Requests for Proposals are an important part of the process to help you find the right partners for your publishing projects. Whether you are looking for a turnkey situation or someone to manage your in-house project, these tips will help source the right partner for the project. Too often, RFP’s are rigid, focusing on the means, not the end. For the best end product, providers need flexibility and enough time to propose creative and innovative solutions.
The Devil is in the Details
Don’t overload your RFP with technical information. We’ve seen RFP’s so rigid that they request a specific type of design software to be used in producing the publication or a very specific type of paper. If you get hung up on that level of detail, it could mean that the best partner for your project won’t submit an RFP because they don’t use your specified software. Or that specific paper may be a special order that takes time for their printer to find it. Ask yourself; does it really matter? And instead, specify that vendors use industry standard technology to design and produce your publication.
We Need it Yesterday
Don’t set unrealistic deadlines for RFP completion and product delivery. You want vendors to provide a well-thought, accurate proposal, don’t you? Quotes for printing can take time, as the publisher seeks out the best option for your project. Allow a minimum of two weeks for a vendor to submit a proposal; three weeks is even better. To get a quality publication that tells your community’s story and meets your revenue goals, allow for six months from the start of sales to the delivery of the finished publication, plus add a few weeks to a month before sales start to allow the publisher enough time to get properly organized. Having a specific deadline is important, but the schedule can be adjusted, and being realistic about the time it takes will lead to a more successful project.
Size Doesn’t Matter
Most chambers want a magazine-style publication, but when you are ultra-specific about the dimensions, you may be missing an opportunity to generate more revenue. While a booklet or digest-size may be handy to put in a pocket, a larger-sized publication may be a better fit. Instead of demanding specific dimensions, include the dimensions of your current publication explaining why you feel that particular size works and be open to exploring other size options.
Must Be a Member to Submit RFP
Don’t require your publishing partner to become a member before submitting an RFP. By requiring membership to submit, you are seriously limiting your field of qualified vendors. Instead, include as part of the RFP, that membership in the chamber may be required for the selected provider. And allow that winning publisher to join at your lowest membership level. Remember, they are providing a service that generates revenue for you, and if they are not a local company, they likely will see little value for their membership investment.
Tell Us Your Secrets
Don’t ask for free consultation in your RFP. We’ve seen RFP’s that ask publishers to provide specific ways that they would improve the existing publication and what they would do to generate more sales. In the field of chamber publishing, there are a lot of companies with creative solutions and great ideas. From a competitive standpoint, it’s not fair to ask them them to share all those ideas in great detail up front. Publishers invest a lot of time responding to an RFP and they don’t want to be treated like a commodity. When a publisher is not selected, they don’t want their best ideas shared with others. Instead, ask to see copies of their previous projects and their performance. Viewing their other publications and comparing them to your existing publication should give you a good idea of what they might bring to the table for your chamber.
Bonus tip! – History Can Help Predict the Future
Share your publication’s sales history and historical membership numbers upon request, or better yet, right in the RFP. Sharing the past 3-5 years of both advertising sales and membership counts gives bidders a better understanding of trends, opportunities and potential problems, helping them set realistic goals for your project. There really is no reason to be secretive about that information, and the downside of not sharing may result in a failed project and finger-pointing.
Keep in mind that with an RFP you are not placing an order, you are entering into a valuable partner relationship where full honesty builds trust and manages expectations for everyone. You want the right publishing partner, not a gambler taking a risk. Though there are certain details you need to include in your RFP, telling your community’s story and communicating your message are much more important than ultra-specific technical specifications or being secretive about past performance.