From Accommodations to Food and Venues to Transportation, Learn How to Write an Effective RFP

By Heather McNeill

Of all the correspondence you write as a planner, the most important may be the Request for Proposals (RFP). A good RFP will get you bids from properties and suppliers who can best meet your needs for an event. A poor RFP, however, can have the opposite effect. You may get bids that won’t apply to you at all, or worse, suppliers may end up being the wrong fit, setting you up for a possible event disaster. The key to a good RFP is effective communication. RFPs can vary in length, scope, and format, depending on your audience and purpose for writing, but they all share common features. Reviewing some basic strategies before you sit down to write can be a time saver, whether you’re an experienced planner familiar with RFPs or a new planner composing one for the first time.

STEPS TO TAKE BEFORE YOU WRITE
Here’s where you can take a big sigh of relief: Writing a good RFP doesn’t have to be a daunting task. But it does require a little bit of time to get the facts straight, and to know exactly what you will need for your event. Before you put your fingers to the keyboard, consider the following: Event History What is the history of this event? Is this the first time the event has been held? This information will be important because you’ll want to include as much detail about your event in the RFP as possible. Jot down the properties you’ve used in the past, the rates you received, the attendance history, and so on. All of this information will help you compose an RFP that explains the parameters of the event and the price range you are expecting. If this is the first time you have held the event, you’ll want to mention that in the proposal, too. Requirements What do you want from the property or supplier? What do you need? These are distinct questions, so think about them carefully. Recognize what is absolutely necessary in terms of dates of the event, location and equipment. Then, think about the elements that would be nice to have, but are not absolutely necessary. Knowing the answers to these questions will help you clarify your end goal.

WHAT EVERY RFP SHOULD INCLUDE
Once you’ve taken these preliminary steps, you should be ready to tackle the RFP. Whether you are using a template or creating your own from scratch, your RFP will generally include the following:
1. Contact Information: Usually at the very beginning of the RFP. The name of your organization and event, and the contact information for the person receiving the proposals.
2. Event Overview: The event type; event start and end date; expected attendance; and time needed for set-up and break down.
3. Requirements: Description of the need for the property or service; location requirements; total numbers of specific items needed (e.g., hotel rooms, equipment; exhibit hall space, food and beverage); and an explanation of budget restrictions (e.g., room rate should not exceed “x” amount).
4. Timeline: Due date and decision date for the proposal.
5. Proposal Format and Content: Expectations for what the proposal must contain; criteria by which the proposal will be judged; and the name of the person bidders should contact if
they have questions.
Other details will depend on the type of event you are planning. Experts in RFP writing say what separates a good RFP from a great one is the amount of detail you provide. Generally speaking, more is better. If you can, provide a meeting agenda that lists all the day’s events such as breakout sessions, refreshment breaks and meals. This kind of detail will help your bidder determine if he or she is even able to meet your needs at all.

COMMON MISTAKES TO AVOID

Taking the time to write a detailed proposal will help you create a good RFP. But even experienced planners should be aware of a few pitfalls. First, experts say, when writing an RFP to a property, avoid “overshooting” on the number of rooms you will need. In the event that a large number of attendees don’t show, you will end up with a very unhappy supplier. Second, consider to whom you are sending the RFP and why. If you send RFPs to a company only because you are required by your organization to get multiple bids, but don’t plan to consider its proposal carefully, that company will probably catch on. To avoid the chance of irritating a potential supplier, you are better off sending RFPs to only those companies that you expect might be a good fit for your event needs.

SETTING DEADLINES AND SUBMITTING THE RFP
Most often, you will write your RFP a year or more in advance of the event, so you should be able to give your respondents ample time to create a quality proposal. Experts say giving the bidder two weeks from the day you’ve sent the proposal is generally sufficient, but as with any request in the business world, more time is always better. When you are ready to send the RFP, think about how you will submit it and to whom. If you are delivering the RFP by e-mail, be courteous and address it only to one supplier at a time instead of sending it to multiple parties at once. The subject line and body of the e-mail should reiterate your objective for sending the RFP. The professional presentation of the RFP will reflect the care that you expect suppliers to take when they respond to the RFP. Draw from the professional contacts you already have to find potential candidates for the RFP. Even if a supplier isn’t able to provide the service, they might know someone who can.

FOR MORE INFORMATION AND HELP WITH WRITING RFPs
For more information about RFPs, convention and visitors bureaus are an excellent resource. CVBs are generally more than happy to give you RFP writing tips and insight into what planners are looking for because their aim is to bring successful meetings and events to their area. Some CVBs may even offer to write and submit the RFP for you if you provide them with information about your meeting. Most also have RFP forms on their Websites that you can fill out and submit online. Finally, the Convention Industry Council  (CIC) has created several comprehensive templates designed to provide “consistent and thorough RFPs that address core information and unique needs.” Five RFP templates (Audio-Visual, Destination Management, Service Contractor, Single Facility, Transportation) and a Function Schedule and Function Set-Up Order are available as PDFs or Microsoft Word documents on the CIC’s Web site (http://conventionindustry.org/apex/panels/RFPs.htm).
With these resources and a little forethought, you should have no trouble creating a great RFP that brings in winning proposals.   MM&E

(Heather McNeill is a contributor from Kansas City, MO.)

About the author

Joe Clote

Joseph W. Clote is owner of Publishing Concepts, LLC a communications and marketing firm based in Saint Louis, Missouri. Mr. Clote is Group Publisher of MeetMed™ and Missouri Meetings & Events™ (MM&E) magazine, a quarterly publication read by thousands of meeting and event professionals, and producer of the St. Louis and Kansas City trade shows under the MM&E name. Mr. Clote has extensive sales and marketing expertise in the travel, tourism, fine art, insurance, and software development industries.