Vendor questions and answers RFP/2013-03-01

Q1. Can you tell me a little about the Massachusetts Library System?
A1. Prior to 2010 there were six regional entities in MA charged with supporting library services. There exists a state law requiring and funding this service. In response to devastating budget cuts at a state level, the previous support agencies were dissolved and MLS was created in 2010 with the charge to efficiently deliver core services to all Massachusetts libraries.
The cutbacks required a severe reduction in force and the closing of four of six offices.  Though generally satisfied with MLS, our member libraries still feel the loss of the previous support offices.
MLS carries on much of the same work that the previous offices performed: we sponsor eContent offerings, coordinate delivery of physical items between libraries, offer training and consulting, support technology issues whenever possible, help coordinate a statewide summer reading program, manage an Integrated Library System and administer a temporary staffing service for MLS members. Some of these services are necessarily scaled back from what they were prior to 2010.
In addition to the challenge of merging six organizations into a single MLS, we have challenges differentiating ourselves from the numerous other acronyms in the library community: MBLC (Mass. Board of Library Commissioners), MLA (Mass. Library Association), MSLA (Mass. School Library Association) as well as the non-library community (we are neither realtors nor a soccer league).

Q2. The RFP mentions “Design communication plan using channels and tools already available or in use by MLS staff” in section 3.2.2.1. What are channels and tools are currently in use by the staff?
A2. MLS currently employs social media (FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube/Vimeo) and we will soon deploy Constant Contact. To clarify, we are not opposed to the adoption of new technologies. Use of current channels/tools is merely a desirable goal.

Q3. The schedule shows that the “Decision on Contractor” will be made on April 5th however in section 1.4 it states that “Responses are sought that accommodate MLS’s goal of reviewing primary proposals and making recommendations to the MLS Executive Board in June 2013″. Is this a second step in choosing the Contractor or a rough date for showing the branding direction to the Executive Board? When will the project kick-off?
A3. We will make a decision on the contractor in April and begin the process working with the contractor. Our goal is to begin work immediately and progress through any market studies, focus groups and preliminary creative processes to develop a first round of potential deliverables (be they logos, tag lines, etc.) to present to the Executive Board in June. The June date is the goal to show a brand direction to the Executive Board.

Q4. Can travel expenses be included in the budget?
A4.  Yes

Q5. Will MLS consider applications from out of state? Can the process be conducted virtually?
A5.  We will accept applications from out of state bidders. While MLS embraces technology we will require in person meetings with the chosen contractor (probably a minimum of two).

Q6. Will travel be allowed over and above the $25,000 budget?
A6. No.

Q7. Are there any negative perceptions of the current brand of MLS?
A7. That’s difficult to answer. Certainly there are MLS member libraries who have not embraced the changes of the last few years. However, that is a reaction to change, and not necessarily to MLS. Some members have been fearful of losing valuable services they relied upon with the previous service entities. Further, some lamented the loss of access to long-term colleagues whom they knew and trusted. Some segments of membership feel left out or overlooked. Performance and some familiar faces have helped to alleviate resistance in some cases.

Q8. Is the new brand aimed more at changing public perception, or the perception of the supporting entities?
A8. Good question. Both? Neither? We are looking for a brand identity to assert and inform. There is far more unfamiliarity with MLS than there is knowledge of our staff or services. We don’t have enough recognition (good or bad) to feel the need to change perceptions. We want a brand to improve recognition of MLS apart from other library support and service entities in Massachusetts.

Q9. In the RFP you indicate a June deadline to present to your Executive Board. Is that the end of the project? Can you tell us more about that deadline?
A9. Our planned timeline is to choose a contractor in April and immediately begin work on the processes that lead up to the first-round brand ideas from the contractor. Those first-round ideas should be ready by June at which time the PR & Branding Task Force, MLS staff and the Executive Board will have an opportunity to review and weigh in on the brand ideas. In the call, June 3 was established as a due date to have first-round brand ideas ready to be presented to the Executive Board at their June meeting. From the input we collect in June a decision will be make on which brand idea to pursue and refine. Ideally, we will be prepared to implement our new brand identity and communication plan by fall. Whoever is chosen as contractor will primarily be working with the Task Force established to work on this project.

Q10. You mention “related branding materials”; does that mean something other than logo artwork? What are you looking for?
A10.
We want a creative team we can work collaboratively with. We will be relying on our work with the contractor to determine what those branding materials will be. It may be a logo, tagline, nickname…but it could be that the final product is something different. We are intentionally using broad terminology because we don’t want to influence contractors to hold back on suggestions that may be a good fit because the contractor sees the suggestion as not meeting the expectations

Q11. Are you looking for brochures, or direct mail piece? Or are you looking for something that defines the character like a logo, a theme line, etc.?
A11.
The latter for the brand identity. The communication plan will be the execution of the brand. There may be overlap. Contractors should focus on how they will creatively address MLS’s needs to define the brand and execute the brand within the timeline and budget set forth. It seems to us that how we communicate the brand identity will be reliant on how that brand identity manifests under the guidance of the creative team.

Q12. The Executive Board will have input in the decision? And how much will that entail (will the Executive Board be involved in the design and creation of collateral such as brochures, etc.)
A12.
They will be presented with a few options for initial brand ideas that have been screened by the Task Force and the creative team. The Executive Board will certainly weigh in on the initial direction, but likely will not involve themselves with the development of collateral pieces.

Q13. If the budget is $25,000; does that run to the June meeting? And then would there be another step and possibly more budget?
A13.
No, the budget is firm at $25,000 for the brand identity and communication plan. The June date is one plot point on the project timeline. It is not end of the project. The time up until the June meeting will be used for the contractor to implement the tools they deem necessary to start crafting a brand identity (surveys, focus group, market research, etc.)

Q14. You mentioned focus groups; can you talk about what you envisioned for focus groups? Because those can be quite costly.
A14.
Again, we are not expecting any particular approach to determining the brand identity. We’re pointing to processes like ‘survey’, ‘focus group’, and ‘market research’ because use of vague terminology hasn’t been helpful in this conversation. These terms are used as examples only. We will work collaboratively with the chosen agency to determine the best route for data collection within the budget and our capabilities. If you, as a bidder, do not feel that a focus group is reasonable with this limited budget that is perfectly acceptable. In RFP responses you will need to address the processes you will employ to determine the brand identity.

Q15. Regarding the communications plan, “constituencies” were mentioned. Are constituencies internal needing guidance on proper use of the brand and execution of the brand, or are constituencies reaching out to the public and the public space (an advertising campaign)?
A15.
In this conversation, when we referred to constituencies in terms of testing brand ideas we were speaking about our governance board, our staff. When we talk about the communications plan include our 1,700 member libraries and their staff members, and part of what we need to figure out is: is it important to try to reach the general public with some of our services. We don’t know the answer to that at this point. The communication plan is not intended to be a piece that the agency executes. We will carry out the plan. While paid placement advertising is not anticipated at this point, contractors should not automatically discount paid placement channels if they feel the channel is important. We need to get word out to our members about our services. And to do that, we need a plan. We anticipate being able to do that internally with our electronic and paper tools, as well as face to face.

Q16. How is the communication plan going to be executed if there is no further budget? Do all the deliverables need to come out of the $25,000?
A16.
Essentially, yes, deliverables need to come out of the $25,000. Bids should be crafted with the budget in mind. One purpose of the communication plan is to give MLS guidance on the execution of the brand identity. We have tools in place to communicate with our members (social media, email discussion lists, Constant Contact and many face-to-face opportunities). If deliverables end up being digital copies of artwork, a theme line and, let’s just say, some .doc templates for use in office, then so be it. That being said, MLS does have a modest annual marketing budget which can be used for printing, swag, exhibit materials or other products that address goals in the communication plan. Our market is primarily the library staff community in Massachusetts. To a lesser extent we have services that directly reach the public audience (and we need to determine if we enforce a patron-side service brand). We need to improve how we communicate with our librarian-target-market. We need to improve how we target messages to their needs.

Q17. The programs we have under this brand (BiblioTemps, delivery) – is the target the internal library force?
A17.
This is what we’re trying to figure out. Most of our audience is the professional library community. There are some services that are patron-side services, that is, these services directly touch the general public. BiblioTemps is a library-side service which needs its own identity. MassCat needs its own identity. After that, we need to make decisions about what gets a sub-brand and what falls under the larger MLS brand.

Q18. I am familiar with the Minuteman Library network out here near Boston. How does MLS fit into that?  Is MLS replacing Minuteman?
A18.
No. Not at all. We work in a sort of parallel capacity to the library networks. Some of their members are our members (and vice versa). We work cooperatively with the networks for things like delivery – where we coordinate the physical transportation, the networks supply the technology to facilitate the channeling of materials and the libraries do the rest. The landscape of organizations and support systems for libraries in the Commonwealth is complicated. That is part of the challenge to asserting our identity. Many of our members share your confusion.

Q19. Will the meetings be held in Whately?
A19. We are flexible. We have two offices in Whately and Marlborough and would meet in one of the two offices.

Q20. How many people are on the Task Force and the Executive Board?
A20. There are eight members on the Task Force (in the phone meeting I incorrectly stated 10). There are four MLS staff members and four representatives of member libraries. The Executive Board is comprised of 18 people.

Q21. Could the Branding Task Force be available between April and May for a brand discovery session?
A21. Absolutely.

Q22. Could you talk a little about the criteria you will use to choose an agency? Is it weighted toward previous work/experience? Is it weighted toward the plan itself?
A22.
We are developing a scoring rubric to go along with the vendor response form. All scoring essentially subjective, any one particular bid will be scored by more than one member of the task force. We will look at these bids somewhat holistically. Clearly some experience is helpful, and portfolio review will be considered, as well as whether or not bidders are able to meet requirements. We will not divulge what aspects we weight more heavily.

Q23. Regarding the three grades at the bottom of each question (respondent exceeds requirement, respondent meets requirement, respondent does not meet requirement), these are guides that you at MLS will fill out, correct? These are not intended for the bidders to respond to?
A23. Incorrect. Those are intended for the bidder to complete. We are interested in each bidder’s honest appraisal of their ability to meet needs. We have used this technique in previous RFPs. We have found it helpful to have an honest self-appraisal of bidder’s abilities. Not everybody is strong in everything, and we can deal with that if we know what we’re getting into.

Q24. Can you define the MLS stakeholders in the member libraries?
A24.
We have thousands of stakeholders. If you want to identify them generically:

  • Directors and staff members in member libraries (including public, academic, school and special libraries such as law offices, hospitals, historical societies and museums)
  • our chief funder the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC)
  • nine shared automated networks that create a shared integrated library system among 350 libraries. These networks generate the ILL traffic which necessitates our delivery service
  • end-users – the users of the delivery service, the electronic content we buy (the borrowing public)

Q25. Are you accepting portfolios of past work and if so, how would you like it delivered.
A25.
We are indeed accepting portfolios. We will not accept links to websites. If your portfolio is on the web you can print screenshots, save screenshots to a disk or flash drive. Or you could do it the old fashioned way and deliver a print portfolio. We will value the portfolio portion.

Q26. We’re thinking about your critical success factors, for instance, “improved member satisfaction”. Will success be measured, and, if so, how?
A26. Yes, success will be measured. We do frequent surveys of our members to find out their levels of satisfaction with various services. We would hope to see changes in the results and numbers of responses. We also are employing tools like Constant Contact, so increased opt-ins, improved click through rates and positive changes in other metrics would be desirable. We would like to see greater engagement and we want feedback from our members about their satisfaction.

Q27. Do you have a baseline of these measurements so we know where we’re starting at? If so, will you share this info?
A27.
We do have metrics from satisfaction surveys already established. We have a quantifiable number of followers on social media, opt-ins on our email lists, etc. These can serve as a baseline. Yes, we will share with the winner of the bid. Some survey data includes awareness of services, importance of services and satisfaction levels. A summary result of last year’s survey is available on the website at: http://www.masslibsystem.org/blog/2012/01/24/thank-you-for-completing-our-survey-snapshot-of-satisfaction-results/. Results for this year have not been posted.

Q28. To further this question, if 80% of libraries are aware of your services that is very different than if 30% are aware.
A28.
We’ve got a lot of room for improvement. We are nowhere near an 80% saturation. For example, a recent survey saw about 400 responses from our membership of 1,700 libraries – and most libraries have more than one staff member. And some of those 400 responses were duplicative of institutions. We are not getting responses from more than half our members.

Q29. To revisit budget, the $25,000 must cover everything, included completed materials?
A29.
Yes. Proposals should creatively respond to the limitations of MLS, including budget. And the plan is just that, a plan. Recommending materials is not the same as supplying them. It will be up to MLS to execute the plan the agency will not be responsible for the execution. We will work with the agency to craft a plan that is responsive to the modest marketing budget earmarked annually. Again, deliverables may very well be artwork that we use to create collateral in-house.

Q30. In part of the proposal you ask for a detailed plan as to how you would execute the marketing plan, yet, there seems to be a lot of research and data you can’t share now. So are you asking for ideas on what the marketing plan will look like?
A30. Yes. What we want to know is how would you go about helping MLS determine the best course of action from here on out. We can talk about what we’ve done, what’s worked, what hasn’t and hand over whatever data we have for the creative team to analyze. What are you going to do to determine what MLS has been doing right, what we’ve been doing wrong, and what we’ve missed?

Q31. So you’re looking for the process and not the solution. Because clearly we cannot come up with the solution at this point without all that information.
A31.
We certainly don’t expect a solution in the RFPs. We want to know your approach to the process. We expect to be part of the process. The solution will come in the form of the brand identity and the recommendations of the communications plan. The rest will be up to us at MLS to make it happen.

Q32. Do you have a separate budget to handle printing of letterhead and business cards and other items that will need to be replaced?
A32.
Yes.

Q33. Will you post the current business card on the website?
A33.
Yes. MLS business card

Q34. The RFP speaks to sticking with the communication channels already in place although the response on the website seems to indicate otherwise?
A34.
That’s a desirable outcome,not a required outcome. If the chosen contractor feels strongly about implementing another tool or channel, we certainly want to hear about it and will give it due consideration.