For exhibit and event professionals  

A Guide to Creating RFPs

April 30, 2014 By Editor

Whether you are bidding out a proposal yourself or working with procurement, whether you are using an online tool like Ariba or SAP eSourcing or releasing a paper RFP, creating a thoroughgoing request for proposal is a crucial first step in obtaining the services you will need for your next exhibit.

For many readers of eConnections who have been through this process, if not many times, certainly frequently, this first of two features on RFPs can serve as a refresher. It's so easy to get lost in the detail. It's important to remember the reasons why you are embarking on an RFP exercise in the first place. You want a better, more successful, cost-effective exhibit program to present your company's story in face-to-face encounters.

For exhibit projects, it’s not as simple as finding the cheapest bid and moving forward. Exhibit houses create custom products that incorporate the skills of marketing, advertising, public relations, architecture, interior design, carpentry, shipping and installation. You certainly want quality work done at a reasonable price, but going for the lowest bidder may be a decision you’ll live to regret.

This guide offers a checklist of the basics of the RFP process. Next month, we will feature a reading list on working with procurement.

After you have submitted your request either to procurement or your selected suppliers, use this list to help you evaluate the bidder that meets your needs and the goals of your exhibit.

Define the Mission

You need to tell bidders what your goals are. “Where do we want to go and how do we get there” should be your starting point. Include detailed information about your marketing mission, such as:

  • What you sell and how it gets sold.
  • What you have been doing at trade shows and why you are looking for a change.
  • What your strategy is for going to trade shows in the first place.
  • Where face-to-face marketing fits in the marketing mix.
  • Your definition of your ideal exhibit partner.
  • An honest declaration of the budget and how it is allocated.

Define the Job

Your next step is to adequately define your company profile and the tasks you are seeking from the bidding suppliers. Factors to consider might include:

  • Local, regional, national and international service.
  • The materials you will need to execute the job.
  • What resources you have at your disposal and what you will require of the bidder.
  • The time allowed for completing the job and the start date.

Once you have clearly defined the tasks required of the bidders, you are able to begin drafting the request for proposal. (AMC)

Draft Your RFP

Create an outline of the sections of your request for proposal in order to maintain order as you compose the final draft. An outline should consist of:

  1. The mission statement for your exhibit program.
  2. An introduction (derived from your definition of the job completed previously).
  3. The requirements of the job.
  4. The criteria by which the bidders will be judged. It is important to disclose your selection process to give bidders an opportunity to tailor their bid to highlight how best they can meet your specific guidelines.
  5. Your scheduled timeline of events. This timeline will show how you plan to move between each stage of the bidding process. Suppliers can get a general understanding of your desired pace and be well aware of the deadlines you set.

Be Specific in Your Requirements

Your request for proposal will likely draw exhibit houses with different skill sets. The more vague your RFP is, the more likely you are to invite groups that aren't suited to the task. The most important factor in making sure you will be choosing among only the most qualified proposals is your ability to be specific. Being specific means detailing exactly the kind of services you will need to accomplish the tasks at hand. You should be crystal clear about the resources you expect the bidder to bring to the job and what assets you will supply.

Time is also a factor that should not be left to chance. Failing to deliver specifics, including the time allowed for the job, can lead to an assignment that does not meet deadlines, contains cost overruns or, horrifyingly, an exhibit that is not ready in time. Avoid the ramifications of these kinds of failures by expressing your exact demands in the RFP. (PSS.Gov)

Sections of Your RFP

Here are five key sections of an average RFP. Each section serves a specific purpose and represents your clearest explanation of the services you are seeking. The basic ingredients of each section are as follows:

1. Introduction

  • Introduce your company and its goals for the project.
  • Highlight the subsequent sections (summary of the task, important dates on the timeline).
  • State the proposal due date and address for submissions.
  • Include a cut off date for bidder questions.

2. Requirements

  • Specifics on the size and scope of the job. (It's best to present a yearly program.)
  • Resources needed from the winning bidder. Ex. Assets, people, specialized skills.
  • Resources available from elsewhere.
  • Special instructions or considerations that may complicate the undertaking.
  • References from previous similar projects.
  • Portfolio of project examples that give insight into the bidder's experience.

3. Selection Criteria

  • Explain the evaluation process.
  • Detail the timeline for reviewing proposals.
  • Explain in general what the winning bid would look like from your perspective.

4. Timelines and Financial Considerations

  • State the financial guidelines.
  • State the proposal submission deadline.
  • Explain when the winning bid will be awarded.
  • Detail your expectation of action (related to time) once the bid is awarded.
  • Disclose the project completion deadline.

5. The Process

The process is an overview of the entire sequence of events from the publication of your RFP, to the biding process, through the awarding of the bid, and finally to the completion of the project.

Evaluating Bids

After completing the exhaustive work in detailing all aspects of the request for proposal, the proposal goes out to bid or goes to procurement for evaluation and distribution.  The next important milestone is evaluating the bids and selecting the supplier that represents your best bet at getting your project done effectively and for the right price. Price is a factor in this selection, but basing a decision solely on cost puts your project in danger of receiving substandard work from a low bidder.

An organized approach, comparing “apples to apples,” will go far in helping you determine who the winning bidder will be. First, weigh what is being offered against the strict requirements of your task.

If there is a design component in your RFP, and you have stated a budget, ask (or require) that all designs meet that budget number. Not above or below, but exactly that number. This will guarantee an easy evaluation of the submissions as they will all come in at the same cost. And, it will earn the respect of the bidders who know they are playing on a fair level field.

Immediately eliminate any bids that do not show an ability to meet your criteria. If the contractor has not addressed the requirements in your RFP, you can be sure that one of two things are at play; either the bidder is not up to the task or they do not pay attention to detail. In either case, move on. (Vanguard)

After the bids have been reduced to those who are most qualified, it is vital to evaluate the reputation and references of the bidding groups, and the prices they bid for their services. Your winning bid should be the supplier who:

  • Followed the requirements of your proposal to the letter.
  • Demonstrated experience and a track record of success in handling similar jobs.
  • Accepted your timeline and agreed to meet all of the deadlines you’ve established.
  • Proposed a price that is commensurate with the range of competing bids.

A full-fledged RFP process can take from three to five months of your time working with your marketing team and/or procurement. With diligence, you can do it, inspired by the goal of a more successful exhibit program and a strategic partner in your exhibit house.



 Next Month: Part 2 of “A Guide to Creating RFPs” – “A Reading List for Working with Procurement”


  • I would also add what format is acceptable. Are electronic submissions acceptable? If so, what format (pdf’s via email, word documents on flash drives, etc.)? If a hard copy is required, do you also require copies? If so, how many?

    • Apologies, Jill, for this delayed reply. More and more we find that online submissions are the name of the game these days. Ariba and SAP Sourcing seem to be the most popular. Some requests require digital uploads. Many requests require Word documents that are editable and in a pre-determined format. It’s really all up to the business group writing the RFP.

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