With Its Agency RFP, Zappos Steps In It

I have no personal interest in the Zappos RFP like I did with the Current TV one, but Mike Wolfsohn of Ignited does.
He says Zappos didn’t spend much time with his agency’s response:

We submitted our response online in the form of a blog. It gave us the opportunity to have lots of contributors posting text, pictures and videos, and the ability to use meta tags and navigation that made our response easy to explore. But just as importantly, it allowed us to see how much time Zappos spent reviewing our proposal.
There was but one significant problem with our approach: Zappos wasn’t willing to spend the time required to examine the content of our proposal.
According to Google Analytics, Zappos viewed only 5 of the 25 pages on our blog, with an average page-view time of 14 seconds. Considering that each page corresponded to a question they asked in their RFP, one would hope the content would prove valuable in their evaluation process.
But they never clicked on the page that introduced them, as they requested, to the members of the team that would service their account. They never clicked on the page that described how we stay at the forefront of marketing and technology. They never clicked on the video testimonial from the founder of another e-commerce company that we helped increase sales by more than 200 percent. And they never clicked on the page that outlined our approach to measurement. Which may explain why they didn’t know we’d be monitoring how much time they spent looking at our proposal.

The entire post is worth reading. I love how Ignited Minds used analytics to prove how little the client paid attention. Clients are demanding analytics of all types these days from the work their agencies do. It’s good to see the tables can be turned.
[UPDATE:] You can read a response to this situation from Aaron Magness of Zappos in the comments section of this Ad Contrarian post.

About Dan Goldgeier

Blogging on AdPulp since 2005, Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. In addition, he is a regular columnist for TalentZoo.com. Dan published the best of his TalentZoo.com columns in a book entitled View From The Cheap Seats: A Broader Look at Advertising, Marketing, Branding, Global Politics, Office Politics, Sexual Politics, and Getting Drunk During a Job Interview. Look for it on Amazon in paperback and e-book editions.


  1. I’m a bit torn on this one. I think it’s interesting that analytics and web technologies provide a view into the RFP process that is often much too opaque for people on the agency side.
    But, do we trust analytics for single sessions?
    What if the data is wrong? What if the data hasn’t updated yet? What if they were going through and printing every page?
    Point is, I think it’s dangerous to ever claim an insight into events that we’re not sure about.
    And more importantly, blaming clients is never going to lead to more work. If anything, I’d imagine other potential clients would see Mike’s rant and think “why would I hire him? I don’t want to be on the other end of that!”
    In this case I’m afraid Zappo’s may have “thin-sliced” the correct decision. It may have only taken them fourteen seconds to realize “I don’t want to work with this guy. He’s controlling, overbearing, and misunderstands the client relationship.” If they didn’t get that from the RFP response, they’d definitely get it from the blog post.
    In the end, it’s all about relationships. Do we trust this agency will understand our needs and our view of ourselves, and understand our customer’s needs? Will they be solid partners, compliant and driving toward our same goals? Are they someone we want to spend the next three years of our life interacting with?
    Sometimes you can get the answers to those questions in fourteen seconds.

  2. I’m with Noah on this one. If the client didn’t look at every page of your RFP response, it’s because your RFP response wasn’t compelling enough to keep them engaged. Which should lead you to think honestly about what you could have done differently rather than lashing out publicly.
    It’s great that the agency is paying attention to measurement and analytics, but at the same time, analytics are designed for one thing: to MEASURE YOUR PERFORMANCE.
    Attacking a client for not engaging with your response is like bashing consumers for not caring about your ad. We sell ourselves by our ability to connect with audiences. The RFP response is just the first test of that. Failure to connect is your problem.

  3. Jenny, EXACTLY.
    The sense of entitlement in that blog post is overwhelming. And from what I’ve read (in the comments here http://adcontrarian.blogspot.com/2009/07/bozos-de-zappos.html) Ignited didn’t even bother to follow instructions when submitting their proposal.
    Of course, lashing out publicly over not being chosen–and warning other prospective clients that they’ll be tracked and measured as they evaluate future proposals (W???T???F???)–is the icing on the cake.
    Are there any grownups working over there or do they just always roll toddler-style?

  4. Noah, Jenny and Elise,
    Did you read the whole article, or did you read the Ad Age article on the same topic? Mr. Wolfsohn wasn’t yelling at Zappos. He was yelling at you and everyone in the ad industry. Zappos didn’t do anything wrong. They only did what we allowed them to. There is no way they looked at more than 100 responses with careful eyes. Ignited’s RFP isn’t in question here. That isn’t important. The fact that there was only 14 seconds spent on each page means that Zappos never intended to give this particular response the time of day. No one is crying for Ignited, but the points that Mr Wolfsohn bring up are interesting ones. Our clients should treat us with respect, and they will only do that if we ask them.

  5. Noah, Jenny and Elise,
    I’m sorry that you disagree with my perspective. If you revisit my blog, I think you’ll see that I take responsibility for Ignited’s role in the flawed Zappos pitch process. I never “lash out” at anyone, but simply state that Zappos should have based the number of responses they accepted on how much time they were willing to spend looking at them.
    I make no claims that our proposal was better than anyone else’s; I just think viewing 5 pages for 14 seconds is insufficient. To my mind, it’s like randomly choosing 8 minutes of a 2-hour movie and deciding how many stars it deserves.
    As for submitting our proposals online and letting clients know we’ll be monitoring the time they spend evaluating them, I’m not sure why Elise finds that so objectionable. It’s okay for clients to monitor the behavior of their customers and apply those learnings to future activities, but agencies shouldn’t be allowed to do the same? The clients we aspire to work with will appreciate that we practice what we preach. As someone else stated, this process has been too opaque for too long. We all submit our proposals and have no idea whether or not they receive the attention they deserve. No agency should find that satisfactory.
    When I interview a prospective employee, I acknowledge that he or she is also interviewing me and Ignited. It’s a partnership. And the best partnerships are based on equality. A more level playing field will only strengthen the experience for everyone involved. Of that I’m sure.
    Finally, Noah, I’ve always prided myself on being the antithesis of the stereotypical, egomaniacal, controlling and overbearing creative director you describe. While I’m doubtful I can sway your opinion in this response, I welcome the opportunity to speak with you on the phone and discuss your point of view on my article. I think you’ll find I’m quite reasonable and collaborative. My direct line at the office is 310.773.3720.
    My intent was not to vilify Zappos, but to use their high-profile review as an opportunity get agencies talking about how similar situations can be avoided in the future. In the end, I’m just happy to have sparked some discussion.
    Please keep the dialogue going.
    Mike Wolfsohn

  6. Mike, I have not made myself clear. It’s not the tracking I find objectionable. I think any shop submitting an online proposal would track the client’s behavior.
    I find warning prospective customers that you will do so–in the manner in which you described in your rant–ridiculously counter-productive and certain to alienate.
    One does not try to dictate the way in which a prospective client evaluates one’s submission. Doing so is, in my opinion, childish and unprofessional.
    And in my opinion, if you’ve put together a proposal that is engaging, compelling, and on-target, you don’t really have to try to dictate much of anything.
    As Jenny stated so articulately, “We sell ourselves by our ability to connect with audiences. The RFP response is just the first test of that. Failure to connect is your problem.”

  7. I think Noah, Jenny and Elise all work at Zappos.