RFI’s (request for information) are intended to provide information about the capabilities of a potential supplier. A good RFI is mutually beneficial to both parties. The requested information is relevant and we as an agency get the opportunity to show why you should shortlist us.
Unfortunately, sometimes we receive very poor RFI’s, or questions that we are unable to answer. These are some of the strangest requests, questions and comments I have come across in my nine-year LEWIS career:
1) Can we please know every possible detail about your company?
Almost literally. This is more common with public tenders. They ask you for your solvency, liquidity, balance sheet, profit and loss of the past decade, insurance papers, certificates of good conduct and so on. Per email and six printed copies by post, on white paper, not stapled, in a yellow waterproof envelope, and of course sufficiently stamped. I understand that it is sometimes regulated by law to ask all of this, but I wonder if anyone ever reads all this information. And most of the data is simply available at the Chamber of Commerce, where we are registered.
2) You’re not already working for any of these competitors, are you? (Cue an extensive list of companies being mentioned)
Potential customers love relevant experience. Preferably also recent experience, but we can’t already work for the competition. This makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is not being allowed to work for not-that-direct competitors. Let me explain. Take for example British Airways and Volkswagen. Although they both bring people from A to B, it should be no problem to work for both. It should also be possible to work for Volkswagen and Ferrari even though they both make vehicles with four wheels, a steering wheel and an engine. Both car brands focus on totally different audiences, with products in totally different price ranges and segments.
3) I would like to schedule an introductory meeting, just to get to know your agency. Why do you ask so many questions?
I also ask questions. To get a clear idea of what it is the customer wants. In order to prepare for the meeting in the best possible way, we want to know what you want to achieve with the campaign, what you’ve done before, and if you (already) have a (global) marketing plan. Good first impressions are vital and the initial introductory meeting is the opportunity for both parties to gain as much relevant insight as possible to ensure the partnership would be a good fit.
4) Why do you ask for our budget?
I often experience reluctance from prospects to answer the budget question, which is perfectly understandable. One reason for us asking for this would be because we would ‘tune’ our proposal to that budget. I received an email from a prospect once: “We do have pennies available in a limited budget and would like to grow into pounds. Therefore we are looking for a long term relationship with a PR agency with a budget that grows with us.” When I asked what that budget was, I got an irritated response because I was focusing too much on the current budget and not the constructive cooperation and piles of gold we would see in the long term. It’s useful to at least get an idea of the potential budget, so I often mention an indicative average monthly budget. If the counter-question is whether this is a monthly or annual budget, I know enough.
5) Can you send me a draft PR plan for the next three years, with a detailed timeline and can you write a sample press release and an opinion article based on the attached input?
Sure, where can I send the invoice? Without joking, of course, we give an overview of the PR planning and we can write sample press releases and articles, but only based on good quality input and in the final stages of a pitch. In the preliminary stage, that’s just too early. This stage is meant to get a feeling for each other and to see whether there is a match between client and supplier. I don’t ask to taste all the dishes at the door of a restaurant, do I? Even though I’ve decided to go for Italian food rather than Chinese. In short, be prepared to answer counter-questions from us. We prefer to be well prepared and also prepare for the first (introductory) meetings.