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The Princess Buttercup Guide to Creative Services RFPs

Remember the scene from The Princess Bride after Westley has rescued the Princess Buttercup from the lightning sand? It goes like this…

Buttercup: “We’ll never succeed. We may as well die here.”

Westley: “No, no. We have already succeeded. I mean, what are the three terrors of the Fire Swamp? One, the flame spurt – no problem. There’s a popping sound preceding each; we can avoid that. Two, the lightning sand, which you were clever enough to discover what that looks like, so in the future we can avoid that too.”

Buttercup: “Westley, what about the R.O.U.S.’s?”

Westley: “Rodents Of Unusual Size? I don’t think they exist.”

If you are thinking about creating an RFP for your website redesign (or other similar creative project), I applaud you. It means that you want to be responsible with your organization’s budget and make sure you get the best possible partner to achieve your goals.

The thing you should know is that RFPs have a terrible reputation with creative agencies. They’re like being trapped in the Fire Swap. This has spawned a whole genre of articles warning agencies to never participate in RFPs (Like this one: R.I.P. RFP), and led to jokes about RFP responses only consisting of the agencies that are so desperate they have no other options.

There’s plenty of truth to this: the best agencies are too busy delighting their current clients to invest the significant resources in a time-intensive, low probability process. This is why for many years we had a strict policy of doing no RFPs. I have come to soften this stance recently as I have learned from many of our clients that they just don’t know how to buy creative services.

My goal with this article is to provide you with some guidance on how to create an RFP that will help you to attract the best possible partners and have the most efficient selection process. Just like Westley and Buttercup, I think there’s a perfect agency for you out there, and I’d love to see you ride off into the sunset happily ever after.

3 Principles for a Successful RFP

RFP Principle #1: Keep it Short
Long RFPs are drag to read, and are usually full of all sorts of unnecessary details and requirements that aren’t relevant to crafting a good solution. The best RFPs that I have seen are 1 page, 2 pages tops. Contact us if you’d like to see an example.

RFP Principle #2: Focus on Outcomes, not Requirements
Good creative agencies are full of people who solve problems for a living — it’s why people hire us, and it’s how we delight our clients. Share your objectives for the project and the outcomes that you want to achieve, and let the agencies that are interested tell you how they would like to solve them.

RFP Principle #3: Don’t Be Afraid of Conversation
Most creative projects involve a TON of interaction between you and your agency — you’ll want them to understand your market, your business model, your brand, and a million other things. Over the next several months you’ll be spending more time together than Inigo and Fezzik, so make sure you spend some time together before you get started.

One last thought: you may want to consider a paid analysis and recommendations process before you issue an RFP. We have worked with a number of clients successfully in this way to help them better understand the opportunity and key criteria for their project. This will help you to know that you’re getting an agency’s best thinking, and the agency will believe that you are not only serious, but a potentially good business partner. As you know, agencies are screening clients as much or more than the reverse.



You want to do what’s right for your organization and we want to do what’s right for our agency. Don’t make your RFP like the Fire Swamp, and then the agency of your dreams will respond to your request for a proposal with those 3 magic words…

“As you wish.”


Want help crafting your RFP? Contact us for some good examples and a brief consultation.