiles in specific niches they can use to amplify your content; others have existing partnerships with influencers in your niche; others will start from scratch. You need to know this ahead of time.

How Do You Coordinate with Partners?

No one is great at everything.

Your RFP should aim to determine where an agency excels and where they would be best used to partner with another agency.

Every digital marketing agency has its sweet spot. Ours excels at SEO and Google Ads for websites with a lead generation goal. While we do run paid social, we don’t claim to be among the best in the country.

Ask the company to identify where they excel.

Also ask them how they would coordinate with other agencies for complementary services should you decide to engage them for one service.

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