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Write a Better Tourism Marketing RFP

If you type “how to write a tourism marketing RFP” into Google, you’ll get over 1,600,000 results. Many of these articles are from agencies that respond to RFPs and most – if not all – don’t deal specifically with tourism marketing.

I don’t intend to repeat the same things you’ll read on countless other blogs since Google is just as available as this article. I also won’t bother with the basics since those are equally prevalent. Instead, I’m going to focus on tourism marketing, and the areas we see constantly as areas that could save departments time and frustration when they send projects out to bid.

Tackle Common Questions Within the RFP

Every addendum to an RFP that provides answers to agency questions usually covers the same agency questions:

  • Is there an incumbent; if so, who?
  • How many agencies are invited to respond?
  • Which other destinations do you consider to be vying for the same audience?
  • What are the KPI goals? What are the benchmarks?
  • What is the total budget (agency fees, media spends, etc.)? – I’ll get to this one shortly.

There’s a reason to provide these in the RFP beyond simply providing clarity. If an agency (or agencies, more than likely) asks these questions after receipt of the RFP, then you know they haven’t read through it and can decide on their merit accordingly. 

Timeframes Aren’t Taken as Arbitrary

A tourism marketing RFP with a deadline of around 15 days is an immediate turn-off for agencies. It’s common practice for a locality to publish an RFP as a way to “check the box” when they already have a vendor (or shortlist of vendors) in mind. When this happens, the publicly announced RFP will have a short shelf life to avoid the swarm of proposals that come in and to quickly get the project moving.

When an RFP has a short lifespan, experienced agencies will naturally pass on the opportunity, seeing it as no opportunity at all. If your intention is to get responses from these agencies, give your RFP 30-45 days for responses. This demonstrates that you’re looking for agencies to do the research, strategy, and creative thinking that goes into a well-developed proposal.

Provide the Budget

This is a touchy one. On the client’s side, you want to get fair market value without being inundated with proposals that simply go for all the budget you have. In some cases, you may not even have a budget defined yet and need to see what the industry charges before getting a budget approved.

I’ve been on both sides of this argument, having worked with clients to write up RFPs as well as on the agency side, writing responses for almost 20 years. I’ve found that having a defined and announced budget in a tourism marketing RFP allows agencies to do a few things in response:

  1. They can simply bow out if they can’t work within the budget.
  2. They may recommend a better strategy to meet your objectives with that budget.
  3. They won’t recommend a solution that you cannot afford.
  4. They may even offer more services than you expected, providing more performance than you think that budget can afford.

An RFP should be a way to compare agencies by more than their reputation, merit, or proposal-writing ability. You’re also judging their creativity, way of thinking, and ability to work within constraints. Providing the budget allows them to do all three. Without the budget, their ability to show flexibility in accordance with the budget is greatly diminished. You end up with a lot of shots in the dark and fewer creative approaches.

I guess I’m not alone in thinking this way. There are more search results that talk about this one topic than about writing RFPs in general.

Make the “Why” Very Clear

It’s hard to decipher the purpose of many RFPs. A lot of them simply ask for an agency’s experience, leadership, case studies without being very clear about what the purpose of the RFP is. Instead, it’ll be a blanket RFP for “Marketing & Adverting Services” or “Digital Marketing Agency Services”. In response, you’ll get a lot of generic proposals that read more like corporate brochures than the best ways to move your destination forward.

By being clear about the reason for the RFP (increasing overnight visitation, bigger turnout at key community events, improved user-generated content, etc.), your responses will show you a myriad of ways to accomplish that “why”. Granted, once an agency is hired, they’ll probably be responsible for more; but the more specific the “why”, the more specific and tailored the solution.

A Better Tourism Marketing RFP Makes For A Better Proposal

This list isn’t exhaustive and I’ll probably re-visit this list over time, but these few improvements can make a significant impact on the quality and quantity of proposals you receive. Often, we’re not sure what to put into an RFP and I think it’s on agencies to provide feedback that will ultimately make for more productive RFPs.

No two destinations are the same.

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Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.

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