Growing up, one of my mom’s adages was “there’s a time and a place for getting noticed!” This may or may not be true – but what I do know for sure is that I want the Request for Proposal (RFP) for my events to stand out to prospective venues every time.
Preparing to release an RFP for an upcoming event can be an exciting time, but it can also be wrought with anxiety about how much/what information to include, who to send it to, how many venues to send it to, what time frame for a response is reasonable, how to compare the responses once they’re received, and on and on. Goodness knows there is no one-size-fits-all RFP template or process!
To complicate things, a planner’s access to numerous automated RFP platforms, and our desire to cast our RFP nets far and wide in search of the perfect venue has created a situation that is detrimental to ourselves. Venues now receive an unmanageable number of RFP submissions: RFPs that may never have crossed their desks before, RFPs that have no business being on their desks, RFPs that are incomplete and ineffective – and in the midst of the pile – RFPs that are a perfect fit. Triaging the pile of RFPs is time consuming and resource depleting, and as a result venues are often delayed in responding to potential clients, and in some cases settling to not respond at all.
So, what is a planner to do? With over 20 years of issuing and comparing RFPs for events under my belt, here are four tips to help your RFP get noticed.
1. Engage the local experts.
Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs), also referred to as Convention & Visitors Bureaus, can be instrumental in creating and receiving thorough responses to your RFPs. Involve these professionals from the beginning of the planning and site selection process. After all – these folks are:
- the experts on their own destination,
- a conduit to local experts,
- able to vet proposals for suitability,
- able to recommend off-the-beaten path treasures for those one-of-a-kind experiences, and
- offer free expertise, resources and support.
2. Be thorough.
Provide as much and as thorough information about the event as possible. Make it easy for the venue to determine if your meeting hits their qualifications for fit and financials. A lack of specific details may be easier in producing the RFP, but it does not set the venue up for success. Detailed information includes, but is not limited to:
- Preferred and optional dates – identifying your flexibility may just be the key for the venue to show you how they can make it worth your while to change from your preferred dates. Being rigid may be quickly answered with a “no.”
- Prioritized “needs,” followed by prioritized “wants” for the event. I’ve discussed these in two previous published posts: here and here.
- Ancillary, food and beverage and pick-up patterns of your attendees – this creates instant credibility.
- Budget considerations – anticipated price range for guestrooms, anticipated F&B spend; budget restraints (including wins and struggles), space to rooms ratio.
- Executive summary of your business/event goals.
3. Identify deadlines and stick to them.
This is so much easier to say than do – everyone in this industry knows this to be true. However, choosing realistic deadlines, and then committing to them, builds trust with sales professionals and motivates them to respond. Consider creating a “short list” date (approximately three to five days after date to submit the RFP response has passed) for responding to vendors. This is not your decision date, but a deadline by which to tell venues whether they are still in the running. If a venue is aware that they’ll know whether they are in the running or not in a very short matter of time (ie., days), this may motivate them to respond. It may improve their “up front” offers, and they may more aggressively sell your meeting at their internal meetings.
4. Choose quality over quantity.
The “spray and pray” method may work some of the time, but it will probably exacerbate the process for everyone. Consider the following:
- Be selective in who you send your RFP to. Limiting the number of venues that get the RFP – and informing the venues of this fact – gives each of the venues a better chance to win your business. Knowing they have a one in four chance or a one in 50 chance may change their perspective on responding. Even disclosing their competitors can be a motivation to respond more quickly and thoroughly.
- Consider involving a national sales person for large chains, as they too can vet their properties for suitability, and narrow the list for you.
- Being responsible for a smaller number of potential venues allows you to:
- pick up the phone and establish personal connections,
- maintain open communications along the RFP timeline,
- fully articulate the value of your RFP so that the sales professionals are educated about you and your event for their own internal meetings, and
- close the loop! It is estimated that 75 per cent of the time, sales persons never learn the outcome of their proposals. While they might be disappointed about not being selected, they will appreciate the news.
As I indicated, there is definitely no one-size-fits-all template for issuing, processing and wrapping up an event RFP. However, when you start digging around, there are best practices that can be considered. I hope you’ll consider the above for your next event RFP.