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Everything RFP: Running Your Business Series

Category: On-Demand Programs: Career Management

For independent museum professionals, a Request for Proposal or RFP is a great way to identify projects and partnerships with museums. However, the RFP process is often unclear and requires a lot of work…all before a contract is even secured. In this recorded webinar, IMP’s lead a conversation with Barbara Punt of Punt Consulting Group about this complex topic. Barbara provides strategies for clarifying the “request” aspect of an RFP, crafting responses, and more. Barbara addresses questions from the audience throughout the program.

Transcript

Jenny-Sayre:

Okay, let them in?

Julie Govert:

Yeah, go ahead and let them in. Oh!

Jenny-Sayre:

Here’s Bart.

Julie Govert:

Yeah. Hi everyone. Welcome to Everything RFP: Running Your Business Series, hosted by IMP. Just one technical thing real quick. Jenny, can you make Bart the host please?

Jenny-Sayre:

Yes.

Julie Govert:

Okay. Does everyone see my screen? Yes. Okay, cool. Okay. Excellent. This session is being recorded. I’m Julie Govert. I am an independent exhibit developer and writer based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I am also the vice chair and programming chair of IMP. And today we have with us Jenny-Sayre and Barbara Punt. And Jenny-Sayre, you’re an independent exhibit planner and writer based in Maryland.

Jenny-Sayre:

Yes. Oh!

Julie Govert:

Double-checking.

Jenny-Sayre:

Hello.

Julie Govert:

And Barbara, would you give a brief introduction please?

Barbara Punt:

Sure. I run a project management company, Punt Consulting Group, in Southern California. And RFPs are one of the things that I’ve done a bunch of, but not the only thing.

Julie Govert:

We’re so happy to have you with us today. Also on the session, we have Susan Johnson and Bart Hays, fellow IMPs. They’re going to be helping us out by monitoring the chat and helping with our Zoom logistics. Before we get started, you’re welcome to edit your name to include your pronouns, if you desire. If you want to do that, you would go to participants on the toolbar, click on more beside your name and rename yourself.

As a virtual program, we’re all joining from different places and around the US and potentially beyond, in Canada and in other countries. I’d like to acknowledge the ancestral lands which I now occupy and honor these and other First Nation’s peoples, their history and heritage, including the Kickapoo, Peoria, Potawatomi, Menominee, Myaamia, Ho-Chunk, and Oceti Sakowin.

Jenny-Sayre:

And for me, I’d like to acknowledge the ancestral lands which I now occupy and honor these and other First Nation peoples, their history heritage, including the Piscataway, Nanticocke and the Susquehannock.

Barbara Punt:

I would like to acknowledge the ancestral lands which I now occupy and honor, and these and other First Nation peoples, their history and heritage, including the Tongva, Chowigna and Gabrielino tribes.

Julie Govert:

Susan is going to put a link in the chat, and we encourage you to use that link to find about the lands that you might occupy and the people in communities who have been displaced by colonial expansion where you live or work. Who are the Independent Museum Professionals? We are a network of consultants and freelancers who … Sorry, I’ve got a lot of things on my screen. There we go.

We are a network of professional consultants, freelancers and people who work in all areas of the museum and with all types of museums. We aim to provide a central hub of resources, knowledge and connections, and we actively work to support independent museum professionals, strengthen the relationship between IMPs and museums and advance the museum field. If you’re interested in joining IMP, we’re going to provide more information about that at the end of the session, so stay tuned for that.

During this session, we’re going to have one breakout where you’re going to meet some other people who are attending today. And we hope that you’ll have an opportunity to connect with them. Susan’s going to put a link in the chat. This is our contact sheet. And if you are interested, you can put your name and your email and information in there. And then you can choose to opt in to share your information with other attendees from this session.

You can join IMP’s mailing list, or you can express any interest you might have in volunteering with IMP. And for those who do opt in to share their contact information, we’re going to be distributing that list along with other resources after the session. Also, we’ll be sharing a recording of this in a follow-up email. So if you’re interested in that, please do make sure your name is on that list. Jenny-Sayre, you’re muted.

Jenny-Sayre:

Here I am. Okay. What are we going to do today? We’re going to talk about RFPs. And we’ve asked our fellow IMP member, Barbara Punt, who’s written and spoken about the process of RFPs at AAM, Aztec, and written for NAME’s exhibition journal to join us for a conversation with IMP colleagues. Barbara’s going to start off our conversation with a brief run-through of the basics. What’s an RFP, who uses them and why they use them. We’re also going to talk about recognizing a good RFP.

If you have the opportunity … I’m sorry. You’ll have the opportunity to learn, share and connect through a couple breakouts after that. We’re also going to be using the chat feature to share comments and resources, and you can access it by hovering over the toolbar at the bottom of your screen and clicking on the chat icon. Make sure you have to everyone unless you want to send that special little message to a friend.

If you’re joining by phone, you’ll still be able to participate in the breakouts and we’ll recap some of the discussion going on in the chat. We want to start out by giving Barbara a few minutes to talk about kind of the basics around RFPs, what they are, and then we’ll get to our interview. Barbara, you want to take it away?

Barbara Punt:

I don’t have the slide control. Next slide.

Julie Govert:

Do you not see what is an RFP?

Barbara Punt:

I do not. Well, I can speak to my notes, but I can’t see the slide. I can see everything RFP.

Julie Govert:

Is it not advancing for anybody?

Jenny-Sayre:

It’s not advancing.

Julie Govert:

All right, I’m going to stop sharing and I’m going to redo it, and then we’ll get back on course.

Barbara Punt:

Would you like me to start without you so you don’t feel any pressure? There you go. Okay.

Julie Govert:

All right.

Barbara Punt:

Perfect. Not everybody has to use an RFP. Usually there’s a requirement that’s based on money. If there’s a funding requirement, which might come from a municipal of any kind, local, city, state, federal, then there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s simply required in order for you to access those funds. And the initials request for proposal indicate what’s expected back from people.

Prior to this, you may have seen a request for qualifications, which is a more broad call for information that you have to put less time into preparing. Request for proposal is when there’s something specific they want you to comment and put a proposal to. And there may also be requests for information which are very specific and typically sent to a single party or firm, but not out to a broader group.

I was saying you don’t always have to use RFPs, you typically would do it only if a funding source requires it. Institutions sometimes require it because they have the … It provides some comfort to people that this is a transparent process. And this might come from the institution itself, from stakeholders, board members, donors. It depends upon to whom they’re listening.

And it’s intended to provide a level playing field. So everybody gets the same information, everybody provides the same type of response. They’re typically used for goods and services. And I actually chose this image to show you that it’s meant to be for everyone, the idea of an RFP. I was reading through some of the questions people sent in, and there’s kind of the sense that the system is rigged and that it’s against us, and people already know who then to get, why do they put us through this misery. And that isn’t the intent.

The point is to get information back from you for services. And when companies bid for goods, it’s typically a matter of process. Here are the goods that we want. Tell us the numbers the unit cost, whatever. It’s meant to be specific in people’s proposals back to them, back to the initiating party. I’d say above all else you can recognize a good RFP if the people sending it out are reasonable, and that refers to everything about the amount of time they give you. Are they clear in what they send out? Are they clear in what they want you to send back?

They should have a question answer period to help become more clear if they missed something or people have questions. Typically, the questions and answers are anonymous. The questions that is are anonymous. Then the institution will group them and send out the answers to everybody who has registered for an intent to bid. And the questions are one way. Actually this is on the wrong slide. The questions don’t give you room to differentiate your firm. That’s in your proposal.

In fact, sometimes people are very careful about how they pose questions, because they don’t want to tip their hand as to who is asking. That happens for the fabrication than design. But if you think the people on the other end are giving you a fair shake, enough time, good information, then those are typically representative of a good RFP. Oh, we can’t see the caption. I guess it depends upon where everybody’s got their window of people. On the right, there’s this caption.

Julie Govert:

Do you want me to read it?

Barbara Punt:

Yeah, for people on the phone.

Julie Govert:

It says it’s a ringmaster with two people on some stools, and he’s cracking a lip. And it says, “I may be dating myself, but I can remember when this wasn’t part of the RFP process.”

Barbara Punt:

Yeah, you don’t want to feel that they’re making you jump through hoops in unreasonable amount of time, the amount of information. You might look at the project and think, “This is very unclear. There’s no way I can give them an answer as to how much time this would take may or how much money.” And absolutely, by all means, if they’re asking you original creative work, run. It’s against the AAM code of ethics, or I forgot exactly what it’s called, but to that degree, and a number of other organizations.

They should not be asking for original work. They should not be asking for permission to use anything you submit. That is not the mark of someone who’s going to treat you fairly. And honestly, we look at this so much from an objective point of view with our head. But if your gut tells you, it’s not good, it’s not good for you. Maybe it’s good for someone else. But if you’re really thinking, “This is just making me sleep poorly at night,” then don’t do it.

Typically what the proposal is going to include is your qualifications, which is about your prior experience, including as a firm and individual members. Sometimes firms are comprised of people who have tons of experience, but not necessarily with each other. You can call attention to that, this group of people has worked together for X number of years, or this person has this number of years experience with a number of different companies.

It’s about the process. How would you approach it? Sometimes they’ll give you the budget and ask you how to allocate it. For example, if you have a mythical $100 to do this exhibits, what amount of that would be your fee and how much of that would be to execute, to build it, to do everything else that’s required. I always advise people to provide the budget and that makes it easier for the proposal. And it also gives you more information as the party sending out the RFP.

And it will nearly always include a schedule for the work. You want to include time for review process, and sometimes people don’t. And you know the client needs to review stuff, and we may or may not be able to proceed until you get that. Be very clear about that time. It’s to be sufficient for them at their end, but also you need to keep moving forward. Do include that when you are looking at the scopes of work and the durations for each part of it.

You want to make your proposal as easy as possible for the person receiving it. There’s nothing more annoying than people sort of randomly getting this narrative that maybe you’re addressing the questions, but you can’t find them. It’s not very helpful when there’s typos all over the place, because you’re not really conveying that you’re particularly detail-oriented.

You don’t want to rub endlessly. I did have one design firm from them. It’s very creative. We gave a page limit, but not the page size. They sent this legal size, 11 by 14 packet, which I thought was brilliant. They had plenty more space to put everything in. Now I give the page size. But they were absolutely within their bounds to do that. Make sure your proposal is specific enough. If you just provide a generic proposal that you’ve used previously, it’s obvious. You may think it’s not obvious, but believe me, it’s obvious.

And then lastly, show your enthusiasm. You don’t want to be robotic. You may have special qualifications or reasons why you’d be a good fit. For example, I had a project at children’s museum with libraries, and I love to read. And I went into how much I love to read and how that was a coming of age moment for me when I was a child. If you have particular enthusiasm for the subject, absolutely, that’s not a question. That doesn’t prohibit you from writing about your enthusiasm or your expertise.

Julie Govert:

Great. Thanks, Barbara. I’m going to stop sharing. And we’re going to just move into an interview portion with Barbara, and what we’ve done is taken questions that participants, the registrants submitted, many of you submitted. Through the registration process we’ve kind of organized those and looked for some key themes. And so I think we’ll just move into this interview portion. Jenny-Sayre, do you want to kick it off?

Jenny-Sayre:

Sure. Do we want to dig into some of the questions, as Julie said, that you all had and put into the registration? Barbara, could we talk a little bit more about why a museum would use an RFP and when they would use an RFQ instead?

Barbara Punt:

To be honest, RFPs take a lot of time and money. And even though part of my bread and butter business is to write them, I never advocate for them. I don’t think it’s a good use of funds. I don’t think it’s a good use of people’s time. You typically do an RFP if you have absolutely no alternative. Then easier and less time-consuming and less costly, first step would be an RFQ.

Say I got a client who needs a designer for something. I do a lot of exhibit design and exhibit fabrication, RFPs, RFQ contracts. I might suggest to them, “What are the qualifications that you need?” For example, if this is an aquarium, you might need someone who has X number of years prior experience with aquariums. You might include very broad categories, and that way a number of people can send you their qualifications. But it doesn’t take a big time commitment on their part, and it may not take as big a time commitment on your part because you’re not reading through a fine tooth comb. It’s really just binary.

Yes, do they qualified? No, toss them. And then among the people who are qualified, they might be invited to send in an RFP. Every once in a blue moon, you don’t even have to. You get the number of people you need from the RFQ, and you potentially could choose or more often you might have an RFP to a very small group. They’re not always open to everyone. Sometimes they’re posted publicly, sometimes they’re by invitation only. They’re sort of the [inaudible 00:17:43].

Jenny-Sayre:

Right. But from what I understand, pretty much all government organizations or government-funded, is it true government-funded projects or organizations need to have an RFP process?

Barbara Punt:

Yes, broadly speaking. I mean, you might be working, for example, on a museum that’s a private independent 501(c)(3). And they may be getting money from some government sources, like earmarks from agencies, from NEH, NASA, NSF, whatever. In that sense, they’re partially government-funded. If it’s 100% government-funded, that is frequently an RFP is required. But lots of other projects have partial government funding, and it may not carry that qualification or requirement, I guess I’d say.

Jenny-Sayre:

Someone who’s put in the chat about they’ve heard RFQ means request for quote as opposed to request for qualifications. Why do you think that?

Barbara Punt:

I have occasionally heard that. It’s not something I’m familiar with. I would just simply call that a bid.

Jenny-Sayre:

Right?

Barbara Punt:

That’s just nomenclature. And it’s not one I’ve heard more than once, so it probably isn’t very, very common.

Jenny-Sayre:

Let’s talk a little bit about whether it’s responding and RFP selection criteria. Some of the questions that people sent in is, “Could you tell if a RFP is legitimate versus only to demonstrate willingness to do an RFP?”

Barbara Punt:

Yeah, I was thinking about that a lot last night. We, of course, talked about this yesterday. And I understand the reason why there’s a great suspicion about this is just a show. They just need X number of respondents to get it. But honestly, in the 20 years that I’ve been doing this, I have never once seen an RFP that was just for show, that I’ve been participating in writing.

I’ve answered once or twice, or I thought. I don’t know. They picked someone a lot less qualified than I was, but they were local. My guess is I wasn’t ever a contender. And that infuriates me, right? You spend all this time, and time is money. I’ve never been asked to write one like that, nor would I honestly. And I wouldn’t do that to people. It’s immoral. I can’t say I’ve encountered it, for sure. I’ve had one or two suspicions, but I was not sure.

Julie Govert:

Barbara, you talked about people being local or maybe the lowest bidder, do you think it’s a waste of time for people? Do you think organizations always choose the lowest bidder, or how do you think they’re making those decisions?

Barbara Punt:

No, not at all. If they’re required to, they usually will say that in the RFP, because then of course you can decide that you want to make that business decision to be lowest and submit accordingly. No, in fact, I never suggest that people do the lowest bidder because it frequently implies they don’t understand what’s going on, that they’ve somehow missed something important. There’s the typical … I’m blanking on the name of the chart, but the U-shape chart, and then the ends get very narrow. A bell curve.

You will look more carefully at either end of that bell curve. If they’re really expensive, they’re either out of your price range or they may have caught something other people missed. And you might tend to look more towards people in the middle, because you have a pretty high level of confidence that they’re all reading it the same way and hopefully reading it the way you intended.

Julie Govert:

What would you say is kind of more important criteria then the costs or the price of the bid?

Barbara Punt:

In general terms, I’d say your qualification is probably number one, because that’s a very objective thing that you’d have to explain to someone, to the board or someone else. If you’re the CEO choosing a firm, you need to be able to explain it to people with the money. However, honestly, it doesn’t always go that way. Sometimes it’s really a matter of fit.

 

I mean, I had one very memorable instance where I was interviewing two firms with this selection committee of a history museum. One of the heads of the firms flew in from out of town, because he had been born and brought up in that city. He did a video tour. He walked around, he talked about the history of different neighborhoods. He showed this three or four minute video as part of his in-person interview.

And the minute he walked out the room, the collection committee turned to each other and said, “He hasn’t done any preparation for this interview. It’s clear he doesn’t want it.” I mean, it was just jaw-dropping. And the other team was very polished, very rote, and they got it. I think that you cannot underestimate the power of a good fit.

And that also kind of brings me to the consolation of, if you don’t get it, it just might not be the right fit. It might not be that you’re bad, that other people are more qualified, that it was rigged. I have seen more times than I care to say very committed people as part of the selection committee take their responsibility seriously, read very thoroughly, be very careful. But everybody’s human. And if they just don’t have a good fit with you, they’re not going to want to work with you.

Julie Govert:

Mariana on the chat has asked, “Is it appropriate for contracting agencies to follow up with all bidders and let them know the project has gone to another bidder and who the winning bidder was?”

Barbara Punt:

Absolutely. I would say, if somebody hires me, it’s imperative. When I do an RFP schedule for a client, I include every step, including contact the winner, see if this is going to work out, maybe a couple days later tell everybody who didn’t get it. I mean, I just I’m flummoxed when people don’t treat each other as kind reasonable human beings. So absolutely. And I don’t know that they always do tell you, but I always tell people. I just think it’s horrible to treat people so poorly.

Julie Govert:

Let’s talk about what’s included in the RFP. There are times when they don’t always include a budget. Why would that be?

Barbara Punt:

Yeah. Some people are under the mistaken impression, at least from my point of view mistaken. I mean, if they just happen to believe differently from my view that they’re leaving money on the table. That if they tell you … Again, I’ll just use a hundred bucks, because it’s easy for people to understand. If they tell you, “I’ve got a hundred bucks. You’re going to make sure you spend it all,” but if I don’t tell you, you’re going to spend like between 85 and 95. Let’s see if the cheapest people will spend.

And I don’t think that’s a reasonable expectation, because nobody knows what your budget is. And basically say you have an exhibit about transportation, do you have a Mini Cooper budget or a Rolls Royce budget? You can still get the same outcome in terms of what it looks like on paper, but by not revealing the budget, you’re doing people a disservice. It’s just a perception problem, people of that opinion. I don’t happen to share it.

Julie Govert:

And why do they include mandatory criteria? The question was, why do they include mandatory criteria? Isn’t that exclusionary? What do you think about that?

Barbara Punt:

Yes, but it’s also saving you time. If you respond and they’re never, ever going to consider you because you don’t have enough experience, or you’re not familiar enough with that subject matter, or you don’t have experience in their budget range, they’ll never consider you. In their mind it’s present. And if they don’t tell you, you’ve just put a lot of time in for nothing. It helps.

Julie Govert:

I agree. And so why don’t they list everyone who received the RFP or let people know if it was like an open or by invitation only?

Barbara Punt:

I don’t know. Again, I-

Julie Govert:

What should they do?

Barbara Punt:

… Yeah. I mean, I’ve been pretty successful in the last five to 10 years. And the reasons I give to the client in suggesting that they let people know who’s getting it and what big a group is because I’ve had actually a couple designers tell me, “If I don’t know how many people get it and I happen to be busy enough, I’m not going to put the resources for doing a proposal, because I don’t want to be the one in a 50 chance of getting it.”

And sometimes people will say, “Oh, well, so-and-so, that other firm is going up against me. I never win when I go up against that. I’m going to choose not to put my time in.” And I would caution you about that, because I’ve actually seen a lot of people back out and not submit a proposal when they found out who else received it only to find out that the client actually preferred them and wished that they had followed through.

When I suggest to clients that they let people know who gets it and keep it to minimum, five or fewer, it also gives them a better proposal. It lets firms differentiate themselves from their competitors, and that’s helpful for the client, and of course it’s more fair to the firm to really try and show who they are.

Again, a lot of this is about fit, and people and personality. And why wouldn’t you give the potential bidders all the information you possibly could. I just think you get a better proposal, and I’ve been pretty successful with that argument to clients, not 100%.

Julie Govert:

If an institution doesn’t list something like a budget or they don’t share how many people are getting the RFP, what’s the best way to go about getting that information?

Barbara Punt:

Well, there should be a question and answer period. And as I said, the questions are typically anonymous and the answers are sent to everybody. And I would pose a question in such a way that they have room to answer. If they didn’t give you the number, they probably can’t. If you simply say, “What is the budget?” you may not get an answer.

But if you ask a question they can answer, it may be helpful. You may say, “Is the range 1 million to 2 million? Is it 3 million to 8? Is it 40 to 80?” Give them some useful range that would help you as well, and they probably can be forced to answer something like that. And that’s just a financial question, but it gives you an idea of give them room to go around any restrictions that they might face.

Julie Govert:

Because you talked about that kind of question, answer period, and it’s kind of anonymous. Are there times when that piece of the process doesn’t exist, where you would ask them directly?

Barbara Punt:

That would be in RFI. Well, RFI is used in construction too. RFI actually has a number of different kinds of purposes. If you have a question, ask them, even if they don’t give you a Q&A. Sorry, I’ve got to say, got it, huh? This meeting is being live streamed. There we go. What do you have to lose?

Ask them the questions. And all they can come back and say is, “I’m sorry, we’re not allowed to give that information out.” But you never lose by asking a question, ever. And like I said, if you give them room to answer, you may get what you need without pinning them down in a way they’re not allowed to talk about.

Julie Govert:

Just a quick follow up on a question asked earlier. When a potential client announces who won the bid, how often is the winning bidder’s budget or price shared? Ever something?

Barbara Punt:

Yeah. I honestly have never had anybody ask me, or I’ve never been able to answer. But actually, I’m not sure anybody’s even asked me to be honest. I suspect that when it’s municipal it’s often public record. That becomes shared as a matter of record, but not sent to participants or respondents, I guess you’d call them. But I’ve never revealed that information.

Julie Govert:

So just some other questions that came up that maybe weren’t part of these kind of subgroups. The question is, can I provide suggestions or alternatives if I have other ideas that either they didn’t cover or which contradict their approach?

Barbara Punt:

Absolutely, but I would say initially answer their questions. Always answer their questions. Because if you simply say, “Well, I would do this,” what you’re essentially communicating is, “I’m the kind of person who’s going to disagree with you before I even hear and discuss with you more fully what you have to say.”

So always answer the questions as posed, and by all means say, “But I think either a cheaper alternative or a better,” or give the reason why you might have this suggestion and include it. It’s fine. It’s always welcome. But don’t just dismiss what you were asked to describe.

Julie Govert:

We’ve talked a lot about the fit, being a good fit or not feeling like it’s the right fit. Can you kind of expound on what that means and a little bit more about how a client might determine what is, or how a respondent might determine what is or is not a good fit.

Barbara Punt:

Yeah. Well, two things come to mind. One is size. I mean, I’ve lost out to people who were on higher project management firm that’s much, much bigger. And they just want that. They want IBM and not some scrappy little startup. Well, I’ve been in business 20 years, but you get the picture. Sometimes it’s just you’re not what they’re looking for. They’re just not that into you. And other times it’s a matter of personality and approach.

I worked with three different clients in a two year span where a particular design firm came up in different ability. One was answering an RFP and two of them they had been working with the firm. One client hated the firm and dismissed them. One client could not say enough good things about this and thought they were absolutely integral to the project success. And one client said they did a good job, but my staff hated them.

A lot of it has to do with sometimes design firms want to take more of a leadership approach and the client wants to step back and receive what they can. And it may be because they just feel inexperienced or they don’t have enough bandwidth, or they don’t have enough staff. And there’s no right or wrong. You would want, in that case, a firm with a stronger leading hand. And other times your staff is very involved.

You’ve done a lot of research, you know exactly what you want and you really would prefer that they execute what you’ve asked. And there’s no right or wrong. Again, it’s really more about either personal chemistry or fit on how you think you would work with them.

Julie Govert:

I mean, you kind of mentioned from the client side, but from like a IMP or contractor side, how do you look that?

Barbara Punt:

Yeah, that’s a good question. I’d go with your gut. More and more scientific studies talk about how we try and make everything an objective decision. But if you have the other work and financial wherewithal to not pursue something that bothers you, either originally with the proposal or after you’ve actually talked to them.

I’ve had certain situations where designers submitted proposals and then came back and said, “I’m sorry, I’ve got other work that came in. We can’t commit,” or they give some socially acceptable answer, which is fine, because they just got a feeling during the interview or during some other part of the process like, “We do not think we’re going to work well with these people. We don’t like their approach. They’re irritating,” whatever. Again, everybody’s human and that’s perfectly fine. There’s no way to get around it. Just be polite.

Julie Govert:

You talked a little bit about kind of some of the things that … Like, when you’re wanting someone to take a leadership role or not. And how can a consultant or the person responding to the RFP better understand their role on the team, and how might that … It may not be expressly specified. And so how can they understand their role better?

Barbara Punt:

I think it’s helpful for the IMPs to have that in their mind and pose the question either during the Q&A, if it’s not clear, or if you get the job and you’re working with them, it’s kind of like similar to a communication question, right? You might say, “Do you want me to take this role? Do you want me to provide you with a number of alternatives? Do you want me to focus in on an A and B option, or how do you like to be contacted?”

If a client bugs you because they’re constantly emailing you or texting you or calling you at weird hours, convey that, or it’s going to be a very challenging relationship. The communication doesn’t stop once you get the contract. You continue with, “Is this working for you? Would you rather this? Would you rather that?” You have to have some level of awareness in order to make a productive working relationship, because the other party may or may not. You can’t count on it. So you have to bring that to the table.

Jenny-Sayre:

And I was just going to jump in and offer, because I’ve been on both sides, both a client, somebody working with me from the insider or being from the outside. And I’m sort of guessing that many people on the call feel this way too. When you’re a client, sometimes you’re super, super busy, and you want to be managed up a little bit. You tell me the options and let me pick. If you can help define what the role options are, then I think that helps.

Barbara Punt:

Yeah. I’ve been in both roles too, insider, outsider about almost half my career in each side. And it’s so helpful if you can articulate what you want. And we can’t always do that. If you haven’t been in this situation, you may not know what you want, and that’s just life. But if you can be direct. I’ve also had designers who have taken the approach of, “I’m going to design $300 worth of stuff. You go figure out which hundred you want.”

And some clients like that, but more often they’re like, “There’s a relationship between these things. I can’t just cherry pick. This isn’t a grocery cart.” It’s very important to communicate what’s helpful in both directions.

Julie Govert:

What can a consultant, what can we do to increase our chances of getting chosen?

Barbara Punt:

I always suggest people personalize it to some degree. It doesn’t hurt to include a photo. It doesn’t hurt to have a sense of humor. I’ve seen interesting bios of people, and it’s often where the humor shows up. A word, this one’s a juggler, that one volunteers with guide dogs in their free time, whatever.

 

And honestly, those things tend to stick in my brain, because this is a field where people move around a lot and that’ll stick in my brain, even if they show up at another proposal 10 years later. I can’t stress enough how much being human is important, because we don’t give value to that. If any of you guys know Elaine Heumann Gurian, she’s in her eighties, she’s been around a long time.

But early in my career, she came to talk to us at Liberty Science Center. We were getting closer to opening. And I was astonished at the kind of advice she was giving everybody, both the management and the staff, about give each other room. Don’t tell people you can’t take vacation for six months because we just open. You have to treat each other with humanity and kindness.

And so often in a professional world, we’re not given the permission to do that. So that’s sort of the short answer is be human, show yourself. And if it doesn’t work, that’s fine. It wasn’t going to work anyway. Or you get the job and you hate each other.

Julie Govert:

We don’t want that.

Jenny-Sayre:

No.

Barbara Punt:

Your reputation is the only thing that you have that is … I shouldn’t say the only thing. It is one of the most important things you have to safeguard. A good fit is important, not just so that you sleep at night, it’s important for your actual dollars and cents business moving forward.

Julie Govert:

Definitely. Okay. We’re on time, amazingly. What we want to do now is take about 15 minutes, break up into some smaller groups. And during that time, we just want to share about kind of … People in this call are probably a variety of experience levels. Some people might have spent a long career inside museums and are now consultants. We have newcomers, lots of different people with different levels of expertise with RFP.

We want to just break up. Probably I think we’ve got 40 some people. We’ll break up in groups of maybe four ish people, and we’ll put some questions in the chat so that they kind of follow you into the rooms. And it just is an opportunity to share about your own experiences with RFPs. Maybe others can learn from you, or if you have very little experience or have other questions that maybe you guys can kind of talk amongst yourselves about. I think, Susan, if you could put those questions in the chat. When you’re in the chat, don’t forget to unmute yourselves.

Using the microphone icon, you can give a quick brief introduction. We’re just putting some questions to help guide you, but feel free to do your own conversation. We’ll spend a couple minutes afterwards just recapping some of the things we talked about. When the breakouts end, leave the room, not the meeting, because we want to see you again. And when we’re done, like I said, we’ll do a quick recap and then we’ll finish up. Bart, are you able to break us up into groups?

Bart Hays:

Yeah. Looks like I’ve got four to five people per room, and I will send you off now.

Julie Govert:

And we’ll come back at 2:55 Eastern time. Like 14, 15 minutes.

Barbara Punt:

Bart, you can throw me in a room. I can hop around maybe.

Bart Hays:

Yeah. Okay. I’ll see if I can get you in. Once we get you in rooms, I’ll think I can unlock you to bounce around.

Barbara Punt:

Okay, thanks.

Bart Hays:

You bet.

Jenny-Sayre:

You invited me to a room and then it went away.

Bart Hays:

Let’s see. Do you want to go to a room? Do you care? That looks like-

Jenny-Sayre:

Sure.

Bart Hays:

… I’ll just throw you in another room.

Jenny-Sayre:

Because I know some people jumped off. Oh, there you go. Okay.

Bart Hays:

Yeah.

Jenny-Sayre:

Thanks.

Bart Hays:

You bet.

Barbara Punt:

Hello. Are we all waiting to get reassigned? Is this like some kind of weird purgatory? Bart, feel free to throw me back in if you want.

Bart Hays:

Okay. Let’s see who’s … You know what? I was actually just in a room with only two people.

Barbara Punt:

Oh, okay.

Bart Hays:

I could find them. Yeah, I’ll send you. Where are you, Barbara? Move to [inaudible 00:45:36].

Barbara Punt:

Thank you.

Bart Hays:

Enjoy.

Barbara Punt:

Thank you, Bart, for your expert technical expertise.

Bart Hays:

Sure. I can push buttons with the best of them.

Barbara Punt:

I can’t. It’s good that you can.

Julie Govert:

I think everybody’s coming back into the room.

Bart Hays:

I think we’ve got everybody.

Julie Govert:

We got everybody. I just want to take a couple minutes before we wrap up with some of the things that might have come up in your discussions that we haven’t kind of hit on and things, so if you could use the chat. One of the things that came up in our room was that sometimes it’s worth submitting a response to a proposal just to kind of raise awareness of your company or your role.

And maybe there are lots of people submitting, but it just is another way to get your name out there. So then people start seeing you and say, “Oh yeah, I’ve seen this person or this company before.” That’s something that came up. Are there any other things that might have come up?

Jenny-Sayre:

I think one of the things that came up actually before we left, and I don’t know if it came up in any of the discussions, was where to find “RFPs”. And I don’t think there’s a straightforward answer, but I wanted to just … People could put in the chat or just speak up and share some of their experiences.

Mandy Smith:

I would like to just share something really quickly. My company is actually called museum insider, and we post RFPs that our team of researchers are looking for on a weekly basis. They find different RFP leads and resources as well as opportunities and leads. And I put my contact information on the spreadsheet, but if anybody’s interested, I’d be happy to speak to you and let you know more about our service and what we do.

Julie Govert:

Great. Thanks, Mandy. Yeah. There are services like Mandy’s. There’s some listservs out there that are subscription-based. And it’s just a matter of if you do that, if you’re finding things, and are getting good leads through that. A lot of it’s word of mouth, or companies that … Looks like Mandy put her link in the chat.

But specific companies use RFPs on a regular basis, so knowing who those companies are, or museums, checking in with them. But yeah, there’s no concrete, like, “Here’s where you find it.”

Jenny-Sayre:

Are the government ones posted in one location or is there anyone here does response more to government-initiated RFPs?

Bart Hays:

There is the federal website that I can’t remember what the acronym is now, but it’s SAM. S-A-M.

Mandy Smith:

SAM.gov.

Bart Hays:

Yeah, and they post a lot of national park service ones. And again, I’ve just found that I pick a couple that have the least amount of annoying ads. And they usually will say, “Well, here’s a nice lead you might be interested in. Pay your $400 a month and we’ll tell you more about it.” But it gives me enough that I can Google a little more and dig around and see if I can find out what the project is.

I hope that’s in the bounds of ethical, but that’s the way I’ve found some good stuff that way. And I agree with what Barbara just said. Sometimes going after something you don’t think you have any business going after is a great way to get a job, and just taking the risk, just to get experience, to get your name out there, because it might just turn into a good project.

Barbara Punt:

And Google Alerts, you just reminded me. I meant to mention that before. Set your Google Alerts. I’ve got one on museum RFPs. I’ve got a bunch. But they’re free. No offense to Mandy, but it is an additional resource that you have out there.

Julie Govert:

Well, great. We got to wrap up because we’re out of time. We have a resource document. If you have other resources that you know of, if you could put those in the chat, if you have a listserv that you use or the federal website, or whatever it is. Other resources or how to write a good RFP. We’re going to compile anything that’s in the chat, and we’re going to add it to this document, and then this will go out with the follow-up email after this with the recording. And so we’ll have all of those resources in one spot.

Some of the resources are some articles that Barbara’s written, the exhibition journal that there’s an entire one all about RFS. Lots of good stuff there. We will share that. But if you have others that you’d like to add, please put that in the chat. Also, we’re going to wrap up. I’m going to tell you a little bit more about IMP. If you want to stick around afterwards, Barbara can give us a few more minutes for Q&A and you just ask that you put any questions you have in the chat.

But just want to tell you about how to join IMP. If you’re not already an IMP member, you can join via your AAM membership. And all you have to do is look at your profile in AAM and select IMP as a professional network that you’d like to join. If you have questions, you can contact AAM, or of course you can contact me or Jenny-Sayre. You can find IMP online. We have Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn. We have a webpage through AAM and we have some of our past session recordings there and some other resources as well.

Ways to get involved, we’d love to have new volunteers. And you can indicate your interest on that contact sheet. And if Susan can pop that back in to the chat in case you missed it to please add your name. We also have a biobank, and we do feature people in our newsletter and I think maybe once a week on our social media. And if you have program ideas, send them our way. We have some great upcoming events. If you’re going to be attending the AAM annual meeting and museum expo in Boston, IMP is participating in three different events.

We have an IMP’s talk, if you’re familiar with our IMP’s talk format. We’re actually going to meet in-person. It’s going to be fantastic. And we’re doing that on Thursday, the 19th. We will also have an hour in one of the new neighbor hubs. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but we’ll be there, and it’ll be kind of a great place to meet other IMPs. And then on the Friday night, the 20th, we’ll be participating in the professional network evening event with other professional networks where we can meet each other and hang out.

And that is a ticketed event. If you can’t come to the AAM conference, we’re going to be repeating our IMPs Talk: Strengthening Collaborations, in June in a virtual format. And then we’re really excited to do the first in the series called Agents of Change: How IMPs Can Inspire and Partner With Their Clients, and that’ll be in July. And so when you get the contact sheet, all of those registration links will be in the second tab with more info.

And I think maybe Susan’s going to put that in the chat if she hasn’t already. I’m not looking at it. We will also be sending out a survey in our follow-up email. We’d love to get your feedback on how you enjoy this program. And if you have, like I said, ideas for future upcoming programs, we just want to hear from you. When you get that, please do fill that out. And ta-dah, we’re done.

Like I said, if you’d like to stick around, Barbara’s going to give us a few extra minutes for Q&A. If not, we thank you for joining us today and we’ll see you at the next IMP program. Does anyone who’s staying have some questions? And if you do, you could put them in the chat, or I think at this point you can unmute yourself and just ask. Nothing?

Barbara Punt:

We just talked for an hour. We’ve all answered everybody’s questions.

Julie Govert:

Now we know everything there is to know about, gosh, RFPs. I speak in acronyms, just like that commercial.

Barbara Punt:

That’s suiting.

Veronika:

I would have a question.

Julie Govert:

Yeah, go ahead.

Veronika:

Okay. I worked in this industry for quite a long time in, Europe and I moved here a year ago. I don’t know anybody, I don’t know how things work, so I was like, “Okay, this sounds like a good group how to figure out how to get something.” Would you recommend anything to start with? Because I need to figure out everything, the process, the bidding process, prices here. I’m like, “Okay, where to even start?” It’s kind of like starting over. Do you have any ideas from top of your head like where to start to get like start again here?

Barbara Punt:

What kind of work do you do [inaudible 01:04:39]?

Veronika:

Yeah, we’re a design studio now. I started 20 years ago working for a national heritage institute in a gallery. And then I was a photographer, like the documentary photography for the museums. And then went to graphic design, and then I started my own studio, which is still working in Czech Republic, but I got married here and moved here.

I did not expect doing that. Now I’m here and I’m like, “Okay, I need to start over.” It’s design, basically book design and exhibition design and everything that goes with it, like promotion of like the posters and social media. Basically everything that goes with exhibitions and books.

Julie Govert:

I have just a quick suggestion, and that is that IMP has developed two pieces, two documents. One is kind of guidelines on kind of how IMP should be working. And the other is a quite extensive guide for museums and how they should work with IMPS. It’s a great resource of some of our members.

Veronika:

Thank you.

Julie Govert:

And have you seen those?

Veronika:

No, not yet.

Julie Govert:

Okay. So-

Veronika:

I’m a member of the American Alliance of Museums that I found. And then I got an email of IMP, I was like, “Wow, amazing.” So I [inaudible 01:06:01]

Julie Govert:

… It is amazing. We’re pretty young, but we’re scrappy.

Barbara Punt:

We’re friendly. We’re very friendly.

Julie Govert:

We’re friendly. Susan, you’re still on. Can you throw in the chat the link to the IMP resource page? Can you find that? Veronika, this is the resource page for our IMP group on AAM’s website. But under the resources, you should be able to find these two documents along with some other things.

But I definitely recommend looking at those because it helps kind of set up how we should be working with museums. It does include RFPs as part of that. But I think it’ll have some good information for you just generally. Barbara, I don’t know if you have other suggestions, but certainly we’re going to send out that resource page that’s going to have a lot of stuff on that piece.

Veronika:

Perfect. Thank you so much.

Barbara Punt:

Yeah. Well, one of the things that reasons why I asked you what kind of work you do is talk to colleagues. When I said we’re a friendly group, I wasn’t really joking. People are very friendly and collegial, and we all have moved around different places during our careers. I think I know many people have moved around.

I don’t know if it’s more than norm or not, it’s just my experience. And so people are kind of trained to be nice and friendly and helpful. And all of these links that they’ve been posting start to look for other places. There’s museum networking. Museum Junction is an online network. If you aren’t a member of AAM, I think that’s a good start because there’s resource there besides [inaudible 01:07:47].

Veronika:

Yeah, looked at that already. Yeah, I haven’t joined it, it’s like, yeah, it looks good.

Barbara Punt:

Yeah, yeah. What part of the country do you live in?

Veronika:

California here?

Barbara Punt:

Oh. Northern or Southern?

Veronika:

Berkeley. So it’s the middle, I think.

Barbara Punt:

Okay. Well, California Association Museum certainly is a place to start. I’m in Southern California, otherwise, [inaudible 01:08:06]. But there’s tons of people in the Bay Area. But are there any associations more towards the Bay Area than where you are that you can think of?

Bart Hays:

Not so much associations, just a group. I’m in Monterey, which is two and a half hours South of you. And we’ve been trying to figure out how to get together a sort of a California drinking about museums group. Just again, another network of people and particularly sort of exhibitions folks in particular. But part of the problem is we are just still spread out.

So if it’s to try and get enough people together, you got to pull from two hours away, at least people I’ve talked to. But there is a pretty strong community. There are a couple of design build firms and design firms up and down California and fabricators.

That’s been our strategy is figure out who the fabricators are and offer your help so that they can build more stuff if you designed it for them. And so, yeah, I agree with what Julie and Barbara are both saying. We are a friendly group and we love to rift together and talk. This is your first step is just showing up.

Veronika:

Would you mind if I find you on LinkedIn and try to add you guys?

Bart Hays:

Please do. Absolutely.

Veronika:

Okay then. Thank you so much.

Bart Hays:

Yeah.

Julie Govert:

You can find us all on LinkedIn and connect with us. And just Tanya also pointed out it’s one of our resources on that link. But there’s the business of being an IMP, which is program we did a couple years ago, and that’s like about kind of the business part of it and you might want to check that out as well.

Tomas has a question about RFPs, and he says, “RFPs typically ask to list staff for every role with previous project experience. Do you think COVID work from home era will change attitudes about virtual teams working together as a group of independence?”

Barbara Punt:

Yeah, I just answered in the chat.

Julie Govert:

Oh, sorry.

Barbara Punt:

I not only think you’re right, I think it’s revolutionized a lot of things about teams. Because it used to be that firms would say to me, well, museums, “I really want to work with someone I can meet more often. We can go to their shop. We can see things.” And honestly, there’s no difference working with a team that’s an hour and a half away than six hours away, because you’re not driving an hour and a half every week.

And even now with fabrication stuff, people can do virtual tours and whatever. I think that COVID has only enhanced the digital techniques that were out there, but they’ve made them apply to everybody. And so it’s become much more socially acceptable to do that, or professionally acceptable is probably the better word. I absolutely agree with you. Has anybody else found that to be a case, you’ve found that COVID has changed clients being amenable to folks being different places? I mean, Bart, you’re an example of that.

Bart Hays:

Yeah, I was patiently waiting to jump enthusiastically on that question, because yeah, that’s sort of our business. I’ve got a couple of partners that I work with, and we’re each independent exhibit professionals, but we’ve gone after a couple of big projects and won, where I, as a sole proprietor, have partnered with other independent professionals. One of them is also here in California and one of them is in North Carolina.

And so we built a team. We built a team that suited the needs of the project, and it’s great. I really enjoy working that way. Yeah, I’d love to be able to get together and sit around a table more often to hash out design ideas, but there are great collaborative tools now, digital tools that really eliminate those barriers to not being in the room together. Yeah, I think if there’s a silver lining to COVID, it’s that virtual collaboration is now mainstream.

Barbara Punt:

And more acceptable.

Bart Hays:

Yeah.

Barbara Punt:

It’s not looked down upon.

Jenny-Sayre:

I think the bar is higher in terms of how you’re engaging people. I mean, and even just using the example of this meeting. When you can see people, it makes a big difference in terms of being able to communicate with each other. Are you interacting? Because it’s also easier to just kind of space out or check out, say, on screen than it is in-person.

 

I think that, that piece of learning, I felt I’ve had to personally learn more strategies for how to create interactive engaging work together in-person, where in a room I could maybe talk through something. But if it’s online, there needs to be more going on to keep people engaged.

Barbara Punt:

You mean more things happening on the screen than just the conversation, is that what you mean?

Jenny-Sayre:

Yeah, more activity. More interaction and activity than just conversation, or just talking.

Tomas:

However, going back to RFPs, you think that RFPs will evolve to the point that there’s always that category of staff, right, where they’re looking to see that you have staff in every position, in every role. And that comes down to a point system usually. There are many RFPs that I simply don’t respond to because I have a space here, but I don’t have people on staff, but I have a place to meet. But I know that I can’t meet many RFPs because of that.

Barbara Punt:

I haven’t had that experience, so I’m less familiar with what you might have experienced that require staff. Usually they require teams or company. But I’ve seen plenty of respondents where the team was independent people. In fact, I’m working on a project with Bart that he just described in California, but I wasn’t part of the selection process so I don’t know how heavily they weighed that.

But I think that if people weren’t amenable to that before, they’ll absolutely be more amenable too now. I would answer it anyway. I think you just said that you wouldn’t necessarily submit because they talk about staff. I would talk about your teammates. Just don’t use the word staff.

I don’t think they mean to disqualify you. I think it may be nomenclature and they just didn’t understand it might be exclusionary. That may not have been their intent, is my impression. Of course, it’s saying because it’s due anyway, like, “Sure. Tomas, just do more work. Why not?”

Jenny-Sayre:

It sounds like something you could ask in the front end too, [inaudible 01:14:31] say, “I can assemble a team that covers all of this with that qualify.”

Bart Hays:

One contract we went after recently had some language that wasn’t clear like that. The work around was … What they were asking is that whoever was the prime bidder had contracts in place with their subcontractors before the selection process was complete. So it wasn’t just, “Yeah, I can find people. Give me the job, but I’ll figure it out,” it was, “No, I have contracts in place. If we win this job, you know that these contracts are already in place.” That was the workaround they got for, okay, well, you don’t all have to be under one roof, but we want to know that your team is committed, whether they’re employees or subs.

Barbara Punt:

Yeah, that’s good.

Jenny-Sayre:

They’re not fictional.

Bart Hays:

Yeah.

Barbara Punt:

They’re theoretical. You didn’t just get a bunch of people saying “Yeah, sure. I’d work on that.”

Bart Hays:

Yeah.

Julie Govert:

I think Barbara you’re probably out of time, unless do we have one final question? Anybody have a final thought?

Tomas:

There was a question about design build in the earlier chat.

Barbara Punt:

Oh yeah, I can answer that. I’m trying to remember who put that. It caught my eye as well. If anybody finds it, let me know.

Tomas:

I’m seeing a lot more RFPs that are going design build. It seems to be a big trend.

Barbara Punt:

Oh yeah, Cynthia asked that.

Tomas:

And I think getting to knowing whether you’re going up against other designers or other design build companies is really important, especially designer.

Barbara Punt:

And that’s a valid question. There used to be more design build companies actually. And now some of them have kind of left the field or focused solely on design, or solely on build. And it’s sticky, right? Because if you’re a designer and you’re going up against design build, or even a fabricator who pulls in a designer, you don’t want them to be mean to you next time you want them to a fabricate project or give you a bad bid next time.

 

It is a very sticky combination. Cynthia’s question, and she’s the one, Cynthia Brown, they do a lot of traveling exhibits. And I don’t know if she’s still on the call. We’ve seen a lot of exhibition RFPs lately designed build, where the concept is blue sky. They don’t disclose a budget, and they want an all in project proposal. Yeah, that sounds like a really bad RFP.

If I wanted to answer that, because I wanted the project, and I thought it was a great opportunity, sort of set your parameters. Say, “Well, if you wanted to do it in this order of magnitude, we might approach it this way, or that order of magnitude, we might approach it that way.” Because again, it’s going to be about your process. The RSP should be about who do you have, what’s your experience and what’s your process?

And if this is blue sky, then include in your process that we have plenty of experience doing concept development or master planning. I mean, it depends on how you define blue sky. But I would just set the parameters you think you can do well at. I mean, does that make sense to you guys on the call? You have just as much to look at as I do.

Bart Hays:

Yeah, we’ve been trying to figure out sort of are there tiers. Like, well, if you want high level of interactivity, lots of digital elements, then you’re at a tier one, and we can design to that sort of a scope, and that’s X number of dollars per square foot typical. Or we can do a tier three, which is more reliant on graphic panels and low tech interactive, flip doors, and that’s a different number of dollars per square foot.

I think you’re right. I really like what you said, Barbara, about it’s about process and people going back to that fit piece. If you could have a good process and bring good people, and there’s a good fit, you can figure out the scope and budget.

Barbara Punt:

I got to get going. But if you guys have any other questions, feel free to email me. You all got my information. And thank you for setting this up, Jenny-Sayre and Julie, and Bart and Susan. I appreciate everything. You’ve given a ton of time. Thank you for giving me this opportunity.

Julie Govert:

Well, we really appreciate having you. And thanks everyone. And we’ll follow up via email.

Barbara Punt:

Okay. What is that thing? Is that a question? No, just a thing. Okay.

Bart Hays:

Thank you.

Barbara Punt:

Take care everybody.

Julie Govert:

Bye.

Barbara Punt:

Bye.

Jenny-Sayre:

Bye.

Julie Govert:

All right.

Bart Hays:

All right, pretty good.

Jenny-Sayre:

Sorry, my electricity went out in the middle-

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