Request for Proposal (RFP)

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Definition of Request for Proposal (RFP)

A document sent by an advertiser or agency inviting a publisher to submit a proposal for an upcoming advertising campaign.

Request for Proposal (RFP) in Depth

An RFP is usually just an email from the advertiser or agency. This email formally invites the publisher to submit a proposal for consideration and includes relevant details about the campaign such as:

  • Anticipated run dates
  • Advertiser objective
  • Budget (may include multiple levels)
  • Target audience
  • Geographic restrictions (e.g., U.S. only)
  • Ad units available
  • Special requests or preferences (such as mobile placements or high share-of-voice)
  • Metrics for evaluation (e.g., cost per click, cost per new client, etc.)
  • Due date for proposals

An RFP will generally include two related documents:

  1. A summary brief that lays out the details of the campaign (i.e., the bullet points above; this is often a Word doc or PDF)
  2. A template into which the details of the proposal should be entered (generally an Excel document)

If you’ve received an RFP, your next steps should involve reviewing the campaign brief and starting to work on completing the proposal document. The Premium section below contains some tips for addressing some of the more common challenges that arise when going through this process.

Close, But Not There Yet

As discussed more in the Premium section below, receipt of an RFP is generally a very good sign. Advertisers or agencies typically only send RFPs to publishers whom they intend to seriously consider for the upcoming campaign. But getting an RFP does not mean that you’re guaranteed to see a spend; depending on the budget, timing, and several other factors, it is common for 10% to 50% of publishers who receive an RFP to be excluded from the final campaign.

There are three objectives in completing an RFP that will help to increase the likelihood of inclusion in the final spend:

  • Competitive: The ultimate goal is to deliver a proposal that both: 1) looks attractive to the advertiser / agency and 2) will deliver value based on the primary campaign metrics. If your proposal gets accepted but doesn’t perform, you likely won’t be invited back for future spends. If, however, you prove that your site is able to deliver significant value, you may have a recurring revenue stream. Our premium entry on Bonus Media includes some good tips on this topic.
  • Accommodating: RFPs tend to make a lot of special requests, such as highlighting new and creative placements. Read through the documents carefully, and do your best to include proposed items that satisfy the requests (more on this strategy in the Premium section below).
  • Accurate: At the risk of stating the obvious, only include line items that you can deliver. If you propose am idea that looks great but can’t be executed, you’ll only face major headaches later.

Though the situation obviously varies by agency and advertiser, receipt of an RFP is generally a very positive sign. Most advertisers / agencies conduct the majority of the vetting process before sending out RFPs, in order to avoid reviewing a massive amount of proposals. This is especially true if the advertiser has run numerous campaigns before; they may regularly invite new publishers to “audition” to be included, but will often have a pretty good idea of the sites they want to include well ahead of time.

Still, it’s important to take all RFPs very seriously; a spend is never won until the ads start running.

RFP Confidentiality

RFPs generally come with some form of confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements; this can be a formal document that publishers will have to sign and send back, or simply a notification within the email indicating that confidentiality is required. This requirement is understandable; advertisers don’t want details of their advertising campaigns to become public information accessible to competitors and publishers who weren’t included.

However, many publishers are happy to share information about RFPs with other sales reps anonymously. This occurs most frequently through SellerCrowd, a community where information is regularly shared with the aid of usernames that protect real identities (a link is included in the resources section below).

Common RFP Challenges

An RFP can be intimidating, especially if it’s one of the first you’ve received or a particularly large dollar amount. There are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Challenging Requests. In many cases, publishers may find themselves struggling to come up with proposed line items that match the requests of the advertiser. Don’t worry if you’re unable to match the requests perfectly; the brief is often prepared as a theoretical idea, but standard placements are often still welcome.
  • Simple is OK. Many times RFPs will express a desire for placements that are new, creative, and cutting edge. If this is the case, it’s probably wide to allocate at least part of the spend to such ideas. But it’s also OK to allocate most of the budget to simpler, more traditional line items (e.g., IAB standard ad units). When it comes down to it, many agencies will select the simpler ad options in order to end up with a more efficient campaign.
  • Fulfilling Technical Specs. Some RFPs will require some knowledge of your site’s technical capabilities. Typically, the indicated requests are standard, but publishers should confirm that they will be technically capable of serving anything they propose.