How to Craft a Better RFP

Why you should update and perfect your requests for proposal

Are you planning to use the same requests for proposal you used in 2008 (or even earlier) in 2009? Savvy planners know that from year to year and event to event, circumstances change regarding number of attendees, space requirements, etc. It stands to reason that RFPs should be customized to evolve accordingly.

This process requires both strategic and introspective analysis of the event, with elements such as content and structure evaluated from year to year (assuming the events are annual).

It's important to note that RFPs apply to more than meeting and sleeping rooms; due diligence (and most procurement departments) require at least three bids for virtually all third-party activities. That said, you could need to generate 10 to 15 RFPs for a large multiday conference, for aspects of the program such as special events, general contractors, security, A/V and catering.

Preparing multiple RFPs can be tedious. Nearly everyone at some point clones a previous RFP to save time. But at what sacrifice? RFPs are in many ways the initial blueprints for the program, and ideally we should assume neurotic perfectionism when creating them.

Lay It All Out
Following are tips on what to include/update in RFPs:

Profile. Include information about the type of company or organization sponsoring the event (but not the company name, if confidentiality is required). It helps to let prospective suppliers know the type of industry the event is targeting. If the company business model is obscure, take extra effort to provide examples of products and services. An attendee profile also is helpful. Include information such as gender breakdown, age groups, etc.

Space. Do your homework to anticipate growth or attrition in attendance from the previous year or event.

• Location, venue and/or content.
Changes in these areas can affect your attendance dramatically. It is well worth the time and effort to weigh such factors in preparing the RFP.

History. Include a history of the event, such as where it was held before, how many rooms were used, etc., so vendors have tangible examples to use as reference.

Key specs for F&B and A/V must be very detailed, including anticipated attendance for meals and setup times between events.

Miscellaneous. Here's where you can give helpful information about the group's quirks, such as whether they tend to stay up late and hit the bars or place heavy demands on room service.

Be Honest
Provide as many details and as much background as possible to your vendors. For example, don't fudge on your hotel pickup or overall attendance figures. Honesty and integrity are particularly important in today's world, when confirming your credibility is merely a call or Google search away. Conversely, do not even think of sending an RFP to a vendor that you don't plan to use or accepting a proposal from a vendor that you have not invited to bid.

Similarly, you might be responsible for protecting proprietary information for your company or client. Although it is customary to send out a confidential RFP with company/client names deleted, it is often relatively easy to figure out the identity of the company in question. How do you ensure this data does not leak? You must include very specific language regarding the confidentiality and the nontransferable nature of the RFP.

When all is said and done, the goal of a meeting or show is to increase revenue annually, thus ensuring its continuation. Redesigning the specs, goals and objectives of a meeting can breathe new life into a repeat program and help extend its life cycle.

Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM, is a meeting and event consultant based in San Carlos, Calif.