Whether you're designing a request for proposal (RFP) to send to possible vendors or answering one from a potential client, the process can be daunting. So Northwest Meetings + Events asked a vendor and a planner for tips on making sure the proposal is clear, concise and, most importantly, effective.

Designing a Request for Proposal

Dwayne Thomas is the owner of the event lighting design and production firm Greenlight Creative, in Portland, Oregon. He says that it’s important for planners to include as much information as possible. “For sure, you want to include the when and the where, but we really need to know what it is you’re asking us to light. Often, we get RFPs that just say ‘stage lighting appropriate for a corporate sales meeting.’ We will do our best to answer this, of course, but you’ll never get an apples-to-apples series of proposals back … everyone will interpret this differently.”

And that means including as much of the information about the venue as possible. “If you know it, reveal it. If you know it’s a 60-foot-by-24-foot stage with a 24-foot centered video screen and two smaller offstage flanking screens set 6 feet off the stage deck, tell us. If you know which room at the venue this stage is going to be in, let us know. If you have a diagram of where the stage is going to sit, show us. This logic applies to everything that can impact the vendor you’re asking for a proposal from. Short setup time frame? It will help a lot to know this before we bid. Are you providing union labor for install and dismantle? Ditto; this makes a big difference,” he says.

Thomas also suggests that planners not be afraid of asking for proposals without pricing in the early stages of planning. “It might be good to just ask for your vendors to answer a series of pointed questions about their service, experience, techniques, etc. Call it an exploration of capabilities. This way you can vet us and even bring the top three into the creative process. Then you can ask for formal pricing based on whatever ideas were fleshed out during creative sessions.” 

Answering a Request for Proposal

Aidan Henry is the owner and creative director of Victoria, British Columbia–based event design agency Brink Events. While many of his clients come from word of mouth, he has worked with institutional organizations and government agencies that require answering RFPs. 

Within his market, he has established strong relationships with event vendors, so when answering an RFP, he says it’s important to convey those ongoing relationships with potential clients. “Then it feels like they are getting a whole package, a team, as opposed to someone who is just picking and choosing vendors,” says Henry. “It’s all about the whole package. It’s all about not having the segmented pieces that will kind of fit together in a wishy-washy way. You want it to feel like you’re getting a whole team who has played together before.” And before you do include them in the RFP, be sure to let the vendors know the basics of the potential event to determine their interest and availability.

While it’s ideal to have similar events to showcase in an RFP, sometimes that is not possible. In those instances, Henry says: “Be more versatile and note what your event-management skills are. … What you have to prove is that you’ve done all these other events where there are critical touch points, and you have to be on the ball and knock it out of the park, but there are a lot of crossover components. There is sound and lighting; there are logistics; there is pickup and delivery; there’s this and that—whether it’s a high-end party, an expo or a run, it’s all event management at the end of the day.” 

Thomas speaks for both planners and vendors when he asks potential clients to, “Please, for the love of Mike, don’t steal our creative and hand it to a lower bidder to perform. Not cool. The difference in price between us and them is, well, that creative that you just stole. Plus, there are ideas, and then there is the execution of those ideas. [They are] not the same.” 

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