How To Write an Advertisement

In my years of preparing forms, I've seen thousands of Public Notices and RFQs. Most Public Notices – that is, the general announcement noting the project and giving you information on how to get the full RFQ – are fine and contain everything you need to know in order to submit your quals. Some are terrible and leave out key information, causing trepidation amongst the engineering community seeking to provide services for your project.

Here’s the general checklist every municipality, agency, or entity should consider before publishing a Public Notice. 

Correctly Identify your Notice (or, "No, a Bid is not the same as an RFQ"). Know the difference between a Request for Bid, Request for Proposal, and Request for Qualifications. They are not the same thing in the same way a cat is not the same as a dog. They're both pets but are completely different animals. This is by far the most egregious error I come across in daily review of advertisements. 

Basically put:

  • An invitation to bid is a request to get a cost estimate to do the work. This should ALWAYS be noted as "Invitation to Bid" (or Invitation), Invitation for Bid, etc., so as to avoid confusion with the below.
  • A request for qualifications (RFQ) is a request to provide information that shows you can do the work. 
  • request for proposals (RFP) is a request to provide a descriptive narrative on how you'll do the work.

Give a Clue as to the Nature of the Request. Here's a phrase I see a lot: "The City is interested in procuring a firm to provide Engineering Services for a Community Development Block Grant project." The industry knows what a CDBG project is, but what type? Sewer, road, water, utility, facilities, general building, wind hardening; what? You can say "contact us for an information sheet" but give a clue as to what general product line the project will focus on so a firm doesn't waste your time and theirs. 

Keep a Calendar Nearby and Double-Check the Due Date. Many times I'll see an ad that includes a due date that is a Federal holiday (even had one due December 25th once) or a weekend. Take a second and check your due date against a calendar that lists Federally-recognized holidays. Make sure it is a calendar for the current year (also a common mistake). 

List a Courier-Ready Address for Delivery along with a Telephone Number. In my 25 years of prepping these things, I've never once – not even once – sent something to a Post Office Box. It's the nature of the beast; quals are often prepped up until the last minute, necessitating the use of an overnight courier – and no firm is going to send a quals package that can't be tracked and confirmed delivered by a certain time. 

That said as well, your ad should not go on about having something due by a certain time and/or note courier delivery and only list a Post Office Box. 

Also include your phone number for any questions involving your noted delivery address. 

Don't Make Something Due before 11:00 AM. You know as well as everyone else that national courier services (FedEx, UPS, DHL, etc.) all only guarantee express delivery by 10:30 AM in almost all cases – so why make your SOQ due by 10? 

Don't Make Something Due within a few days of a Major Holiday. If Monday is New Year's Day, don't make something due Tuesday or Wednesday. And, for the same reasons you shouldn’t make something due the Monday or Tuesday after Thanksgiving, nothing should be due the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, nor the entirety of Mardi Gras week. There is no RFQ that is due one date that can’t be due a week from that date. Lighten up.

Have a Contingency Due Date Established. Along the Gulf Coast, we know that during Hurricane season the weather can turn within a day. If your make your quals due during a typical hurricane strike timeframe – early August thru late September – make some kind of automatically-known system setup that, if a hurricane looms, due dates are automatically put off by at least one calendar week. This doesn't seem like it should be an issue, but I've had agency representatives tell me, when I said there was a general evacuation in place, that the SOQ was still due on the noted due date (even if it was landfall day).  

Don't Give a Length of Rope (i.e., "open format" submittal) and know the Difference Between the Forms. Pick a standard form for your request. If your agency has no form in place, I strongly recommend the Federal SF255 which is the granddaddy of all modern standard forms. Every company has experience with it, it's flexible enough to provide all the information you need, and it's arguably one of the easiest forms to review.