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Guidelines for preparing an RFP to select a branding partner

A general Request for Proposal (RFP) may not get you the best deal. A poorly written RFP will certainly not get the results you want. And an ill-prepared RFP will likely waste a lot of your time and money. If you elect to use the RFP to find a branding partner, take the time to do your homework. There are no easy shortcuts. But a professional and well-prepared RFP will give confidence to the bidders that it is worth their time and effort to respond.


Not all RFPs are the same, nor do they yield the same results. Understand the difference, and take the path that matches your priorities in the selection process.

  • The Quotation-Only RFP. Also known familiarly as a “quote” or, more rarely, the RFQ (Request for Quotation). Seldom will companies use this type of RFP for brand-related work. RFQs are often used when the requested deliverable is a standard off-the-shelf product or service. It states what is needed, when it is needed, and how much it will cost. There is little, if any, detail about process or other considerations of the job.
  • The Solution RFP. The Solution RFP states the problem to be solved. Candidates define their methods, deliverables, and how they will solve the highlighted problem. However, the Solution RFP only works if the problem is well-defined. If not, the responses may contain so many variables that it’s nearly impossible to compare one to the other. The advantage of a Solution RFP is that you can evaluate different approaches and determine which will get the best result. You can also assess different methods based on time-efficiency or cost-effectiveness.The main disadvantage is the challenge to compare the value of different processes. First, ensure that you have the right expertise to assess competing submissions. Then, allow plenty of time for questions and clarification during the assessment process.
  • The Speculative RFP. A Speculative RFP (i.e., “spec work”) is like the Solution RFP because the key is how definitively the problem is stated. But, unlike the Solution RFP, there is less emphasis on the approach and more focus on the solution. The advantage of this type of RFP is that it allows you to evaluate how the candidates think through and arrive at a solution. However, the disadvantage is that it assumes the bidder has a clear understanding of all considerations to create a viable solution. The Speculative RFP is not recommended for strategic design or branding work. It is more commonly used for evaluating creative problem-solving, namely for advertising campaigns.In some quarters, questions about the ethics of soliciting “free work” has been raisedHowever, you can overcome ethical concerns by paying a fixed fee to a limited number of competing firms.
  • The Traditional RFP. Here, you define the scope of work and deliverables, and also outline the process and parameters that dictate the elements of the proposal. When done well, its advantage is a clear apples-to-apples comparison. It is also the ideal approach to requesting proposals from qualified branding firms.


First and foremost, spend the time needed to develop accurate RFP content. The result will pay dividends in proposals you can easily evaluate. In the end, you want responses that fully and accurately address the work you need done. The effort on your part ensures you get the deliverables you expect, within any timing constraints—all at a fair price.

The well-prepared Traditional RFP contains six sections:

1:  Situation Overview
2:  Scope of Work
3:  Special Conditions
4:  Qualifications
5:  Submission Requirements
6:  RFP Process


The situation overview provides a brief description of the background, circumstances, and goals associated with the project. This generally includes a description of the following:

  • Company background, including relevant information such as:
    • Products and services
    • Target audience profiles
    • Competitive landscape
    • Challenges and opportunities
  • Objective and goals
  • Project organization
  • Decision process


This section is critical. The clearer and more detailed the scope, the more accurate the submitted proposals will be. Above all, this will help you to evaluate the RFP responses effectively and ensure that you get what you want. To distinguish between the “base project” and “optional activities”, divide the scope of work into those two categories. By keeping options separate, you can easily evaluate the base project on its own.


The base project includes a description of the work that is the primary focus of the RFP.Outline the process participants need to follow, the key milestones they must meet, and the deliverables required at each milestone. As a general rule, the base scope of work includes the following phases:

  • Discovery. This phase helps ensure that the winning firm understands the issues that will inform the workFor example, discovery typically includes one-on-one interviews with stakeholders. So, identify how many interviews are needed, because that will affect scope, timing, and budget. Also, define the research needed about competitors, market trends, and audience profiling, or any other data you need. Be clear about your expectations for discovery phase deliverables. Do you want a detailed report, a presentation, or both?
  • Strategy. The discovery work will inform and guide strategy development. Be specific about what you want addressed regarding strategy. Will it include a vision statement, a mission statement, a value proposition? How about company values, brand positioning, or any other aspects of brand strategy? Also, state your desired approach for this work. Should it be hands-off or collaborative through workshops? Define your desired outcome for this phase: a report, a presentation, a combination of the two, or something else. If the scope of work includes brand architecture, this is where to address it.
  • Design. This phase may include both visual and verbal design. A name (if needed) and a new logo are the most expected deliverables of the design phase. However, it is equally important to consider how those core elements translate into a broader brand system. The scope should include color palettes, typography, design formats, and other branded items. This phase also covers brand guidelines to manage and control short- and long-term implementation.
  • Implementation. This is where you define the range of applications you expect. It is essential to itemize what you need, exactly.
  • Internal branding. If you need internal brand training or other work that embeds the brand into the organization, stipulate those needs here.
  • Launch. Define what may be needed for launching the rebranding work. This could include events or other activities to announce the introduction of the rebranding initiative.


You may be unsure about some aspects of the project, or maybe you need to weigh budget considerations. This section is where you identify items that are not part of the base project. These may be options you want to commit to after the project starts — or choices you may want to make at different stages — depending on what is discovered as the project progresses. You can also ask respondents to suggest options here. They may see opportunities for adding value to the work that could contribute to the project’s success. Typical options include the following:

  • Research. If you require research, keep it separate from the base project work. Variables related to research will influence the project’s costs and timing. The more details you can provide here, the better. Consider when you want research conducted and what you expect to learn from the research. If you need qualitative focus groups, estimate how many sessions, share location options, and indicate the audience segments to include. Or, for quantitative research via online or other surveys, set aside time to discuss details with the RFP participants to help them provide a realistic budget.
  • Workshops. Workshops with leadership and the project team can heavily shape the development and decision-making process. This is particularly true in the strategy phase, where a more collaborative approach is especially valuable. If a hands-on approach works well for you, define the type of workshop here that would be most applicable to your organization.
  • Naming. Sometimes naming or other verbal branding work is kept separate from the base scope of work. Because the discovery or strategy phase may determine the need for a name, include it as an optional scope item. Then you can incorporate if required, and you can reserve budget accordingly.
  • Standards. Standards come in many different shapes and sizes.They can be as short as a few pages or as comprehensive as a lengthy manual. When a project starts, it can be difficult to anticipate what type of standards you will need, so you may want to identify a few options and approaches. For example, perhaps you prefer a bare-bones set of guidelines with identity specifications. Or, maybe you want comprehensive documentation of the strategic thinking behind the brand development, along with identity specs, application examples or even training principles.


In Section 3, include any special conditions that could impact the responding firms’ approach, timing, and budget. These special conditions might consist of the following:

  • Timing. What are the time constraints? Do different phases of the project need to meet deadlines like a board meeting or a product launch?
  • Partners. Does the project require coordinating with other business partners, like a management consultant, an ad agency, or a research or PR firm?
  • Reporting. Are performance reports for things like time accounting, utilization, or expenses required?
  • Software interface. Will respondents need to interface with any of your internal management software programs?
  • Contractual terms. Are there required terms, such as a non-compete clause, a security clearance, or other unique terms, respondents need to know about?
  • Financial. Are there special conditions for the billing schedule? Is there a special process for invoicing? Is there anything else that might have an impact on project payments and cash flow?
  • Intellectual Property. Is there a unique intellectual property issue concerning ownership of the work produced?


Note any qualifications here that are essential to selecting the right candidate. Rather than getting basic info, this will help respondents highlight the aligning information about their firm. This section typically includes the following:

  • Firm history
  • Areas of expertise and services
  • Organizational network
  • Number and composition of full-time staff
  • Principals and team bios
  • Category experience
  • Relevant projects


In this section, clearly describe what respondents must submit in the RFP response. Be specific about what you expect them to provide.

  •  Scope of Work. Clearly define the work you are requesting (Section 2A), the related processes, and other details that will affect timing and budget. Note any assumptions. Itemize required deliverables.
  • Options. Describe the options you are requesting or suggesting.
  • Special Conditions
  • Qualifications
  • Budget. Provide budget requirements, including the level of detail you want in a budget breakdown. Ask for hourly rates for different skill sets. Include any out-of-pocket costs and expenses.
  • Timing. Make it clear that the proposed schedule of work should align with any timing constraints you provided.
  • Team. Identify key project team members, along with information about their background, project role, and responsibilities.
  • References. If you require references, state that requirement here and outline any criteria.
  • Work. Specify how many work examples and case studies respondents must provide. Indicate what you want to know about them, such as a project’s objectives, challenges, solutions, and results.
  • Why. Ask respondents to summarize why they are the best fit for the project. What value do they provide to get to the best result?


The process and procedures that guide the RFP are as important as the content of the RFP itself. A clear and considered process will help ensure that you get the best responses. Therefore, give serious thought to the steps you want to follow. Allow sufficient time for respondents to develop their proposals as well as time for you to evaluate them. Generally, these steps include:

  1. Project brief. Once the RFP is distributed, invite respondents to a general project briefing. (This briefing is often done via video conference.)
  2. Inquiries. Allow time for respondents to adequately evaluate the RFP and prepare questions. Ask them to submit questions in writing. Share any answers, points of clarification or amendments, with everyone participating. Indicate who is responsible for managing all communication.
  3. Submission. Be clear about the format for submissions (digital, printed, or both), the submission deadline (the specific date and time), and to whom they should be delivered.
  4. Evaluation. Think about your internal process for evaluating the RFP responses: Who will conduct the evaluation? Will it be a screening and multi-tier process? What is the evaluation criteria? Who will do background checks and how will that process work?
  5. Clarification. It is highly likely you will have questions during the evaluation process that respondents must answer. So, allow time to accommodate that likelihood.
  6. Pre-Selection. Once you have narrowed the field to two or three candidates, notify those finalists. Then, provide sufficient lead time for them to prepare for an in-person presentation.
  7. Presentations. Invite the finalist candidates and conduct in-person presentations.
  8. Selection. Compare the pre-finalist submissions with the in-person presentations, and re-evaluate to arrive at a final choice.
  9. Notification. Notify the firm you select for the project and those not selected.
  10. Contracting. Enter into contract negotiations.
  11. Project Start.
Important. Allow adequate time for this process.

The most common mistake is to rush through the RFP process, putting the quality and outcome at risk. Be considerate to the respondents who are investing time and resources to prep their best possible RFP response.


Certainly, an RFP does not guarantee that you will find the perfect company. However, when carefully prepared and managed, it is an invaluable tool to find the right fit for your BrandLife.