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RFP 101

How to make sure suppliers are on the right page from the get-go 

By John Schofield

Successful events depend on well-constructed requests for proposal. And a poorly executed RFP can quickly become a request for problems. Caroline Aston, principal planner with Toronto-based Aston Events & Communications, and Christina Northcott, manager, conferences and events with Canada Health Infoway, are masters of the craft, having authored scores of RFPs over the years for a wide range of event suppliers and services, including food, venues, AV, site selection and decor. Here are their tips for writing winning RFPs:

Be detailed. Provide as much information as possible in the RFP about the event, the host, the expected number of attendees and the budget (or budget range). Even if the hosting organization cannot be revealed, try to include a general description, such as “hospital foundation” or “government agency.” More detail leads to more accurate estimates and costing, says Aston—and that makes for a happier client.

Be very specific, too, about the special needs of attendees. For a longer meeting, windows might be important. Some groups may need a particularly quiet room. “As a digital healthcare organization,” says Northcott, “Wi-Fi is very important to all of our participants. If one hotel offers complimentary and another does not, that could make the difference in a final decision.”

Note any scheduling flexibility. “For example, plus or minus one or two days, the week prior or the week following,” suggests Northcott. “This saves back-and-forth correspondence or receiving a straight ‘no’ that the space in unavailable.”

Be aware of your client’s RFP policies and procedures so you stay within them. In some cases, for example, if the budget is below a certain amount, you may only need to issue a less complicated request for quotation.

Disclose as much as possible about the selection process and timelines, including any requirements for an interview and/or a site visit. “And if you send out an RFP, you have to be available to answer questions,” says Aston. “They’re going to come back at you.”

Include an RFP checklist to help respondents ensure they are including all necessary documents and pieces of information required.

Target your RFP distribution. “Do your homework in advance,” adds Aston, “and distribute the RFP to the vendors and suppliers who have the ability to deliver what you need. Don’t invite the whole world.”

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