Week 12: Case Study - Responding to an RFP

posted Apr 25, 2012, 5:47 PM by Priya Nayar   [ updated Apr 25, 2012, 5:53 PM ]

Responding to An RFP: A Real World Exercise

Last week, I asked you to study an RFP (Request for Proposal) and work in groups to respond to it. This week, I would like to take some time to discuss ways to approach this project. Please feel free to ask questions or make your observations in the discussion forum. The assignment is for each group will respond to the RFP by Thursday May 5. How you respond is up to you.

Now, I want you to know that this is not some exercise that I cooked up for this class. The assignment is based on an actual RFP that my company received. The requesting organization kindly consented to allowing me to use it in this class. I will post our proposal at the conclusion of the exercise. Before you ask, let me tell you that the project ultimately did not get made. Despite my best due diligence, which included references from trusted contacts, the organization ultimately could not (or chose not to) muster the resources necessary to complete the project with me… or anyone else.

This RFP is an example of the kinds of circumstances in which producers of non-fiction often find themselves. Someone or some organization or some business would like to have a film (video/website/audio program, etc.) made about a subject that is close to their hearts. Funding is available, or so you art told. There may even be a budget range, although that is uncommon. Several producers may be asked to respond to their request, but only one will get to make the project.

Here is a situation that calls for all the skills of the producer, and, in fact, all the skills that we have tried to develop and hone in this class. First, it is necessary to read the RFP to see what is being asked of you, and ask yourself some questions. Is it a project you would feel comfortable tackling? Do you have the necessary skills and experience? Can you assemble the team? Can you do it within the required timeline? Do you feel that you will be able to manage the expectations of the funders? Not every project is a good fit so, much as you would like to take on anything that comes along, it may not be right. Sometimes, the best move is to pass. IN this case, for the purposes of this exercise, you have decided to answer the RFP with a proposal.

Like any good non-fiction producer, your first step is some research. While it may be possible to respond to the RFP without fully understanding the content or sponsor, you will not be able to tell a compelling story, and a compelling story is an important part of a winning proposal. Due diligence suggests that you at the very least check the website of the organization that has issued the RFP, see what they have done in the past, what their mission statement is, their goals, and their history. This serves a number of important functions. It qualifies them as being truly able to provide the funding; you don’t want to waste your time working through as proposal for an organization that won’t be able to afford it, or does not appear to have funding available. This can be something of a judgment call on your part; if things seem on the up and up, you proceed. If there is doubt, you should attempt to determine whether those doubts are justified without alienating your potential funder – something of a tightrope. And, as I found out, you’re not always going to be right.

The RFP from the HOPE Foundation provides some background as well as a statement of purpose and principles. While this is useful, would you rely on the material that is stated in the RFP or would you go further? If so, why? If not, why not? Is this enough to go on? Does it provide enough information to begin thinking about how you would present the project?

It is notable that there is a separate paragraph about the president and founder of the organization, and that it is more detailed than the previous paragraphs about goals and missions. Does that tell you anything?

Another interesting thing about this RFP is that it talks about target markets, not target audiences. Is that an important clue? How would you decide? Maybe a look at their website will clarify how this project will be distributed, which may be helpful as you develop the program description.

The scope of work is broad and vague. In order to determine just how to allocate resources toward  points I, II, and III, you will probably need some additional information. For example, how does the HOPE Foundation envision this “collaborative” effort. Will your writer be responsible for researching and developing a script draft or will they provide the materials? Is this going to be a scripted program, or will it rely on interviews with the key players – Dr. Tomlinson and Mr. Blankstein? Will they identify other practitioners or will you be responsible for that? These are questions that need to be answered before you can proceed. Unfortunately, you will not be able to query HOPE, so I will provide the same guidance that I received from them. The primary source for information for the script is Mr. Blankstein, who will develop an initial draft of the script. His segments will be scripted. What was not mentioned in the RFP, but was clarified after repeated emails, was that Mr. Blankstein expected to introduce the video in a scripted segment using a prompter, and that he would conduct an on-camera interview with Dr. Tomlinson. Our writer would be responsible for polishing his script, and then creating a “radio” script from transcripts of the interview with Dr. Tomlinson and others.

With the collaboration issue out of the way, we turned to items IV and V, the shoot and the edit. What is your first question about the shoot? I know. I asked it, too. And the answer is…. not yet determined. How significant is that? What is the impact on the schedule and budget, if any? Anyway, how can you develop a schedule and budget if you don’t know what the project will look like, how it will flow?

The next major section of the proposal is “Deliverables.” Now we’re getting somewhere, right? First of all, is the release date reasonable? The RFP was dated in March. There was no indication of when a decision would be made. Working back from the release date, would it be possible to shoot this program during the remainder of the school year, when you would have access to students, teachers, and classrooms to demonstrate the educational principles that will be discussed? If that were to happen, when would you have to start?

The other deliverables are pretty self-explanatory and, in line with the rest of the RFP, sufficiently vague to provide a lot of wiggle room on both sides. Your job in the proposal will be to define the project in a way that turns the vague goals and deliverables into specifics.

The proposal presentation requirements are fairly straightforward, but are missing one important item -- a description of the project as you intend to produce it. The requirements of the RFP are vague, too vague to develop an outline, schedule, and budget. They are also too vague to sign a contract – you need to specify schedules, exact deliverables, and what kind of program you intend to produce. Otherwise, you run the risk of the sponsor thinking you are making one film while you are actually making an entirely different one. This does happen.

Just as you did with your own non-fiction and unscripted projects, you will need to develop a story for this project, not s script, but a treatment that outlines what you will be showing and how the story will arc from beginning to end. In order to do that effectively, you are going to need to do some research. What is the Failure is Not An Option system? What are the six principles of that system? How has HOPE presented that information in the past? Who is Dr. Tomlinson and what system or principles does he or she advocate? Once you have an understanding of those two systems, how do they relate? How will you present the systems, understanding that it has already been established that Alan Blankstein of HOPE will introduce the program and will interview Dr. Tomlinson. Will you show the principles in practice at a school. Will there be demonstrations? Will Dr. Tomlinson analyze a lesson or classroom interaction? Will you want to interview students and parents? These are all possibilities, and there may be others, limited only by your imagination.

Use the same workflow that you did in class – first develop a treatment, then expand the treatment into anticipated scenarios. Use those as the basis for a breakdown and schedule. Then, use the schedule as a basis for a budget estimate. Don’t forget to allow for pre-production and post-production. Also, you are responsible for developing the DVD master and packaging design. I suggest using the BioMedia Docu-Location Budget for this project.

I hope that this overview will help you to develop your proposals. Again, use the discussion forum for any questions before the project is due as well as the place to post your proposal. Good luck.

Assignment from Week 11: 

For this week, we will be starting another "real world" exercise. For this assignment, I have broken the class down into three (3) groups, which you will find in the Groups tab on the left of your screen.  Check the group to determine in which group you are enrolled. You will have a range of tools at your disposal to establish your online workspace and collaborate on this project.

ttached above is a copy of an actual RFP (Request for Proposal) which I received from a non-profit educational foundation.
 This is an example of the kinds of challenges producers will face.

Each group is to develop a proposal in response to this RFP and post it in the Non-Profit RFP discussion forum no later than Thursday 2 May, which is the second to last week of class. 

Read and review the RFP and post any questions that you might have in the forum.

As you pursue your discussions, think about how  you would begin to determine the style of production? How deeply would you pursue research at this stage, understanding that you may not get the job or, even if you did, that you may not be able to charge that time against the budget? How many shoot days would be necessary? What kind of schedule would you think would work? And so on...

Priya Nayar,
Apr 25, 2012, 5:52 PM