Turning Procurement-Speak Inside Out

“An RFP is a statement of distrust.” -Ken Robbins

Ken Robbins, CEO of Response Mine Interactive in Atlanta, doesn’t participate in Requests for Proposals (RFPs). He says they’re a waste of time for his agency and the client.

“Any client can review its agency without a formal selection process. They just have to pick up the phone and ask a competing agency to come give a ‘capabilities’ pitch.” True dat.

Robbins put together an eloquent post defending his position, and the star of this post is a mock letter that turns the tables. Here’s what a letter from an agency wanting to put a client up for review might look like:

Dear Client,

We love you. You’ve done a great job but we’re going to bring in five of your competitors to make sure we have the best, most innovative client out there. We may get higher fees. We might get more projects to work on, but we’ll probably stay with you. This is just company policy. Rest assured the process will be fair and objective and even if we stay with you, we may be able to bring good ideas back from your competitors that you can use.


“An RFP is often a company’s way of pretending it’s not political, or (gulp) that a winner hasn’t already been picked,” argues Robbins. Be that as it may, RFPs won’t be going away anytime soon, and hungry agencies will continue to feed at the RFP trough. But there is an equitable solution. David Lowe-Rogstad, Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Substance in Portland, says, “Pay agencies for their time to pitch you and put your own skin in the game.”

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. RFPerson says:

    The agencies who complain the most about RFPs tend to be the
    ones that usually don’t even get an invite to begin with. Robbins might lessen
    the need for RFPs by designing an agency website that actually presents his
    firm’s credentials. Right now, there’s nothing there to give anyone a reason to
    consider hiring RMI. Like it or not, clients use RFPs because agencies are too
    generic – it’s impossible to distinguish one from another. I like Robbins’
    contention that “An RFP is a statement of distrust.” Um, it’s usually the
    agencies that create the distrust, by filing the RFP with lies about
    capabilities, staffing, resources, etc.

    Also, Robbins claimed the majority of his clients were
    acquired via means other than RFPs. So why is he even discussing the topic?