5 Ways to Disrupt an Outdated Event Marketing RFP System

November 15, 2021

The Request for Proposal (RFP) process is… well, a process. A ton of work and resources are necessary for writing and executing them. And on the vendor side, a ton of work and resources are required for crafting what they hope is an award-winning proposal. Not many people enjoy them, yet for some businesses, RFPs are mandatory for making purchases — including investments for a corporate trade show and event marketing partner.  

At Steelhead, we value and respect the RFP process. But we also know that the traditional RFP process for trade show and event marketing providers is flawed. The process that may have yielded favorable results for companies 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago, is no longer leading to lasting, mutually respected client/vendor relationships. Relying on an outdated RFP process for modern events means that most exhibitors are selling themselves short.  

Look, we understand that choosing a new exhibit provider is a decision that can’t be made lightly. Not only is it a substantial investment of your marketing budget, but it’s also a crucial partnership for event marketers — the performance of the trade show provider can literally make or break an event, of which the responsibility lies on the event planner.  

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That’s why we’re sharing a few tactics we’ve seen repeatedly in award-winning RFPs that have led to successful and long-lasting partnerships.

  1. Do your research upfront.
    There are hundreds of options out there for exhibit providers, and we all do things a little (or a lot!) differently from one another. Before writing the RFP, do some research to narrow down the exhaustive list to 3-4 top contenders for your event marketing business.

    A good place to start is at your next trade show. Walk the floor during setup and observe. Whose exhibits are coming together without a lot of drama? Whose exhibit design stopped you in your tracks? Take note of the exhibit provider’s name and logo on the crates.

    Also, ask your industry friends for referrals. Who are they working with, and what do they do well?
  2. Don’t overlook the creative process.
    The RFP process can be very helpful when it allows creative agencies to demonstrate their work and processes, in a way that also gives you a glimpse into the organization and the people behind it.  

    Exhibit designers are not as willing as they used to be to give away “free” design, even for an RFP. Instead, ask the contenders to describe their creative process in detail, with previous examples, to give you an idea if they’re collaborative enough and whether or not they stay on top of industry trends.
  3. Be relentlessly curious. Deciding on the winning trade show provider shouldn’t come down to solely design or price. When written well, RFPs can elicit engaging responses that will show a glimpse into how the business is run, who your team members are and what they’re like, and whether or not you’re a good fit culturally. Because studies have shown that happy people do better work.  

    Not sure where to start? Here are some thought-provoking questions you may want to consider adding to your next RFP.  
  4. Don’t rely on electronic submittals alone.
    As we’ve mentioned, the “submit and wait” RFP method of yesterday no longer yields the best results for either company. You’re not buying widgets or commodities and just shopping on price, or at least you shouldn’t be.

    You’re investing in an experience that will ultimately lead to increased sales, more brand impressions, and deeper relationships with your prospects and customers. This should be worth the time for at least a meeting or presentation with each contender.  
  5. Take a tour. Visit your contenders’ facilities to find out what it’s like inside their organization. Having a visceral reaction as to whether or not you’re a good fit for one another is invaluable in choosing the right exhibit partner. As we say here at Steelhead, trust the vibe!

Steelhead has always been a disrupter in the trade show and corporate marketing event industry, introducing concepts such as truly customizable rental exhibits with guaranteed pricing, all while having fun along the way (what, like it’s hard?!). We believe that with some modernized tweaks to the RFP process, we can disrupt a system that no longer works for event clients and vendors alike.  

Ultimately,  you’re going to spend an incredible amount of time working with your next trade show partner as they become an extension of your marketing team. By doing more research upfront and spending quality time with each top contender, the end result will be hugely beneficial for both companies.