Ad agencies spend a good deal of money, time and effort trying to win business through the formal agency review process. Sometimes, the client doesn't even take the time to look at the proposals.

That's what ad agency Ignited learned when it submitted a proposal to Zappos in response to the web retailer's call for submissions to win its $7 million account.

Zappos put out a request for proposals to 16 agencies this spring. But when their RFP was printed in AdWeek, Zappo's expanded the search to let in more submissions. Eventually 104 agencies submitted proposals to win Zappos' business.

But when Ignited started looking at the analytics of their proposal, they found Zappos spent less than five minutes with it.

Ignited CEO Mike Wolfsohn wrote a post about the process on the company's blog, saying that his company had submitted its proposal despite misgivings with the RFP process:

"Like more than 80 other shops around the country, we were lured by the Zappos cattle call. The red flags were hard to miss: the RFP was posted on (so much for carefully screening the participants) and the brief asked for “storyboards and mock-ups” to be included in the first-round response (premature to say the least). But the temptation of winning the Zappos account was even harder to resist."

But more than the RFP process which many agencies have had to make peace with, it was the response that really became a problem. Ignite created a blog as part of its proposal, which had the side benefit of tracking how much time Zappos spent looking at it. And the company learned that Zappos spent time on only five of the 25 pages on Ignite's blog proposal, with an average page-view time of just 14 seconds.

Wolfsohn continued: "If as an industry, we can’t agree to stop giving away our services for free, the least we can do is demand some respect from those who benefit from our generosity."

Wolfsohn's post has been picked up and retweeted numerous times since it went up on Monday. And when it got picked up by The Ad Contrarian today, Zappos responded. Aaron Magness from the company's business development department wrote that after the company's RFP printed in AdWeek, submissions grew from 16 to 104:

"There may be some speculation that we should not have allowed anyone else to participate that was not on the original invite list. However, it's pretty obvious that no one was forced to participate. I'm actually very happy we did allow more to be involved because we went on to invite an additional six agencies to come in for in-person presentations. Please note that we had the same time to read their submissions as we did those we passed on, so those really stood out."

A Zappos rep say says that "The Ignited post has created a fantastic dialogue between clients and agencies," but it looks as though Zappos got in over its head with the RFP process. Which is an unusual misstep for a company that is known for a usually responsive social media presence.

Marc Schiller, CEO of Electric Artists, says opening up the process was a bad move on Zappos part: "They could have done their homework. This cattle call approach is just too easy for a brand that knows it is obviously attractive tor an agency to have....This probably came upon them very quickly. But at the end of the day, it definitely wasn't handled right."

Wolfsohn did not enjoy the process of pitching to Zappos. He writes at The Ad Contrarian:

"When we're told up front 'there will be 12 agencies in round one, then we'll cut to 3 that will be invited to make formal presentations,' we base our decision to invest on that information. When we later learn that 20 agencies were invited to the first round and six were invited to make in-person presentations, it's analogous to placing a bet and having the spread changed in the middle of the game."

But he's more concerned that people start looking at the details of the pitch process. He tells Econsultancy:

"My hope was to use this high-profile review as a platform to get people talking about what’s wrong with the pitch process, then hopefully turn all of that conversation into change... That’s the whole point of applying analytics to a business: to learn, to improve, to optimize"

Meghan Keane

Published 14 July, 2009 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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Comments (3)


cherry wright

I don't understand your surprise that a company like Zappos would do this. It's likely that any company using social media is only as good or as bad as any other company. I don't understand the logic that a company like Zappos that uses social media is a 'good' company because of it. It's marketing. 'Social' media is a slogan and slogans usually cover what is really happening. Zappos co-opts people as unpaid Avon reps to sell its average products. To me that's anti-social media. It's faustian, selling your soul.     

about 9 years ago

Meghan Keane

Meghan Keane, US Editor at Econsultancy


Zappos goes out of its way to reach out to customers and make sure they are satisfied with their experience using Zappos. I don't think it is too much of an extension to think they would also be concerned with treating vendors and agencies well. It's just as easy for a partner to go online and complain about their experience with the company, as Mike Wolfsohn did here.

about 9 years ago


Suzanne McElroy

I have several issues with this comment that Ignited CEO Mike Wolfsohn made: "If as an industry, we can't agree to stop giving away our services for free, the least we can do is demand some respect from those who benefit from our generosity."  I am not in the advertising business - I am a business owner who has potential clients calling daily (OK, maybe not every single day) inquiring about our senior-care services.  In order to determine whether they will hire us as service providers, as well as to determine whether we are an appropriate provider for their needs, I always visit the potential client.  Sometimes it results in an agreement, sometimes they take the information I have provided them (including basic education as to their options) and proceed to a competitor.  This is the way business works.

To "demand" respect of clients or potential clients (as I consider everyone a "potential client") is a ludicrous position, and one that indicates a lack of leadership.  One NEVER demands respect, one always earns it.  As to giving away your services for free, that should only be done when it increases bottom-line profits.  If it is not increasing them, don't do it.  If if is increasing them, then I would suggest that it is a successful move, and not one to be complained about.   

about 9 years ago

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