ICA calls for boycott of Canada Post RFP

The industry body points to requirements it says are unfair to agencies, though the Crown corp maintains it is a fair process.

The Institute of Communication Agencies (ICA) has called for a boycott of an advertising agency services RFP issued by Canada Post until significant changes have been made.

The ICA pointed out four main areas of concern with Canada Post’s RFP. First, it did not provide a clear budget, despite having done so in previous RFPs. Second, there is no pre-qualification process to create an agency shortlist, which Scott Knox, president and CEO of the ICA, says will result in an “open cattle call” that will cause an unnecessary amount of agencies to bear the cost of  preparing a full pitch and client references to participate.

Third, the amount of paperwork required at this early stage of an agency review process further serves to drain agency resources. Finally, the ICA points out that the process will also be needlessly onerous and time-consuming for Canada Post, which it says would be “a bad use of taxpayers’ dollars.” While the public postal service is a Crown corporation, Canada Post spokesperson Jon Hamilton pointed out in an email to strategy that it is mandated to be financially self-sufficient, meaning its operations and activities must be funded only by the revenue it generates through its products and services.

Hamilton also said Canada Post’s responsibility is to ensure its procurement processes “are open, robust and fair,” adding that the process being followed for the advertising services RFP “meets the corporation’s high standards while ensuring that any Canadian company has an opportunity to participate.”

The process, as outlined by Hamilton, gives any proposer the ability to ask anonymized questions, which are posted to anyone that has downloaded the RFP to ensure information is shared. The selection methodology was pre-determined prior to release of the RFP, which included instructions on how agencies are to participate throughout the various stages and phases of the RFP process. While not creating a shortlist through a pre-qualification process, Canada Post claims any agency proposing can submit a phased response to the RFP as they meet qualifications to proceed to each stage as a shortlisted proposer.

The RFP also allows for the ability to propose on one or more of the four service areas so agencies can “not be bound to an ‘all-in-one’ solution, according to Hamilton. Knox says, however, that this division could result in up to 16 agencies committing resources to participate in the absence of a pre-qualification process.

The ICA first issued an alert about the RFP through its Pitch Watchdog program on Friday, April 5, informing member agencies that information about the RFP could potentially change ahead of the deadline, which was set for Wednesday, April 10. Knox and Leah Power, EVP of agency operations, had discussed with Canada Post its concerns about the RFP last Friday. According to the ICA, Canada Post had requested having the weekend to consider the concerns, but declined to pause the RFP process in the meantime, leading to the ICA’s initial alert.

Knox tells strategy that a call scheduled for Monday, April 8, was cancelled. When reached by email, Canada Post told strategy it would “entirely inappropriate to insert changes from an external party at this point in our RFP process” and “unfair to the many organizations who have been working on their submissions.” Canada Post first posted the RFP on the MERX tendering system on Feb. 27 and says it was contacted by the ICA on March 29. Canada Post says it has offered to speak with ICA after the current RFP is concluded to discuss any potential changes while also maintaining “the corporation’s high standards and provide the openness and transparency expected of a Canadian Crown Corporation.” As a Crown Corp, Canada Post is subject to rules on inclusion for its RFP process, which may not be within its power to change.

Knox admits that the boycott being called the day before the deadline is a tight timeline logistically, but feels it was still important to do. Firstly, it helps to validate the concerns of member agencies who had expressed concern about the RFP on their own. But it also sends a message to Canada Post and other clients in Canada about what the ICA is prepared to do when what it deems to be fair RFP processes aren’t followed.

“We want Canada Post and every other brand to know we won’t stand by if they delay contacting us,” Knox says. “Even if it’s the last minute, we will call something bad when we need to.”