ICA issues retirement cards for the RFP

Cheeky cards calling out bad RFPs launch in tandem with the organization's latest effort to change the agency selection process.

The Institute of Communication Agencies (ICA) is offering agencies an anonymous way to call out clients in its latest effort to move marketers and procurement departments away from price-based RFPs and towards a Qualification-Based Selection (QBS) process.

The ICA has launched a new guide, co-authored by Leah Power, EVP of agency operations at the ICA, and Cal Harrison of business services consultancy Beyond Referrals. The free 150-page guide aims to provide clients with an in-depth guide on problems with the price-based RFP process and how to implement and use a QBS-based search process.

Born out of the Brooks Act passed in the U.S. in 1972, Qualification-Based Selection processes eliminate cost entirely from selection criteria when choosing a vendor, focusing the process entirely on qualifications and experience, before potentially requesting more detailed ideas for a specific project or assignment. While developed for public sector projects, it has found its way into more searches in the private sector, especially from companies looking to avoid costs down the line that can be accrued from selecting an under-qualified partner based on lower fees.

The QBS Agency Search Guide details how to factor in things like budget, develop selection criteria that creates separation between participating agencies, and how to keep costs of the process low for all of those involved.

Changing the way clients conduct RFPs has been a major area of focus for the ICA in recent years. Through the Pitch Watchdog program, agencies are able to bring RFPs deemed to be unfair to the ICA. After reviewing it, the ICA will work with the client to revise the process, though in some cases, it has resulted in public calls for boycotts of the RFP.

As part of Pitch Watchdog – and to drive more clients to look at the QBS guide – agencies can now also send clients a more direct message about their process through a greeting card. While starting off seemingly congratulatory, with images of champagne glasses on the front of the card next to the copy “everyone is talking about your RFP,” the inside of the cards feature one of five nursery rhyme-inspired poems that call out a specific frustration the agency has with the RFP, such as asking for spec work. The cards drive clients to the ICA’s site so they can download their own copy of the new guide. The cards are sent anonymously, so agencies can push clients to adopt a QBS-based system without putting their relationships in jeopardy.

“A lot of agencies dream of telling clients what they really think of RFPs, but can’t without damaging financially important relationships,” said Scott Knox, president and CEO of the ICA in a statement. “The ‘RIP RFP’ cards are our way of stepping in and acting as the bad guy so agencies don’t have to burn bridges.”

The ICA handled the art direction and copywriting for the cards internally, but worked with Toronto creative studio Field Trip on the design.