Businessing Magazine sat down with Roger Chiocchi, CEO of RFPalooza and Tekkipalooza, to find out more about how he and his companies are helping small businesses find success in the Request for Proposal (RFP) process. Small business owners can be at a disadvantage when it comes to competing for jobs via RFPs, and Roger is doing his part to level the playing field. As a small business owner himself, he understands the highs and lows of small business ownership and sees himself as an ally to other business owners.
What led you to start RFPalooza and Tekkipalooza?
I had been in the advertising business for many years on Madison Avenue at big agencies and with a smaller agency I owned in Connecticut. I was always involved with business development throughout my career, which meant I was always responding to RFPs. They are a necessary evil in our business. So someone gave me the idea to start a site just focused on advertising and marketing agency RFPs. I decided to name it RFPalooza to appeal to the “inner child” in marketing and advertising people. We began modestly, but the business grew nicely. However, we knew that there was a limited ceiling for the site, so we decided to venture out into other industry verticals; hence, TekkiPalooza, which is targeted to IT Consulting Firms, Web Developers and VARs (Value-Added Resellers).
What holes do your websites fill in in the marketplace?
We’re an “Easy Button” for marketing communications and IT firms. Instead of having to rely upon luck to find an RFP that may be important to them, they can very easily see all the RFPs in their industry, sorted by region and discipline, on our sites. And they can access almost all of them with one simple click. We also send out an email several times a week highlighting some of the newest RFPs we’ve posted.
The RFP process can be daunting for small business owners. How do your sites help small companies with limited staff resources compete for work offered through RFPs?
As I said earlier, RFPs are a “necessary evil.” If you’re a start up agency, after you’ve exhausted your “friends and family” list to solicit new clients, you are almost forced to go the RFP route. In IT, if you want to do any work with government entities – and there’s a lot of lucrative work there – again, you are forced to go through the RFP process. As someone who has written more RFP responses than I’ve ever wanted to admit, I have to agree that it is a very daunting process. Unfortunately, we can’t make that go away. We try to help in any way we can; by publishing relevant articles in our Newsroom pages and writing some of our own relevant content. We have a section called “Roger’s Ramblings” where I give advice based upon my experience – and mistakes – writing RFP responses. We also provide consulting services for those agencies who might need dedicated help on a particular RFP.
How does the “Partner Up” feature on your sites work?
Partner-Up is a relatively new feature. In today’s marketplace, many times a client/RFP-issuer needs a portfolio of services such as advertising, media planning/buying and public relations. Most small agencies only specialize in one of those areas. We make it easy for those agencies to find partners so they can take advantage of some of these RFP opportunities by literally partnering-up with other agencies. Right now, it’s really just a listing for agencies to look through should they need a partner with specific capabilities. Our vision is to make it a robust, vibrant collaborative community of small and medium-sized agencies.
Tell me more about the “RFP Bill of Rights” that you authored.
Well, we all know how challenging the RFP process can be. Sometimes the entity that issues the RFP makes it even more challenging. I did write an article called the “RFP Bill of Rights” where I tried to point out some of the “silly” questions or tasks we’ve seen on RFPs.
For instance, once in an advertising RFP for a state government, they wanted a $12,000 bond via certified check. That’s sort of ridiculous for the first round of an RFP where up to 20 or 30 agencies may be responding. And most smaller agencies don’t have the cash flow to be able to fund that.
The same thing applies to RFPs that require notarized forms on the first round. It’s hard enough to actually compile the answers to an RFP without having to worry about running to the Notary Public’s office, particularly when you’re on a tight deadline.
While some of these things may be required at some point in the process, they certainly don’t need to be a step so early on. The issuing entities can wait until the next round – as they are winnowing down the list of competitors – to ask for things like that.
Those are two of the most prominent criticisms we have about RFPs, but there are many more. Many RFPs ask you how many full time staff members you have. Fine. Then they also state that if you are going to use freelancers or subcontractors, each has to fill out the same RFP – the whole complete document! Every marcom agency – small or big – uses freelancers and sometimes they don’t even know who the freelancers will be when they eventually begin working on the project. The selectors should have faith enough – having been impressed by the work and case studies from the agency they have selected – that the people who run the agency have enough talent and skill to hire the right freelancers to deliver the job.
And then there’s the real doozy. A well-written document responding to most RFPs is a 25-50 pages, which requires hours of work. We’ve seen several instances where the issuing organization labeled an RFP they received from an agency as “non-responsive” (and therefore disqualified it) when a trivial, non-material detail may have been left out – something that could have been remedied by the agency quite quickly. The irony of all this is that while most issuers of RFPs are very stringent about their due dates, down to the exact minute, and won’t allow any remedial corrections thereafter, they themselves are notorious for not getting back to responders until many weeks or even months after the date they promised.
You say you see RFPalooza as a way to “reinvent the industry.” Where would you like to see the marcom industry go, particularly as it relates to small businesses?
The industry has undergone many changes during my career. The shops on Madison Avenue used to have very unique identities. Then the holding companies came in and homogenized everything and tore apart the “nuclear account team.” It used to be that account management, creative, media and research/strategy were all on one team working together. The holding companies have fragmented that model by putting media and research/strategy in separate companies. There’s no longer the cohesion between disciplines that we saw in the past.
I strongly believe the future of our industry, therefore, is in the hands of smaller and medium-sized agencies. They are where the real innovation takes place. They are the ones who will reinvent the industry. What we try to do at RFPalooza in our own small way is to help those agencies grow by providing them with leads, tips and useful advice. They need to sustain themselves, so one day they will be able to reinvent the industry. We like to think we help keep them going.