Nine strategies to energize government marketing RFPs

By Tom Aiello and Ted Wadsworth

In military recruiting’s “do more with less” culture, marketing and contracting officers are facing a big challenge.  America’s booming economy, low unemployment rate, and a glut of nearly seven million unfilled jobs have military recruiting in a fierce battle with civilian employers and universities to attract qualified candidates.  Add to this the fact that 71 percent of 17 to 24-year-old Americans are ineligible for military service; it’s easy to see why the military is always looking for new ways to leverage online marketing to attract more and better prospects without increased budgets.

As veterans and owners of a military veteran-focused marketing firm, we’ve reviewed and responded to countless government marketing requests for proposals (RFP) and requests for quotes (RFQ).  In doing so, we have noticed a significant variance in how these documents are written and in their effectiveness in achieving their end goals.  From this, we’ve developed nine strategies to help energize marketing RFPs to drive greater and more cost-effective results.

1. Don’t just focus on price

Many military recruitment media RFPs we’ve seen in the past focus primarily on price with little emphasis on quality. Quality media enables you to zero-in on the qualified prospects who are most likely to be receptive to your message. It does this by serving your ad to just people who meet your targeting criteria.  Known information like an online user’s demographic profile, online behavior, and career aspirations inform how they will likely respond to your ad messages.

A recruitment media RFP that fails to include detailed media quality standards is more than likely to also fail to deliver quality results.  In addition to the type and amount of media required, effective RFPs clearly outline target audience demographic, geographic and behavioral targeting requirements.  This enables vendors to develop technical approaches which include media capable of reaching your target audience and delivering your desired results. Failing to do so increases the potential your contract award will be to a vendor whose unrealistically low-price limits them to poorly-targeted remnant media incapable of delivering quality leads.

Unfortunately, we see far many RFPs that say something like, “The contractor will deliver two million media impressions to drive recruiting,” without providing guidance on click-through-rates, lead generations goals, contract conversion rates, and other quality specifications.  That’s like issuing an RFP which states, “The contractor will deliver 2 million pairs of combat boots for contingency operations.”  What sizes of boots? What type and quality?.  You seem quality is important for both the contract and the mission.

2. Provide detailed background – A detailed background section is essential to ensure marketing vendors can view your requirements within a broader context. Understanding your “pain points,” successful and unsuccessful tactics you’ve tried before, constraints and other information help marketing vendors develop more realistic and potentially beneficial technical approaches.   It also will enable them to leverage experience they gained working with other clients facing needs and challenges like yours.

3.  Marketing know-how - Have someone with marketing acumen assist in writing and reviewing RFPs to ensure they provide the information marketing vendors will need in terms they understand.  Like most other technical fields, marketing has a language all its own.  There are big differences between Cost Per Thousand (CPM), Cost Per Click (CPC), Cost Per View (CPV), Cost Per Completed View (CPCV), and Cost Per Lead (CPL).  Each defines a different denomination to buy media, and each has advantages and disadvantages.  Having a marketing-smart member of your RFP team can help avoid ambiguity, reduce the number of vendor questions and time required to answer them and reduce cost while improving program results. 

4. Campaign goals – A RFP’s performance work statement (PWS) or Statement of Objectives (SOO) is intended to communicate the purpose, mission, performance objective, and other information vendors need in developing their solutions.  Share your mission and recruiting focus and list priority career fields which need to be filled.  In marketing, it is critical to clearly define campaign goals.  Military recruiting campaigns generally have one of two main purposes, to create awareness or generate leads. Note: For ease of illustrations, we will use “RFP” alone to represent both RFP and RFQs throughout this article.

  • Awareness – Awareness campaigns are generally directed at members of your target audience to introduce or reinforce what they know about your brand.   Awareness is important and has a role in an overall recruiting campaign.  Brand awareness seeks to get a prospect to consider your offering and creates better results for your lead-generating media vehicles.  While awareness ads may result in some lead generation, that is not their primary purpose.

  • Leads generation – Lead generations campaigns can use a variety of online media to target, connect with and influence target audience members to provide their personal contact information.  Lead generation campaigns are the bread and butter of recruiting because they deliver the most reliable and fastest way to empower recruiters to connect with prospects.

5. Target audience – The better you define your audience; the better able vendors are to develop media strategies to reach and connect with them.  For example, if you need to drive leads for your minority or special missions, provide those details.  Which minority groups, African American, Hispanic? Officer or enlisted? Even describing personality traits can help in targeting the right candidates.  The media placement, message and ad creative used to deliver leads for African American females for a medical service requirement are much different from that used to drive leads for a special forces unit.  Again, the more specific, the greater the chance your marketing vendor can deliver results within a given budget. 

6.  Scope of Work – The SOW tells marketing vendors exactly what they will be contractually obligated to deliver.    It should be specific and detail the deliverable quality requirements and delivery schedule.  Keep in mind that you can break your deliverables into phases for budgeting, timing, or resources.  A good SOW not only helps vendors create better technical approaches but also helps them assess how well their solution fits your requirements.  This reduces the number of unacceptable proposals and improves the quality of those that are submitted.

7. Set measurable performance benchmarks - Setting realistic benchmarks is also important.    Click-through rates, reach, frequency, impression to lead conversion rates, and other metrics are available and should be included in your quality requirements. This is where your marketing expert can help you understand and set realistic goals.  The best RFPs require vendors to provide hard data on the key marketing metrics they produced in past contracts.  Data such as the number of impressions, click-through rates, leads generated and the number of enlistments delivered by recruiters are all good indicators of a vendor’s ability to deliver in military marketing.  It’s also a good idea to ask vendors to estimate results they expect to deliver. This means better performance for your program and less risk.  Asking vendors to report key performance indicators they’ve achieved in past military efforts is much like asking students to share their school grades. Those with As and Bs will do so with pride while those with Cs and Ds with likely be less enthusiastic.  Make sure your RFPs are designed to distinguish between and result in awards to “A” quality vendors.

8. Past performance evaluation – Most evaluation sections include assessments of vendors’ past performance in contracts “of a similar size and scope,” but what does that mean regarding the type of experience that is relevant to you?  To enable evaluators to truly assess a vendor’s past performance, you should be more specific.  How do you define “similar size and scope”?  Does that mean past performance in recruiting?  In military recruiting?  This is important because military marketing is a nuanced practice that requires specialized knowledge and skills..   Also, be sure to verify claims when checking references, especially with it come to the hard data they report on key metrics.  Speak to prior contract officers and program managers.  You will find out very quickly which vendors have relevant past performance to drive success for your mission and which ones are the “D” students.

9.  Pricing benchmarks – To understand how much it should cost to accomplish your goals, do your homework.  There is a lot of variance in the quality and effectiveness of marketing media.   By understanding how much you should expect to pay, you will be able to see when a vendor bid is based on “remnant,” low-quality or non-targeted media, that will likely result in few quality recruiting leads.

About MARCH Marketing, LLC

MARCH Marketing provides best-in-class military and veteran expertise to inform strategy, marketing, and services to commercial, government, and non-profit clients.  With offices in Chicago, the agency is one of few that provide these types of world-class marketing and consulting services, and the only with deep expertise into the military and veteran audience.  When it comes to strategy and communications to military and veterans, MARCH is the agency to call.  For more information, visit us at