The Scourge of Transactional RFPs

Raj Chauhan is president of North America and Europe at Adslot, a provider of publisher technology for guaranteed programmatic ad buying.

That transactional RFPs sound harmless belies their hyper-competitive, resource-draining nature that often results in publisher frustration. Countless hours are spent on research, emails and meetings with buyers grinding publishers’ sales teams on rates.  After it’s all said and done, often the “we decided to go with someone else — thanks, let’s stay friends” email is sent out.

Transactional RFPs are those innocuous looking requests that flood into publisher inboxes on a daily basis for standard banner campaign. They include client objectives, key metrics, timing, creative formats and budget and are often a booking request asking publishers to confirm availability and pricing. Should the business be awarded, the real fun begins executing the campaign: juggling creative, ad tags, ad serving, reporting, invoicing and most importantly optimization.

Despite their brutal nature, transactional RFPs still represent significant business for most publishers. At this year’s Digiday Exchange Summit, Forbes CRO Meredith Levien estimated 45% of Forbes’ online revenues come from transactional RFPs. However, when you consider the conversion rate of wins to pitches, the cost-benefit equation becomes clouded. To paraphrase Federated Media CEO Deanna Brown, publishers “really have to question whether sending 100 emails to win a $50,000 RFP is worth it.”

To solve for any problem, first you must define it. For the industry to move forward and resolve the archaic processes surrounding the submission, responding and executing of transactional RFPs, it is imperative we come to a common definition and identify the pain that buyers and sellers are experiencing.

Levien defines transactional RFPs to include brand objectives but really focused on CTR and performance metrics, lower CPMs, between $50,000 and $100,000, and must be optimized to perform or you’re fired off the plan mid-campaign.

This is the common theme when you talk to the Comscore 100 publishers. And also for the hundreds of other publishers where close to 100 percent of their business comes from transactional RFPs. Now that we understand the problem and have a defined term for transactional RFPs, what are we going to do about it? It is true that programmatic direct solutions have emerged, in some part, to address the issues of transactional RFPs. Their thesis is that by providing transparency around pricing, placement and availability of inventory, at least 50 percent of the pre-work can be saved. A promising first step, yet it will be those platforms that integrate much more deeply with advertiser and publisher toolsets to make the execution and management of campaigns seamless that will truly win industry hearts and minds.

Solving transactional RFPs for publishers not only provides efficiencies to a sizeable part of their business, but the cost savings drop directly to the bottom line. Just as important, resources that would otherwise be tied up responding to standard banner requests can be allocated to drive the highest value for brands and profit for publishers — custom solutions — that require time and effort to execute successfully. It is here that solving transactional RFPs presents their strongest business case to publishers. By allowing technology to process standardized orders, sales staff and publisher planning teams will be unshackled to develop engaging solutions for their most strategic clients. That’s good for everyone.

Image via Shutterstock

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