Outsourcing comms in the outsourcing space – an RFP framework

23rd January, 2020

You’re in the drug development space and you’re ready to outsource your communications project. You’ve decided that you need an external partner to help you. So, what now?

Structure your RFPs to select better partners

At last, leadership recognises business goals require a fresh and sustained marketing strategy to fill newly commissioned capacity and resource. Perhaps after four acquisitions and the formation of a global manufacturing network or the decision to move into a new territory, the board insists you create a unified brand that fits the company’s expanding reach and evolving client-base.

Regardless, senior commercials bods are finally green-lighting your call to implement a comprehensive brand strategy, and the CFO is backing it with a serious budget commitment – hurray! You have the go-ahead to engage external agency resources to get the job done.

Apparently that was the easy part. Now it’s your job to find the best agency to help maximise the return on every marketing dollar you spend. And while there are thousands of generalists out there, we advise you go looking for a life science specialist that knows your space. You wouldn’t see a general practitioner if you had a serious heart complaint, you’d consult a cardiologist. This is no different. A specialist in your space will save your months of education.

It starts with a great Request for Proposal (RFP)

For more than 10 years, ramarketing has responded to hundreds of RFPs from across the drug development outsourcing space, most aiming at the pharma and biotech space. We’ve found that many of our most successful engagements began with a clear, well-structured RFP. The objective is to create an RFP that helps meets your goals and get the details right in order to achieve:

  • Internal agreement. A common vehicle for objective evaluation
  • On-target, accurate proposals. When prospective partners clearly understand your needs, more accurate cost projections follow
  • Objectively comparable offerings. When prospects receive the same requirements, proposals can be compared apple-to-apple

Structuring an RFP frame that works

As we’re lovey and know our stuff, we’ve put together a few points that we’ve found help deliver better responses. We know it’s comprehensive so feel free to pick and choose what works for you. Make sure it’s filled with the actionable insights you need to make a defensible approvable partner selection. And remember, you’ll get back what you put in. Vague, lazy, confusing RFPs will lead to poor responses.

Open the company door

  • Provide a thorough review of the company, its history good and bad
  • Describe the company’s DNA and the results of its legacy
  • Provide the vitals – revenue, staff numbers, core markets, etc.
  • Offer a thorough accounting of capabilities, services and expertise
  • Provide a frank appraisal of strengths, weaknesses, USPs and key differentiators (as you see them today)
  • Put mission, vision and values in perspective (if you have them)

Provide insight, from the inside

  • Outline growth, trajectory and key elements of business strategy
  • Explain what key issues are challenging you most (that has brought about this RFP process)
  • Explain markets, relative position, growth initiatives and barriers to entry
  • Offer a list of competitors, broken down by business segments if necessary
  • Offer key insights and data from your own research efforts (if you have)

Define business goals and initiatives

Provide a clear list. Examples:

  • Increase revenue in the biotech space
  • Gain share in an emerging market where demand is increasing
  • Build awareness among key decision makers in big pharma

Set out RFP goals, outcomes

  • Articulate your project’s objectives, break them down to focus responses
  • Describe your (see below) goals; ask agency candidates directly what they think it’s going to take to achieve them
  • Define your current marketing ecosystem and strategy – what’s working and what’s not
  • Set needs apart from desires regarding program scope (this is the element that will most impact your price tag) i.e. what’s in scope and what’s not
  • Evaluation criteria – what is most important to you and how agencies will be graded

Do your due agency diligence

  • Ask for a deep dive into background and experience
  • Request current references and case histories relevant to your goals
  • Ask for clear pricing and payment options
  • Enquire about general capabilities and other agency offerings
  • Insist on a comprehensive review of operations, staffing and organisation
  • Ask about account team staffing and account management structure
  • Explore details regarding financial health, staff retention and growth plans

Explore relationship dynamics

  • Offer a clear vision of what a successful relationship should look like in six months
  • Ask about the who, what and where of the proposed account team, find out the nitty gritty details how the agency intends to service your account
  • Ask agencies to define clearly response timings, ways of working

The process

Finally, ensure the RFP process is clear and consistent. Stages. Deadlines. Who’s involved. The logistics of proposals submissions and presentations. And specify a timeline and budget. Opting to miss this can lead to a chaotic spectrum of responses. Agencies cut the cloth accordingly when they know the parameters.

Now go do it

Hopefully that’s enough to get your RFP process started. At the end of the day, the better the brief, the better the agency choice. That is the desired outcome of the whole process. We’ve also designed a version you can edit, that summarises the key areas we’ve outlined. Just sign up below to download the template.

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