Agencies, Here’s Why Your Proposals Suck: Survey

At Agency Geek, we’re all about efficiency. We want agencies to win more of the right business. And we want businesses to hire the right agency – the first time. Well, turns out proposals are a big part of that (yes, that’s sarcasm, ladies and gentlemen). Agency clients consistently rank the proposal as one of the most important pieces of the agency selection puzzle (second only to the agency team itself: character, personality, etc.).

With this in mind, we surveyed more than 1,000 businesses currently on Agency Geek looking to find the right agency partner for advertising, PR, digital marketing and/or web design. What follows are the top 10 reasons for turning down your proposals.

No. 10: You haven’t provided a background on your agency

Seems obvious, right? You’re sending a proposal to a potential client for a $15,000/month digital marketing retainer. Clearly the powers that be have done their background research and studied up on your agency. Wrong. The truth is that your proposal is getting passed from desk to desk, executive to executive – and many of these people have no information other than what’s included in your proposal.

“You’d be surprised how often we weed out an agency simply because their proposal gets passed around the marketing department and people don’t know anything about them.” – CEO, national hotel chain

No. 9You haven’t provided information on the team

“We want to know who you are. We want to know who is servicing this account. But most importantly, we want to know your VP isn’t dishing us off to three junior account executives with little experience. Tell us about the team!” – CMO, regional restaurant chain

No. 8: You spell like a second grader

There’s simply no excuse for grammar and spelling mistakes in a proposal. It’s the easiest way to have your proposal filed in the nearest trash receptacle.

“If you can’t take the time to proofread your work, what makes me think you’re going to have the attention to detail that I need for my business? Worse, what happens if you’re sending out marketing copy riddled with errors? At that point, you’re messing with my business and my brand. No way I’m taking a chance on that.” – VP of Marketing, iOS mobile gaming app

No. 7: You prepared a novel

There are times when it’s appropriate to submit a 20-page proposal, particularly if you are dealing with corporate enterprises and national or international chains. Most of the time, though, it’s one giant waste of time – for the person writing it and the person reading it. Say what you need to say as efficiently and effectively as possible. Your potential clients will thank you for it.

No. 6: You prepared a Post-It note

On the flip side, turning in a one-pager for a $20K/month PR campaign is, as they say, no bueno.

“I’m not cutting a check that big for someone who couldn’t sit down and put some thought into my campaign.” – Communications Coordinator, major retail outlet

No. 5: Yawn. You’re really boring

When businesses start looking for an agency – be it for advertising, marketing, PR, branding or web design – do you have any idea how many proposals they have to read? We’ll clue you in. Even on Agency Geek, which offers one of the most efficient RFP processes known to man, the average client sorts through no less than eight proposals before selecting the right partner for the job. Outside of Agency Geek, that number more than doubles. So let’s say the average proposal runs about six pages. That’s 48 pages worth of reading for this hypothetical prospect.

“It’s all ‘we do this’ and ‘I offer that’ and ‘here’s a list of our services.’ I can already see myself falling asleep at my computer. Please, for the sake of all of us, write something unique! Be interesting! Try and stand out a little. Sheesh!” – CEO, NYC-based tech startup

No. 4: You’ve not displayed any understanding of the industry and/or the brand

“We’re about to pay you big bucks to market our product, but whether or not you understand the industry we’re in is anyone’s guess. The proposals we select are from people who have clearly done their research.” – CEO, consumer packaged food product

No. 3: You haven’t provided any case studies (or they’re really bad)

So, um, how about sending your potential client a few examples of the outstanding work you do? A good case study is one of the best sales weapons in your arsenal. Actions speak a lot louder than words, so always be sure to showcase previous work rather than trust a potential client to take your word for it.

Oh, and don’t be lazy about it. Each and every case study should be customized for the client. Please, no templates here. Speaking of which…

No. 2: You sent a garbage template proposal

“Congrats, you can copy and paste. We’re so impressed. Thanks for putting the time and hard work into this proposal. You actually helped me out; one less thing to review.” CMO, technology consulting firm

And the No. 1 reason your proposal sucks…

No. 1: You haven’t explained your strategy

So you’re going to increase online sales by 3 percent in Q3? And you’re going to land your client top-tier media coverage to help increase brand awareness and drive? Or maybe you’re going to re-design your client’s website for a more modern, edgy feel? Awesome!


“For me, how is the most important question. It’s also the only one to which I really need an answer. A lot of agencies say they are going to accomplish grand goals. It’s the ones that put a real plan on paper that catch my eye. Suddenly you’ve differentiated yourself.” – VP, multi-million dollar healthcare/medical facility

Use this information to your advantage. Prepare better proposals. Win more business.

Geeks, out.


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