In this episode, we’re talking with Michael Thompson, Vice President of Strategic Communications at Nuveen, who puts together RFPs; and Bethany Potter, Senior Manager, Growth & Administration at Proscenium Events who responds to them. This episode is chock full or actionable advice about the entire RFP process from both sides of the table. So hit the download button, screw your headphones on tight, and get ready to take notes.
Michael Thompson joined the Global Media Relations team at Nuveen, a TIAA Company, in December of 2020 as Vice President of Strategic Communications with responsibility for executive communications and supporting strategic messaging for the firm’s leadership, brand, and business priorities.
Michael joined the firm after two years as Assistant Vice President for Executive Communications and Content Syndication at LPL Financial, where he was responsible for strategic message development and executive speechwriting for more than 20 advisor-facing conferences throughout the year. Prior to his tenure at LPL, he spent eight years as Executive Communications Manager at Lowe’s Companies, Inc., writing speeches for C-Suite executives and creating messaging for major sales and leadership meetings. This followed a 13-year career in professional sports, including 11 seasons with two different National Basketball Association franchises as Director of Corporate Communications and other community relations and game operations roles.
Bethany Potter joined the Production team at Proscenium in 2016, working on events for brands like HEINEKEN USA, Harley-Davidson, Lowe’s, and Ortho Clinical Diagnostics. She also managed many of Proscenium responses to RFPs. She has expanded her role from Production to Business Development Manager, to her current role of Senior Manager of Growth and Administration (and ProCast Producer!) where she manages almost all of Proscenium’s RFP responses.
Hosted and Written by Jeremy Dobrish
Produced by Bethany Potter
Theme Music by Mike Mancini
Logo design by Shraddha Maharjan
Special thanks to Dossie McCraw
HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF THE RFP PROCESS
By Jeremy Dobrish
If you look up “raconteur” in the dictionary, you will surely find a picture of Michael Thompson, the Vice President of Strategic Communications at Nuveen. And if you look up “super-duper-organized”, there you shall find Proscenium’s Senior Manager of Growth and Administration, Bethany Potter.
We met Michael when he was with Lowe’s and was part of the RFP team who ended up going with Proscenium. And, if you listen to the ProCast regularly, you’ll recognize Bethany as the voice of the always-on-it “Behind The Scenes Bethany”. I was really excited to talk to the two of them together. Michael understands the RFP process from the agency side, and Bethany manages almost all of Proscenium’s RFP responses. So, this was a real chance to learn about the RFP process from multiple perspectives.
I started by asking Michael what makes a good RFP, to which he replied:
"You have to write it in a way that everyone you're inviting to participate in will understand and be able to give you the information you need in order to make that apples-to-apple, comparison. It sounds simple on the surface and then it gets really difficult, really fast. The real secret to a good RFP is writing it in a way that no matter who they send it off to, they're going to understand what it is you're looking for."
I asked Michael, if that’s the case, why not give a budget number for the agencies to hit?
"If we find a firm in this process, that's double the price, but gives us a show that’s 10 times better isn't that worth the money."
Bethany, however, argued that:
"Having even a range or some sort of anchor point to shoot for can be really helpful so that we have the best chance of giving you what you're trying to accomplish with that event."
I asked Michael what he found in the proposals that helped him make his final decision:
"In the end it was unique ideas and a level of creativity"
Next, I asked Bethany what she does to try to make sure her response will win:
"The word value, I think, is really important because you could go based off of who's going to give me the cheapest show, but you're not going to get the best show that you could."
Then I asked Michael why stand-ups are important:
"You get a chance to see how they support each other. How did they treat you? If they treat each other with respect, then they'll likely treat us with respect as well."
Then, he dropped a terrific nugget of wisdom:
"I want the varsity on my show and the way I treat my agency, and the way we treat everybody on site is going to go a long way towards ensuring that if we didn't get the varsity in year one, we're going to get them in year two. Because that word's going to spread, oh, that's a show you want to be on."
And why does Bethany think stand-ups are important?
"It's a chance for us to see how the client and how they operate and to get a better feel for them."
She also added,
"Companies should be hiring agencies for their thinking for their alignment on how they work. We can't read your mind, but if we work with you we can really tailor something that hopefully you would love."
The three of us talked for a good long time, and the quotes above just give a small taste of the sort of wisdom that came out in this episode. If you’re interested in the RFP process, I highly recommend listening to the full episode to hear more stories, and gain more insight.