Thinking About A Digital Signage RFP? Don’t Do It!

June 27, 2022 by guest author, Brandon Mullins


Let’s be honest: RFPs are kind of awful, for everyone involved.

Requests For Proposals have long been the go-to process for sourcing and selecting technology providers for organizations of all sizes. But they’re time-consuming, hyper-bureaucratic and very often not all that effective in discovering the most suitable solution and provider.

While an RFP can enforce a structure and discipline, it can result in the wrong vendor being selected because of the way submissions are assessed and scored. RFPs can also dissuade the most appropriate vendors from even chasing the business, because of all the time required to respond to an opportunity that may or may not work out. Or even be real.

If you are an end-user, sourcing digital signage technology for the first time, or to replace or refresh what you already have in place, have a good, hard think about whether doing an RFP is the best way to get to a solution. There are much less labor-intensive ways to find what you need, and they’ll probably be more effective in helping you identify the right option.

If you work for a large corporation or government entity with rigid procurement processes that mandate RFPs, well … Godspeed. You’re doing it.

But if not, let’s look at some easier paths.

First, here are some hard truths about RFPs:

There’s A Better Way…

Develop a very clear, crisp narrative about what is needed in terms of technology, and how it will work within the organization. You want to understand what you need the technology to do, but more to the point, you should fully define how it will be managed.

For example, does the company want to buy the software and host it on its own servers, behind its own firewall. Or does it want to effectively “rent” the technology, using software as a service (SaaS) that sees the cloud-hosted infrastructure and central ops handled by the service provider.

Who will “own” the screen network within the organization? Who will plan, run and watch things? Is that one person? An in-house team? New hires? Or will much or all of the work be outsourced to a service provider?

What are the characteristics your organization needs in a service provider? Do you want a company that makes and supports great software, but gets out of the way? Or do you want a company that can help right at the start – at the ideation stage – being a partner all the way through planning, rollout and ongoing operations.

In each case, and many more, these can be very different kinds of companies. The problem is that RFPs are not a great way to tease out that information.

A Different Approach

Do just a mini RFP. Craft a document that is just a handful of key questions, focused on the ones that really matter:

There are some other good questions and statements to slip in there, so don’t be limited by those listed above. Just don’t go on and on. You should not be wasting your time, or that of the vendors, rattling off questions about things like support for animated gifs or social media feeds. A lot of RFPs are stuffed with questions about whether vendors support or do things that just about every vendor supports and does.

The differences are less in the technology and more in the working style, technology approach and fit to the market vertical. For example, there are software platforms that are all about advertising that could probably also do the job in schools, workplaces or healthcare, but there are platforms that are specifically optimized for those vertical markets and use-cases.

For example, the company I work for – Spectrio – has a solution that’s all about the auto dealer environment – tuned to its needs, dynamics and business systems.

Identifying Options

Chances are, particularly if you already have a digital signage network in place, you have some ideas on what you want and who might be good to work with. Send the RFP to a few of them who seem like the right fit. There’s little reason why they won’t respond.

If you don’t know the technology or the company, engage a digital signage  industry consultant. Some might want a retainer and weeks of work. You probably don’t need that. Other consultants will hopefully do a few hours with you to help define your needs, and then recommend a short list of suitable service providers.

If you can get to that short list, send out that mini RFP, sift through the responses, and then have perhaps three companies in for a meeting – ideally in person. Don’t make it an hour. Make it a morning. Or a day. The more time you have to chat, the more likely you’ll get beyond features and specs discussions and into a quality conversation about ideas and working styles.

If digital signage technology is all new to you, maybe have the consultant sit in on the presentations to guide the conversation and filter the responses. Vendors who are good at responding to RFPs and sales presentations are not automatically good, as well, at delivering on their services.

These meetings will chew up some time, but think about two or three days allocated to this process, compared to what might be weeks and months to do a full RFP. This is much shorter and easier, and there’s a good chance the outcomes will be better, too.


Brandon Mullins is the VP Product at Spectrio, a Tampa-based digital signage solutions firm. As head of the Product Management team, his main focus is on aligning Spectrio’s product strategy and roadmap to enable our customers to deliver engaging solutions that inspire and influence their audiences.

  1. Ken Goldberg says:

    I generally agree with Brandon’s position on huge RFPs, but have some additional thoughts on the alternative. It is critical to be able to understand the differences among vendors that you solicit.
    High level question like the 5 suggested probably won’t get you further than the vendors’ web sites would have. Specific questions in the form of an RFI will help more. Every vendor you would want to work with can efficiently answer specific questions relevant to your project on platforms, approach, licensing/pricing, warranties, support and experience/references, so ask enough of those questions to help you narrow the list. In my experience, a well thought out RFI would have 20-40 questions that can be answered in three sentences or less. Then, as Brandon suggests, consider presentations, meetings and demos from a shortened list for the deeper dive.

    Ultimately, if the project is one of any scale, you are searching for a partner. A partner who in addition to being able to support your vision, will tell you what you need to know, not what you want to hear. The more you hone your process towards finding that type of partner, the more successful the outcome will be.

  2. Jackie Walker says:

    Totally agree with the suggestion to engage an industry consultant to help define the requirements and get more granular around what you are looking for. It is better to have those discussions BEFORE you are in the position of learning while you are being sold to. I would also recommend spending time clarifying not just what you want to do, but WHY you want to do it. Your solution partner will ultimately need to help you solve problems, so if you let them show you that they have ideas about how to do that, you’ll be in a better position to understand capabilities than just seeing the boiler demo out of context. I like to think about the need from a couple of lenses – what is the experience you are trying to deliver (and for who), what special software needs might you have (such as integrations), what special hardware requirements exist (outdoor, lighting, etc), and what are your data needs to determine effectiveness. Choosing a provider is often a pretty long term commitment and it can be painful, and expensive, to need to switch horses midstream. Definitely better to get it right the first time if you can.

  3. Wes Dixon says:

    We here at Keywest Technology offer this starting point: Three Questions – 1) What do you want to see on the screens? 2) What do you need to accomplish with digital signage? And 3) Who is going to run it?

    We have as many questions to ask you as you have for us. So, take you time and we’ll get it right.

Leave a comment