Newport’s John Pannell: “Ask for a Test Package, Not a Proposal”

In the November/December 2005 issue of NEDMA News, John Pannell, Founder and President of Newport Creative Communications (which, in the spirit of full disclosure, is the agency for which I work), questions the traditional client-agency RFP process.

John Pannell
Founder and President of Newport Creative Communications

“Personally, I don’t think nonprofit organizations should be making any big decisions about the future of their fundraising programs based on proposals received from a short list of direct response fundraising agencies,” writes John.

“Don’t send out that RFP and trust that the best proposal necessarily represents the best agency for you. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that your suitors’ references aren’t carefully selected to provide only the most flattering recommendations. Don’t mistake charisma for capability or promises for results.”

His suggestion?

“Clearly, there are many good agencies out there. But instead of asking for a proposal, why not ask for a test package? It’s quick, easy and objective. And the best part is you can use the results as a basis for your decision.”

Adds John: “The bottom line is that proposals have their shortcomings, while testing provides objective, conclusive evidence of an agency’s capabilities. After testing has been completed, you may discover that your current agency is doing a fantastic job for you. You may find a way to improve your direct mail fundraising program. Or you may find that it really is time for a change.”

To read John Pannell’s article, “I Would Like to Propose a Test,” in its entirety, click here.

“I Would Like to Propose a Test,” by John Pannell, Founder and President of Newport Creative Communications, originally appeared in the September 2005 issue of FundRaising Success magazine.

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One Response to Newport’s John Pannell: “Ask for a Test Package, Not a Proposal”

  1. Jeff Brooks says:

    I agree that agency RFPs can be a pretty lousy way to find out what an agency can do for you. I also agree that asking for a test package would show you what an agency can pull off in your real world. I disagree, though, that simply commissioning a test package will tell you what you need to know to hire an agency. Unless you intend to use your agency as a one-trick vendor, a test package won’t tell you some very important things, like:
    – Does the agency share your values?
    – Do they have the wherewithall to take you places you haven’t even dreamed about going?
    – Can the agency help you beyond direct mail to alternative media, online, broadcast, and more?
    – Will the agency own your budgets and long-term outcomes — not just the performance of one campaign at a time?

    I know many nonprofits prefer vendor-type relationships over true partnerships. Many of the agencies that serve them are comfortable with that too. But that mentality really shackles nonprofit growth, keeps them in the direct-mail box, stifles creativity, and nurtures a destructive silo mentality that makes innovation nearly impossible.

    The decision to hire an agency is more important than one-shot direct mail performance. Get more information than that!