A friend of mine, an architect, has an expression he repeats frequently, \u201cR.F.P equals R.I.P.\u201d A pretty glib (and glum) sentiment that reflects, I think, the dread and futility many of us have about responding to a competitive bid request where the competition is unknown, the budgets aren\u2019t divulged and, often, the criteria is muddy.In our office, we just got through responding to a number of RFPs. They left us somewhat frustrated, as we hit the \u2018send\u2019 button on our email client and watched our message-in-a-bottle float out to sea, pondering what its ultimate fate might be.In the spirit of constructive venting, I\u2019ve decided that maybe I could turn my frustrations into a teachable moment. Seize the day. Be a Smarty Pants. In that spirit, then, a few thoughts \u2013 directed at those marketing professionals putting together an RFP for web design or digital marketing.My first gripe: I\u2019ll show you mine but you won\u2019t show me yours?First off, let\u2019s get to the point which frustrates all shops in new client negotiations, whether we\u2019re talking a request for proposal or, generally, any new project. That point is budget.Why is it that RFP authors or clients expect detailed cost breakdowns, on the one hand, and yet fail to disclose even the broadest preferences about project budget themselves? Let\u2019s be honest here: every marketer being asked to put together an RFP has a budget \u2013 or at least a range \u2013 they need their responses to fall within. So why is that range guarded like a state secret? The reality to our bidding strategy is always that we attempt to adjust to client expectations, both in terms of budget and results. Tell us your expectations and budget up front, and we\u2019ll design a response to suit.Of course, what is really going on here, from the RFP author\u2019s perspective is insecurity. The thinking is that, by divulging price preferences, responders will float to the top of whatever range that\u2019s given. But, that just doesn\u2019t make sense from the agency\u2019s perspective. The project is being competitively bid. We know that and we know that it is just as likely that a desperate competitor will sink to the lower end of the given range, just to get the work. Giving us a range actually allows us to better match our response to your expectations.My second gripe: How can the playing field be equal if I can\u2019t see who I\u2019m playing against?All successful studios or agencies relish competition. It\u2019s why we enter awards competitions. Our work only looks great if there\u2019s something to compare it to. But we want to know who we\u2019re competing against, which is only reasonable. As another agency blog writes, \u201cLet\u2019s use the NFL as an example. The Steelers know they are playing the Ravens opening day. And because they know this, they will put a plan together that maximizes their strengths against the Ravens\u2019 weaknesses. If they didn\u2019t know who they were playing, they would simply play it \u201csafe\u201d. If your job is to decide which team will provide the best game plan for YOU \u2013 then make them compete.\u201dMy third gripe: The process just doesn\u2019t make any sense.Lastly, let\u2019s establish this: most RFPs outline a workflow that doesn\u2019t make sense for digital.Need an example? Well, fine, then; one comes immediately to mind. In nearly all the RFPs we respond to, we\u2019re asked to present layout options for at least \u2018three separate concepts.\u2019 Most designers I know hate this rigid insistence on \u2018three (or four) separate concepts.\u2019 Here\u2019s why:For most smaller studios, working in design teams of 1 \u2013 2 people, our first idea is usually the strongest. It\u2019s not that we\u2019re only capable of one good idea at a time, it\u2019s just that, in our experience, our first is usually our best. Yet we\u2019re required to produce three, four or more. What that means is we spend an unnecessary amount of time refining and developing ideas which aren\u2019t our best, just to satisfy an arbitrary requirement. As a client, ask yourself this, would you rather have us fully elaborate on what we think our best idea (s) are, or spend that time on pushing out a third (or fourth) less inspired concept?Requiring three or four \u2018layout options\u2019 always creates a Frankenstein Monster. Here\u2019s a little secret we\u2019ve learned about decision making, from the client\u2019s perspective: it is often influenced by insecurities which result in making compromises intended to please multiple stakeholders. Often, in our experience, this leads to clients needing to assemble a design by combining the initial palette of choices into a Chinese menu. \u201cUmmm, yes\u2026 we\u2019d like the header from layout 1, and, oh, can we embed the form from layout 3 and use the form pop-up button from layout 2?\u201d The problem with this response, of course, is that there are usually big ideas behind each layout; an integrity and sense of self for each ‘big concept.’ Think of each layout idea as one of your children. Would you get the perfect child if you combined the nose of your oldest with the eyes of your second born and the torso of your third born? Probably not. You\u2019d get Frankenstein child.Finally, requiring so many layout options limits our ability to illustrate nuance and interaction. The underlying problem with the \u2018show me three static layouts\u2019 point of view is that it derives from a previous era of print design. When showing annual report or brochure ideas, static layouts certainly made sense. But, in order to fully illustrate digital, things like menu states, rollovers, and slider elements, should really part of the initial presentation. Given our preferences, we might even choose to scrap the idea of static layouts and show our clients working web-based mockups. Because these require a greater time commitment, though, we\u2019re unlikely to offer these if we\u2019re adhering to rigid RFP requirement of 3 or 4 mandatory layout options.My conclusionSadly, the standard conditions under which an RFP are released offer a very lopsided proposition for the potential development partner. Some agencies even forego most opportunities. However, as this article has tried to point out, there are concerns an RFP issuer can address to make the process fairer and, to their benefit, more attractive to top flight development partners. Ultimately, the process needs to be one which facilitates dialogue and not a one way issuance of criteria the agency is expected to meet.