ICA unleashes Pitch Watchdog on Canada Post

The Institute of Communication Agencies (ICA) is again urging agencies to boycott an RFP, this time from Canada Post.

Although the deadline to respond to the RFP is Wednesday, the ICA issued a release through its Pitch Watchdog today urging agencies to consider boycotting unless the Crown Corporation agrees to make “significant changes” that ensure fairness for all applicants.

The ICA outlined its key areas of concern:

1. The lack of a clear budget, which had been provided in previous years. According to the ICA, Canada Post acknowledged that a budget should have been included in the RFP. 

2. The absence of a pre-qualification round to create a shortlist for the RFP. ICA president and CEO Scott Knox said the RFP in its current form is an “open cattle call” that will cost the industry hundreds of thousands of dollars. “This will clearly waste time, effort and, most importantly, money,” said Knox.

3. A “prolific” amount of paperwork, which the ICA said will drain the resources of countless agencies. It will be particularly onerous for smaller agencies trying to build their company, it said.

The ICA claims Canada Post’s RFP in its current incarnation is a bad use of taxpayer dollars, requiring the crown corporation to invest “a huge number of hours” to review  the submissions.

But in an e-mail statement to The Message, Jon Hamilton, general manager, communications strategy with Canada Post, said that the RFP process “meets the corporation’s high standards while ensuring that any Canadian company has an opportunity to participate.”

Canada Post posted the RFP on the MERX tendering system on Feb. 27 with submissions closing on April 10. Knox said that the ICA first approached Canada Post late last week after being alerted to problems with the RFP by member agencies.

“We react when member agencies bring things to our attention,” said Knox. “It wasn’t until the day before we contacted [Canada Post] that I had a handful of member agencies saying ‘We’ve been having a bit of an issue with [the RFP]. Can you help?'”

Knox said the ICA had a “lengthy call” with Canada Post’s procurement department on Friday, but never had an opportunity to raise its concerns with the organization’s marketing department. However, he says that had no impact on the process.

“Our main objective was to speak to the people in control of this process, which was procurement, and talk them through ways we think would improve it for Canada Post and ways [that] wouldn’t have a potentially negative impact on the industry,” said Knox.

The ICA requested that Canada Post “pause” the RFP process to consider ICA’s concerns.

“We got to share some, but not all of our views, because we thought we’d have a further conversation with them on Monday. But that never happened.” Canada Post cancelled the follow-up call, instead sending a letter saying it was reluctant to make changes so close to the deadline and indicating that it was “open, robust and fair” in the RFP process.

In the email to The Message, Hamilton said that it would be “entirely inappropriate” for Canada Post to insert changes from an external party at such a late stage in the RFP process. “It would also be unfair to the many organizations who have been working on their submissions,” he said. Hamilton said that Canada Post has offered to meet with the ICA following the conclusion of the current RFP to see if any changes can be made to the process.

Canada Post joins several marketers, including Toronto Zoo, TD Bank, the Toronto Transit Commission and the YMCA, whose RFPs have been called out by the ICA’s Pitch Watchdog in recent years.

The ICA under Knox has been vocal in its distaste for the traditional RFP process, saying the time has come to “retire the RFP” in favour of a qualifications-based selection (QBS) process that places less emphasis on cost.

—Photo: Wikimedia Commons: Raysonho


Chris Powell