I am working with a medium-sized architecture practice to develop the ITT response for the architecture lots of this this local authority framework. Frameworks are particularly competitive, so the practice has sought specialist input to boost its chances.
By interviewing the team to understand their expertise and experience, I am creating a suite of responses which will set them apart from their competitors.
This month’s guest blog is provided by Paul Wilkinson, a construction PR and marketing specialist since 1987. He is an advocate of the application of social media in the AEC sector, and an authority on SaaS-based construction collaboration technologies.
Build UK (formed by the merger of the UK Contractors Group and the National Specialist Contractors Council) launched this week with a five-point action plan for the UK construction industry addressing:
the image of construction
industry’s skills needs
health and safety performance, and
fair payment practices.
Little surprise that “The image of construction” tops the list. It also featured prominently in the joint government-industry strategy, Construction 2025, compiled by the current chief construction adviser Peter Hansford in July 2013, and its four-fold ambitions to cut costs, speed up project delivery, cut carbon emissions and improve the industry’s export opportunities have featured in countless presentations. Construction 2025 devotes a whole section to improving the sector’s image. Hansford said “fundamental change is required in how the construction industry is perceived by the general public”, and “engaging young people and society at large” topped his list of areas where action is needed.
However, the sector’s inertia, innate conservatism and its often short-term view could hold it back. Too many organisations sit tight in their disciplinary silos, their leaders not recognising they are part of the problem.
“Our industry is great – it just needs better PR.“ – I have been at conferences where contributors have spouted this kind of utter rubbish. Basically, construction gets the reputation it deserves. As any good PR professional would tell you: the industry’s reputation is the result of what it does, what it says and what others say about it. It can’t control the latter – it can only control what it does and what it says.
Yes, we have some landmark projects (the Shard, the 2012 London Olympic games infrastructure, Crossrail, etc) that are world-leading, but which are often overlooked in favour of ‘cowboy builder’ stories and other negativity. Popular perceptions of construction are often heavily influenced by negative experiences as consumers at the SME level. And these experiences are often a consequence of some of the other industry problems – poor skills, poor health and safety, a lack of diversity, procurement processes fixated on lowest price (not best value), and often antiquated and unfair payment practices.
Active in Constructing Excellence and as chair of the CIPR’s construction and property group (CAPSIG), I have argued at conferences and online (here, here, here and here, for example) that the industry needs to stop thinking of itself as a monolithic entity and start to identify changes it can make across its many disciplines, and then get them communicating, running long-term, integrated, pan-sector campaigns, and working collaboratively with partners, trade bodies and (most importantly, perhaps) its customers and end-users.
I was cautiously optimistic that the combined thrust of the chief construction adviser, the pan-industry Construction Leadership Council, Construction 2025, and the catalysts of BIM and other digital initiatives might improve matters, but sadly my hopes were dashed. In July the new Conservative government announced it no longer needed an adviser, it slimmed-down the CLC to a token group dominated by contractors, and the future of Vince Cable’s various industry strategies, including, presumably, Digital Built Britain, was called into question.
I do not think Build UK is – as it claims – “ideally positioned to promote collaboration and provide industry-wide solutions for the benefit of everyone” (for a start, the challenge is much, much wider, embracing industry professionals – via the CIC, maybe – customers and end-users, and suppliers and manufacturers, among other stakeholders). However, I take heart from its suggestion that “Agreeing and implementing best practice can drive a lasting culture shift that will improve productivity, deliver growth and make the industry fit for purpose.” If we can overcome the government’s apparent abdication of partnership, and ensure that best practice is accompanied by corresponding changes in attitudes and behaviours from SME workplaces right up to PLC boardrooms then we might have a chance of changing the reputation of the industry currently known as construction.
There are no hard and fast rules for successful bid management, but there are trends and tips we have noticed along our bid management journey which have led to success. In this post we share some of the positive ways to influence bid success.
#1 Sector-specific knowledge
Only pursue opportunities which are relevant and appropriate for your business.
Sector-specific knowledge and experience is evidenced through having won other similar contracts.
The business has a rich library of insight and supporting documents which strengthen question responses.
#2 Define roles and responsibilities
A successful process is dependent on a team effort, with the bid team having defined roles and responsibilities, and working together as a successful whole.
#3 Hold a bid launch meeting
Probably the most important step of the bid management process.
It allows the bid team to agree team roles and responsibilities, methodology of the bid, win themes and key messages, review and authorisation protocols, key milestones, and contingency.
#4 Developing your standard library of information, so it can be used in bids
Ensure your bid library is populated with current policies, procedures, business information and examples.
Prove your company is perfect for the opportunity you are bidding for by providing great evidence.
#5 Research your client
Research your client thoroughly, especially the evaluation team, and understand their drivers, vision and values, and what keeps them awake with worry at night.
#6 Keep the customer at the heart of your bid
Concentrate the narrative on what the value-add and benefits are from their perspective, not from your own.
#7 Develop a consistent tone throughout your bid
Bids which have a theme and personality give a real flavour of the bidding organisation.
Ensure your terminology is consistent and thoroughly check your submission, incorporating any necessary improvements before finalising it.
#8 Obtain detailed feedback
Always, always obtained detailed feedback following submission, so you can learn how to improve for next time. Get feedback whether you have won or lost the opportunity.
Maintain a relationship with the buyer, whether you have won or lost. You may always be approached again about a future opportunity.
Purpol Marketing would be delighted to assist with bid management development within your organisation – please contact us for more details on firstname.lastname@example.org
People who mark tenders are time poor. They need your help.
It isn’t enough to just answer the question – you need to make your bid responses stand out. In a world of smart phones, working from home and constant email interruptions, the answer sandwich can help make the difference between a good and a great tender response.
The approach is simple enough – sandwich your response (the meat) with a very clear intro and a short summary outro. These become the bread of your answer sandwich.
It is the classic presentation style we’ve all been taught:
#1 tell them what you’re going to tell them,
#2 tell them,
#3 tell them what you’ve just told them.
By always thinking about the reader, your response naturally becomes more readable, the points you’re trying to make become clearer to them, and you score higher marks.
Applying this to a complex written response, particularly methodology or value added type questions, makes the response easier to digest for the reader.
Applying this to a real life example
Imagine someone needs to mark six 10-page method statements describing the construction process for a new supermarket.
Behind the sales talk and the case studies, if the client has got their tender process right, the six responses will be written by competent, experienced constructors, all of whom have the right technical approach to the build.
If someone’s got to mark six responses, and chances are all the responses are very similar, they naturally begin to think along those lines, skimming through the text, making sure the responses pick out the key points they’re expecting.
The answer sandwich makes one method statement stand out above all others.
With five similar responses, the sixth looks different. It has a two paragraph introduction, highlighted in a slightly larger font. That introduction talks about the benefits of the method proposed, whets the appetite of the marker, and, importantly, picks out the key selling points of that bidder’s approach, making them clear from the start.
The introduction acts as a sign post. It helps the marker by telling them what to look for in the response, giving them a clear path through the 10 pages of technical speak. Already that response stands out.
When the marker gets to the end, and needs to write a reason why they’re giving this response more marks, your bid helps them.
The outro at the end of the question gives a clear tick list of the benefits of your approach. It reminds them what they have just read, and summarises it in an easy to use list, which the marker can transfer into their scoring sheet. It gives a positive end to the response, ending the story, and making it easier for the marker to give you more points.
Does it really make that much difference?
If your technical answer is good, the answer sandwich makes your response better. But like any sandwich, it’s only as good as the filling.
If your technical response is the equivalent of the last ham sandwich for sale at a garage forecourt, dry and uninspiring, then this technique won’t make a massive difference. If you’re a ham sandwich, you need some help improving your technical content writing.
If however you’re a technical response has flavour – it’s a handmade BLT, with smoky bacon, juicy tomatoes and crisp lettuce – then it’s the bread that makes the difference between good and great.
In this post I will share with you my top tip for creating an effective library of standard information for PQQs, ITTs and marketing collateral.
Why a standard information library is important
The creation of a standard information library is fundamental to the success of any bid team. It can also be a huge chore. I wrote a blog last year about how to approach the creation of a standard information library, along with my own hints and tips.
Why the update, then?
In the past year, I have created three separate libraries for different clients in the industry and I have now refined my own technique, which I am going to share with you.
Why the PAS91 is an effective structure for an information library
I’m not getting into the whys and wherefores about whether the PAS is effective or efficient at creating a standardised approach to PQQs. This a topic which is going to be picked up by one of my guest bloggers in the coming months.
What I do think the PAS91 does, however, is provide a great ‘starter for 10’ with regard to what questions clients are likely to need answers to during the procurement process. If you systematically approach answering all of these questions and making sure you have the correct evidence on file, answering PQQs and other submissions should be much more straightforward. It will also provide a firm foundation to develop bespoke responses to the curveball questions we all know our esteemed clients and their advisors like to throw in from time to time!
Supplier identity, key roles and contact information
Business and professional standing
Health and safety policy and capability
Equal opportunity and diversity policy and capability
Environmental policy and capability
Quality management policy and capability
Building information modelling, policy and capability
How to develop these responses
A good idea is to create simple Word documents for each section, capturing all the questions you are asked in each submission and the responses you provide. These documents will evolve with time and always provide a rich bank of content to develop new responses in the future.
Create your documents with simple indexes or contents lists on the first pages.
What else you need
Don’t forget to get your CVs and project information sheets together. I would also recommend capturing evidence, benefits and examples of added value, sustainability and time and costs savings.
Obtain your free copy of the PAS91
The current version of the PAS91 can be located here.
Allow me to introduce my new guest blog series on construction marketing.
I’ve got some great people lined up, providing their points of view on their own specialisms. Posts will be about topics within the construction marketing sector or about the construction industry generally. My aim is to inform, educate and entertain. New posts will be issued at the start of each month.
Kicking the series off in July will be Mike Reader, head of bidding, proposals and marketing at Pick Everard. He will be writing about a particular bid-writing technique.
If you would like to volunteer to write a post, I’d be delighted to hear from you. Alternatively, if there is an area you’d like to learn more about, or a particular person you’d like to hear from, please let me know and I’ll look to organise something.
I’m really grateful to all the contributors who have signed-up so far. This promises to be a really useful and informative series, and I’m looking forward to your comments and engagements on the topics.
I recently had the opportunity to do some social media content training with digital marketing consultancy Social Media Steam, based in Salford Quays.
The opportunity was provided by The Landing and was delivered by Dave Watson of Social Media Stream. Dave really knows his stuff and took us through how to develop social media content plans, based around buyer personas. If you consider your buyer and the questions they are likely to have, it makes the process of planning and developing content much easier.
We then had the chance to create our own content using the wide variety of free online tools available. This was the really fun bit, especially because The Landing has a media lab full of Macs.
The key take-away for me was being able to repurpose some of the good content we all create and turning it into other things. For example, a written blog post can easily become an infographic or presentation.
There was an interesting article in today’s Construction Enquirer, about how the lack of a standardised PQQ system has cost the industry in the region of £20b since Sir Latham first suggested it some 21 years ago. The article can be found here.
I have blogged before about my frustration at having to crunch through endless PQQ documents, all asking for more or less exactly the same information. It’s ludicrous, time-wasting and boring! It also makes bidding an administrative burden to organisations, rather than allowing the function to add value through innovation.
When Capita purchased ConstructionLine earlier this year, I got in touch to ask them whether it could now leverage ConstructionLine for the benefit of the industry through standardisation. I received no response. It’s interesting that ConstructionLine is now wholly-owned by a commercial organisation and I wonder how this impacts its operations and influence. I can foresee a situation where it could be difficult for Capita to effectively manage the evaluation process and it could be subject to challenges from their competitors. We shall see.
It’s time for the industry to force change regarding this issue, whether through ConstructionLine or something else.
I’d welcome your comments on this subject. Completing PQQs is a real pet-hate of mine. Either leave a comment below, or tweet me.
The pageantry and superstition of topping-out ceremonies has always fascinated me, taking place, as they do, in the no-nonsense world of construction.
The topping-out ceremony is held when the last beam or equivalent is put in place within the structure. Alternatives can include a ceremonial pour of the last section of concrete or laying the last block or brick. Essentially it signals the frame of the new building reaching its maximum height and while at this stage, much of the rest of the construction is still unfinished, an important milestone in the project has been attained.
The origins of the ceremony can be traced back many centuries across multiple cultures, including ancient Egypt and Native American. However, most sources reference the Scandinavian practice of placing an evergreen tree atop a new building, in a bid to rehouse any tree spirits displaced when the required timber was lumbered. The tradition then migrated across Northern Europe and then the Americas.
Today the practice provides a great PR opportunity for the client, contractor, subcontractors and design team, as well as celebrating the achievement of reaching the highest point of a new building. Given that buildings seem to be getting ever taller, this is no mean feat.
One footnote to this story is that a long time ago, I worked for a main contractor which was running behind programme on a significant and high-profile building. Because of the programme-slippage, it was decided not to have a topping-out ceremony. The construction was challenging throughout the process and the building continued to have issues following its completion. One senior and very experienced construction professional I worked with actually considered the building to be cursed and they thought not having a topping-out ceremony was a very bad idea indeed…
Christmas inevitably turns my thoughts to the new year and what needs to be done to maximise marketing opportunities for construction businesses.
Here’s my advice for thinking ahead and getting organised. Trust me, it’ll save you time in the long run.
Project milestones form the basis of any construction business’s marketing and communications plan.
Know in advance key dates for planning submissions and decisions, project commencements, topping out and completion. These are just a few examples of milestones, but by being proactive you can make the most of PR opportunities and ensure a steady stream of news into the trade press. Milestones will also remind you to update your project case studies.
Business development priorities
Where is the business focussing its efforts over the next few years? Which clients and sectors? What kinds of projects is it targeting?
Proactive marketing planning will support these objectives, creating greater value and identifiable ROI. Focus your efforts where it will benefit the business. This sounds obvious, but reactive marketing doesn’t do this.
Linking to business development priorities above, which awards will you be targeting in 2015? Which markets do you wish to be seen as being excellent in? Which companies do you want to be benchmarked against?
Award submissions should always be project-led, so don’t shoehorn an ill-fitting scheme into a desirable category. It will do more harm than good.
If you wish to be associated with certain awards, but haven’t got the right project this year, perhaps consider sponsorship opportunities instead.
Refresh and update your marketing collateral
Collateral used to mean printed marketing materials, such as brochures. In today’s digital world, the definition has expanded to include online materials as well. Within this, there is case studies, CVs, web copy, brochures (on- and offline). Actually the list is endless and basically anything written for marketing and sales purposes is collateral.
Use the first few weeks of the year to review everything and update or refresh where needed. It’s amazing how quickly businesses develop and key messages often need to be tweaked to accurately reflect what’s happening currently.
Take the time to create or update sector credentials brochures. These can be used as a basis for bespoke sales documents throughout the year. They can also be used on their own to be emailed on spec, uploaded to the website or pinned to your Twitter page.
Is your bank of project photos up to date? Are there any gaps? When are projects scheduled to finish? The best time to take photos is just before PC, before the client takes possession of the building.
While reviewing your collateral and photos, can any new content be added to your website? This is a task which needs to be undertaken periodically through the year, but now’s a good time for an audit and update.
Review and update your submission standard information library
Again, this is something which needs to be done regularly, but schedule time at least once a year to thoroughly review your standard information for submissions, particularly for generic subjects, like H&S and quality. Make sure the evidence is in date.
Do all this and you will have a good foundation for successful construction marketing in 2015.