Sit down, ASAP. See ya, CIA. As acronyms go, trade show RFPs are as formidable as it gets.
Given that the Request For Proposal is most brands’ go-to vendor selection tool — and exhibit houses rely on it to win new projects — we should all be pros at the process by now. But after 30 years in this business, we still see trade show RFPs giving marketers fits. Rarely do three letters evoke such consternation, and for good reason: poorly conceived or executed RFPs waste time and money for brand and vendor alike.
Of course, as is true of most long-standing models, there’s a better way. Instead of cutting corners to churn out dense RFPs in quick succession, let’s collaborate to make the tool itself more meaningful and impactful — and make it work better for all of us.
Start at 10,000 Feet
We encourage our clients to begin any marketing effort with a macro-level approach — namely, determining why they’re doing what they’re trying to do. Bear in mind that every vendor you send a trade show RFP to multiplies the time you’ll spend analyzing responses. Don’t start by emailing standard trade show RFPs to every vendor on your email list. Diving in headfirst without a firm grasp of what you’re after will leave you with wasted time, frustrated team members, and unsatisfying results.
Specificity Is Key
Don’t settle for boilerplate questions. Instead, think about the specific information you need to choose the right exhibit partner.
For example, “Location” is one category of data that often annoys brands. Exhibit companies will respond to an RFP and write, “We have 13 offices.” OK — but does that include your eight sales reps working from their homes?
To correct those types of issues, an effective RFP will ask, “Please describe each of your facilities. List square footage, personnel, etc. List locations of all remote support staff.” That kind of information makes a big difference to a brand that manufactures in Indiana but wants a rep close to their Culver City location for frequent consultations.
Of course, specificity is great when you’re wielding it with purpose. But if you’re not, it’s a killer of time, resources, and morale. Don’t ask what a vendor’s international capabilities are if you never intend to work outside the U.S. Needless specifics waste both your time and the applicants’.
Make It Personal
If you’ve been locked in with one vendor for years and want to see what fresh perspectives are out there, why not consider a personal approach? Forego the RFP altogether and bring in two or three companies you’re familiar with for short meetings. Spend time assessing alignment and crafting outside-the-box ideas. Sure, RFPs return a lot of information quickly, but in-person sessions are far more effective at fostering creativity and determining the real potential for success.
Cover It Up
The best trade show RFPs have cover pages that very clearly outline the “rules of the road.” Make the process easier for the vendor (and for you) by including specific requirements for the document on the very first page. Include the schedule, the required format for the response, the page count — even the margins. The more uniformity you can build into the responses you’ll be receiving, the more easily you’ll be able to compare apples to apples.
Trade Show RFPs: We’re In It Together
An RFP is more than a request for information. It’s an invitation to collaborate. Use the RFP creation process as an opportunity to determine your objectives, refine your message, and set the tone for a fruitful collaboration with your vendor.
Looking for more? Transform your vendor selection process with our free, comprehensive “Better RFP” tool. Download and modify it to suit your needs, and you’ll soon be crafting experiential masterpieces of your own.