7 tips for public tenders

Chris Van Roey

Last month we supervised various public tenders. Unfortunately, government and public companies can’t use the ‘normal’ selection procedure that most brands follow. They are bound by specific legislation and rules, which makes the process complicated. As a result many relevant agencies don’t participate.


Based on our experience, we have drawn up 7 golden rules for public tenders.

1. Go lite


The procedure that you are confronted with is everything except lite. Nevertheless even in a complex environment you can go for even more complexity, or you can try to make things more simple. The more complex you go, the more barriers you will build to get the best suppliers. It will put them off. And in the end, a complex procedure will not guarantee a better result. Limit the number of agencies early in the process by keeping a maximum 4 after the RFI phase. Limit the number of questions you ask agencies. When you select an agency, it’s not about getting the answers to your questions; it’s about evaluating how the agency treats these questions. And finally, do not make the procedure too long. Limit the number of steps in the procedure.

2. Prioritise your needs


The first step is to know your requirements, your needs. Don’t just start from the last tender you wrote some years ago. By now, your market and requirements might have changed drastically. You can start with the evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the relation with your current agency. The basic idea is not to evaluate your current agency, but to learn from your current relationship.
Secondly you should ask yourself what you expect from your agency. What type of agency are you looking for? What is the specific expertise you are looking for? And what type of experience do you want from them? Necessary questions defining your needs and expectations from your agency.
The final step is to prioritise your needs. You can’t get it all. You will have to make choices. All this is an excellent preparation for your selection criteria and your brief. And please talk with your stakeholders in order to have a shared view on your priorities.

3. Produce a ‘long’ brief


A brief is a misleading word. We don’t think a brief should be … brief. We do recommend to produce a ‘long’ brief.
Clients often consider it to be normal that agencies need to conduct their own search for background information. Or they assume a short brief is good because it allows to check what the agency is able to come up with. These are all wrong reasons that will make the selection process more complex and inefficient.
You do have all the relevant information. The agencies on your shortlist are unable to gather all info. They have a short period of time to develop a proposal. The more info you give them,  the more time they have to develop a good proposal. You should be clear in your brief about your expectations. Explain the pitch process in a simple way and provide an indication on timing. Give a clear list of documents the agency should provide you. Tenders are often really difficult to read. And finally, make sure the brief is validated internally.

4. Judge potential, not proposal


When agencies craft a strategic or creative proposal, they are, in most cases, judged on this proposal. This is however not a good way to evaluate an agency in a pitch. This is not the way to select an agency to work with. You can’t expect agencies to come back with a perfect campaign without your feedback. A good communication campaign is always the result of an intensive interaction between client and agency. The purpose of a pitch is not to select an advertising campaign. The purpose of a pitch is to select the best agency you can work with as from tomorrow. Therefore you need to judge potential, not the proposal.
This is why we recommend our clients not to limit the procedure to a written document. It's awfully difficult to judge the potential of an agency based on a piece of paper.  We recommend to organise live presentations, and even to organise chemistry meetings and workshops. This is absolutely possible in a public tender procedure.

5. Avoid spreadsheet-exercises


In many cases jury-members score the shortlisted agencies on selection criteria. The scores are compared in a spreadsheet and the winner is … the one with the best average score. This does not give a good output for a final decision. We recommend every participant to score the agency on each criterium and to fill out a spreadsheet. If the score of each participant for a certain criterium is similar, it means we all agree and we can use that score. However, if the difference is quite high, we have to discuss. We ask the ones who gave a high score why they did that. And the same for the ones who gave a low score. This discussion generates more insight, and in the end we come op with one negotiated score for each criterium. Based on that we will be able to take a better team decision.

6. Mistrust hourly rates


In many selection procedures, the procurement department requests hourly rates from the agencies. And decisions are taken on the basis of these hourly rates. Hourly rates are an input measurement, not a measurement of the output. And therefore they can't be a basis for a decision. Instead of asking hourly tariffs, you should ask for an all inclusive price for a job. What’s the cost for a positioning exercise?  What will be the price of a creative concept? How much for a certain deliverable? This, of course, needs a detailed scope of work description (see previous blog)

7. Interact & evaluate


Our final tip is an important one and unfortunately not always easy to implement during public tenders. Giving a good brief does not immediately generate a good communication campaign. Good communication strategies and campaigns are always the result of an intensive interaction between the advertiser and the agency. One-way communication from client to agency doesn't work. Don’t limit interaction to some paperwork, but listen to and talk with your agency. Let them ask questions. Only answers to questions that are not’ in the brief should be shared with other agencies. Let agencies present to you.  Better yet, organise chemistry meetings, organise interactive workshops and make them part of the evaluation process. This will allow you to do a much better evaluation and selection.

If you follow these 7 golden rules, we guarantee you that the procedure will run more smoothly. But of course, don’t forget our tip #8 (yeah, this is a bit product placement): seek guidance. We are always at your service to guide your tender for an optimal selection.

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