Warc has teamed up with the AP[S]OTW - or the Advertising [Planning] School On The Web to give it is full title.

This excellent initiative is run by a team of senior planners from across the world. They post challenges for up-and-coming planners and marketers - or, in fact, anyone with an interest in smart ideas and communications. It's a chance to have your thinking presented to a seriously, seriously senior line-up of judges (plus our own David Tiltman).

We'll be carrying and promoting their challenges here on the Warc blog, and hopefully highlighting some of the ideas that come out of them. So if it sounds like your cup of tea (or there's someone in your team who fits the bill), read on and give it a shot.

The first challenge we're carrying comes from Rob Campbell, Head of Planning at Wieden & Kennedy Shanghai, who has created a mock RFP for H&M that needs decoding then answering (note - the brief is entirely fictional, so please don't phone H&M for help).

To help out, we've opened up some of our premium content for entrants - see the links at the end of Rob's post below.

The challenge, which also appears on Rob's blog, is as follows:

This assignment is about simplification. Now, while that might sound easy, there's a few things to remember:

  • Simplification is not the same as simple.
  • It takes a lot of hard work to simplify something while maintaining the ideas heart & energy.
  • Simplification is not an excuse to be bland, boring or generic.

So what is the actual challenge?

Well it's something that many of us are exposed to, the RFP – short for Request For Proposal.

An RFP is a document many companies send out to agencies as part of their pitch process and are normally an absolute bloody nightmare.

The reason for this is because they're often 70+ page documents that go into the minutest of details without ever saying anything at all.

In essence, they've been designed to appear informative while actually encouraging more questions than answers.

The good news is the RFP you will be using for this assignment is not 70+ pages long, mainly because I couldn't be arsed to type up that many pages.

The bad news is it's as contradictory and confusing as it's longer-form versions.

So what do we want you to do?

Well, having read the RFP, we want you to:

  1. Give a clear articulation of what you believe is the core objective of the RFP. [Yes we know the RFP is full of contradictions, dead ends and goals - we've done it on purpose because sadly, that's what so many of them are like which is why you have to decide what you believe is the real objective and - to a certain degree - explain why]
  2. Create a strategy that achieves the objective you have identified. [That means we need to see a definition of the audience, the insight/s driving your strategy, a clear articulation of what your strategy is and 3 examples of how it could be 'brought to life', outside of traditional advertising]
  3. Write down the 5 key questions you wish you could ask the client.
  4. Present your findings via a 10-25 page presentation OR a 10 minute video pitch.
Anyway, to help with this particular assignment, Warc has provided some free links to a group of case studies and papers so that you can understand and consider some of the market dynamics to enable you to forge a more informed, culturally provocative point of view. What you use – if anything – is up to you, but it's there to help.

However, before we get to all that, here are some things to note:

  • While in the real World, clients would answer specific questions you may have with the brief, we will not. The purpose of this assignment is to simplify the RFP to what you believe is the key issue that needs to be addressed – and then justify your decision via your strategic response.
  • Make sure you answer the fundamentals of the RFP. If you want to do more – or go further – that's fine, but make sure you've answered the 4 key elements.
  • You should approach this as a competitive pitch, which means paying attention to how you say things as well as what you say.
  • Remember strategy is, at it's heart, simply about getting from point A to point B. With that in mind, any recommendation should be clearly defined and articulated. If it doesn't make sense or is hard to understand, then you're probably going to fail, regardless how brilliant you think your idea is.

    When IBM took the unprecedented decision to sell off their hugely profitable PC business – a decision that had unbelievable implications for the business both in the present and the future – they articulated their strategy as simply ‘moving from computers to consulting'.

    Obviously there was a ridiculous lot more to it than just coming up with a pithy line, but in terms of comprehension of the overall strategy … it was clear, concise and actionable. In short, if a massive technology company can do it, then you should definitely be able to do the same.
  • You will be judged by seasoned veterans so make sure your response is interesting, exciting and challenging. This isn't just about coming up with something effective, it's about being seen as the partner who can help them grow and go to places few could see, let alone deliver on.

So who are these judges?

Well there's a few. There's me (Rob Campbell). There's Northern and Gareth. There's Rodi, one of my wonderful colleagues. There's David, International Editor at Warc. There's Raj, regional head of strategy at MEC. There's Steve, a very, very senior executive at Virgin Atlantic. There's Simon, a very important and experienced marketer at NIKE. And finally, one more Steve – who is one of the senior designers at Apple.

The closing date is November 4th, so there's plenty of time to get on with things and as usual, the submission voted 'the best' by the judges will receive a prize.

Should you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact me and I hope that people beyond just strategy have a go. There are no wrong answers, just different ways to approach everything – and while the ultimate decision will be made by people who have lots of experience in developing great ideas for great brands – that doesn't mean they have the monopoly on everything that works. 

Most of all, just have fun – as much as RFP's can be unbelievably painful – if you rule them rather than they rule you, great things can happen. Good luck.

Here's the mad RFP and some free links to Warc content that might help you be even more brilliant.

Download the RFP as a PDF or view it via Slideshare below:

Free Warc case studies and papers for knowledge and inspiration (as said, these links are free to view):

  1. Paper on how Uniqlo used digital marketing to build a global brand.
  2. Focus on Puma’s after-hours athlete campaign.
  3. Best practice paper on brand extensions.
  4. Admap column challenging received wisdom about WOM/influencers.