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Top Ten RFP Cliches

January 16, 2018

We have a love/hate relationship with Requests for Proposals (RFPs).

They’re the worst way to try and evaluate things like quality, feel, delight and passion, and a terrible way to start a new creative relationship. But at least they give us something to kick against, and lay down some rules of the game. The RFP-less proposal is the ultimate blank sheet, and encourages the worst kind of writer’s block. We’re talking ‘milling around the devops desk, asking the server guys how their day is going’ levels of block.

Having seen so many RFPs, it’s become obvious to us that people hate writing them almost as much as we hate responding to them. We can tell, because we see bits of ‘that’ll do’ cut and paste spreading through the RFPs, mutating slightly each time like a virus. Certain paragraphs are stone-cold classics that we can quote verbatim. So in 2018, we thought we’d have a bit of fun pointing out RFP cliches, and then you can have a bit of fun trying to avoid them. Here we go.

10. Future Proof 

It’s entirely reasonable that you would want your digital agency to predict every new technology and obsolescence due over the next five years, as it took at least that long to raise the funding for the new web project. That’s why every good RFP demands future-proofing as standard. Not a problem; here’s how Made guarantees that outcome for just $10,000.

We invest $9K into Bitcoin. The other $1K is spent on lawyering to entrust the Bitcoin to future generations of people who worked at Made Media. There are strict instructions that the money is only to be released when time travel via wormholes has been made commercially viable, and the bitcoin has amassed enough value to pay for it. Then, our great-great-great grandchildren are instructed to travel back to 2018, to tell us all about the future of websites up to 2023 as documented by the Wayback Machine in their era. This is every bit as foolproof as it sounds.

In all honesty we haven’t actually been visited by our future progeny yet, but then so far no client has ponied up the $10K, and that’s just what we time-travelling pros like to call a paradox… which kind of proves it works.

9. “Fully”

Make sure that when you ask for some kind of vague software feature, you prepend the word ‘fully’ to make it seem more specific and comprehensive. For example, only an amateur would ask for ‘flexible page layouts’, you’ll be wanting ‘fully flexible page layouts’. Nailed it.

8. Love like you’ve never been hurt

You know all the bad things your last digital agency did to you? They’re all smiles and promises when you’re getting to know them, and all irritating CMS habits once they get their feet under the table. Well you’re not going to fall for those dubious charms again. This time, your RFP is going to be a list of all the little annoying, and ultimately trivial, things your current website gets wrong, with MUST NOT written next to them. Even better; make sure your requirements consist entirely of weird features that remedy the issues with your current website, even though the new website is going to consist of an entirely new set of annoyances you haven’t even thought of yet…

7. IT Compatibility requirements

So this is not your area, but you asked the IT guys, and they said it was imperative that the new website was ‘fully compatible’ with Cold Fusion 4, as it got thrown in as part of a sweet deal with the office printer. Even though a lot of the potential vendors seem unduly concerned by this you’ve convinced them it really makes no difference to their chances, although honestly the IT guys are unduly influential in your organisation, so you will be asking them to make the final selection. It’s just easier that way. They can block Netflix.

6. All current functionality

If we’re being honest you can’t even remember all the things your current website does ; it just grew over time, like mould. Listing all the things the website does would mean actually investigating what it does and why it does it, and honestly, who has time for that? Best to just assume that if a feature exists, it must be for a good reason, and write ‘all current functionality’ as a requirement in the RFP. That way you’re covered.

5. Or alternative solution

Once you’ve laid out 348 specific requirements, all ‘musts’, be sure to add in a paragraph at the end, stating that you will consider ‘alternative solutions’ so long as there is ‘no loss in functionality’. You wouldn’t want to curtail the creativity of your vendors’ responses.

4. Slidey panels

You really respect that these agencies are top of their UX game and will only propose a design solution when they’ve fully explored the problem, and carried out extensive user research, but goddammit you saw that site with slidey panels and you want slidey panels. Are slidey panels too much to ask? Didn’t think so. Let’s get ‘em on the list.

3. Exit through the Gift Shop.

You don’t want to focus on users at the expense of ‘because it’s there’ fortitude, so be sure to throw in some kind of technical delivery wild-card. An online Gift Shop is ideal, otherwise some kind of EPOS integration will do the trick. In other words, something that’s not really core to your mission, but exists on-site, so it stands to reason should be fully featured online, even though it will knock the entire digital project bid out by about 50%. After all, why would people go to Amazon to buy Elvis Salt and Pepper shakers, when they could buy them from your identically-featured online gift store? if it’s worth doing something, it’s worth doing it right.

2. ‘Validate the design in the QA process’

We’re not entirely certain what this one means, but we see it all the time, we think it originated in Florida. We just tick ‘comply’ and hope it doesn’t come up in the pitch.

1. And the winner is…

‘We believe that the best results will be achieved not through asking agencies to respond to a detailed scope but rather by outlining what a new website sets out to achieve and asking the agencies for their creative approach. With this in mind, this brief has been designed to give the pitching agencies the broadest possible picture of what the site needs to deliver, without being overly prescriptive.’

Only kidding, this one’s not an RFP cliche, in fact we’ve only ever seen it once. But it is a direct quote. Step forward you lovely lot at Wales Millennium Centre. You’re our number one. Maybe this could be 2018’s RFP cliche. Here’s hoping.