Work-winning: The results of the bid cost survey are in

Work-winning: The results of the bid cost survey are in

Further to the post I wrote in November 2014 about the bid cost survey MarketingWorks and the University of Reading were undertaking, the results have recently been published in Construction News.

The results were very instructive and clearly demonstrate the need for everyone working in the construction industry to be:

  • more selective about the work they pitch for; and
  • spend much more time pre-bid getting to know the client and understanding their drivers, needs, concerns and aspirations for the project.

When I was working in-house, I spent much of my time being instructed to ‘take a punt’ on opportunities we were clearly not going to win, because we didn’t have the right relationships or experience. Basically we hadn’t done the right groundwork in advance. The impact of this was sub-standard submissions, no marketing and a very cheesed-off bid coordinator (or bid gimp, as I started calling myself).

There were some interesting statistics published in the article, including the rather startling assertion that some contractors are spending an average of 22% of their operating turnover pitching for work. If companies were more strategic about their bidding activities and the opportunities they were pursuing, they could convert this potential loss into a potential profit.

How much does it cost to bid a construction project?

The bid cost data was collected throughout 2014 and provides a snapshot of the industry during an improving market. It provided a sample of £11.3bn of total project value, of which £8bn has full cost data. This reflects a significant chunk of the total industry for the year.

Using this data, it was calculated the average cost of a winning tender was:

  • Contractors: £60,208 
  • Consultants: £23,821

These costs were calculated as an average across all respondents and project sizes.

This is where the 22% of operational turnover comes in. It is based on a conversion rate of 1:5. This figure will be challenged by many, however look at it from the opposite perspective. Basing your bidding strategy on a conversion rate of 1:5 still means you are planning to lose four out of every five pitches you submit. If your hit rate is lower than this, you are actually planning to be even less successful and therefore waste more overhead on pursuits you won’t win. Surely it’s time for a new approach?

Work-winning behaviours

The article points out that a number of behaviours play a critical role in work-winning, bid selectivity only being one of them.

Spend more time developing your proposal

This includes business development activities, like getting to know the client and understand the project, as well as bidding activities such as Go/No Go, proposal development and review. Clearly, this will cost the business more in terms of overhead spend, but if you are being more strategic and selective about the work you are pursuing, the costs will balance out and the rewards will be greater.

Client feedback, or lack of it

I know only too well the difficulty in obtaining quality client feedback following a submission, whether it has been successful or not. As Philip Collard rightly points out, the bidder not understanding the reasons for bids being unsuccessful “…leads to the conclusion that the industry as a whole (both sides of the work-winning process) are not valuing the role that feedback plays in improving the efficiency of work-winning approaches and behaviours.”

From a bidder’s perspective, if you don’t request feedback on bids, whether they are successful or unsuccessful, how will you know where you have gone wrong and how you can improve your submissions in the future. Similarly, clients must be prepared to provide detailed and valuable feedback to bidders, clearly highlighting perceived weaknesses and strengths. Closing this loop is essential if the industry is to make any attempt at continuous improvement where bidding is concerned.

Both Philip Collard and Jan Hayter (marketing director, MarketingWorks) can be contacted directly if you wish to discuss this research in more depth. You can also join in the discussion on Twitter via #bidcostsurvey.

Construction marketing: Using Pinterest as one of your key marketing tactics

Construction marketing: Using Pinterest as one of your key marketing tactics

Pinterest isn’t automatically thought of as being a key social platform for construction marketing, but I believe it’s one of the most useful and one of the most underused in the industry.

Current demographics suggest more women than men use the visual bookmarking service, but this should not negate the platform’s usefulness for the AEC sector, because there are so many benefits. Users in the US alone are predicted to reach 50 million by next year. There is an interesting recent article on Pinterest statistics via Sprout Social.

This blog post looks at the how and why of Pinterest for construction marketing.

Why should Pinterest be used to support construction marketing?

So, in an already over-crowded space, with multiple platforms clamouring for space and attention, why should Pinterest be used as a key marketing tactic in the construction and built environment sectors?

1 – It’s visual 

Design, construction and engineering are beautifully visual activities and this this alone makes Pinterest perfect for showcasing the expertise in the sector. From creating boards showing design inspiration and themes, to uploading progress and completion project photos, the possibilities for communication and story-telling are endless. Furthermore, content does not have to be static and can include YouTube videos or SoundCloud files.

2 – It drives traffic back to your website

Key to the point above being a success is pinning content (photos, images, videos and infographics) which are interesting, attractive and informative, as well as referring the pinner back to an appropriate landing  page on your company website, increasing traffic back. This may well include people who hadn’t heard of you before, but may now want to work with you in the future.

3 – It can develop and strengthen relationships with key stakeholders 

By pinning content shared by organisations and people you work closely, with or want to work with, you will further develop relationships and links with them. A relevant example of this could be architects, contractors or engineers using boards to pin products they may want to specify in future projects, or examples where products have been used before. Remember to tag the photos appropriately. Equally, product manufacturers may use Pinterest to supply the need and get products in front of specifiers via a different platform.

When people comment on your pins or repin them, remember to respond to their comments or thank them for the repin. Social media is about relationships between people, after all.

How should Pinterest be used to support construction marketing?

1 – Pin collateral 

Use Pinterest to pin all that collateral that the marketing team is usually nagging you to help them to write. See below.

2 – Create multiple boards

Create multiple boards, with clearly defined purposes.

These should cover:

  • Pin CVs and photos which link back to the team page on your company’s website. This shows potential clients who they would be working with.
  • Pin photos and information of activities which demonstrate the culture of your business. This could be social events, charity activities, training or working on site.
  • Encourage your team to directly contribute to your Pinterest by giving all members of staff their own boards on your account, so they can use them to pin photos of inspiration and ideas. This will enable your team to directly communicate with potential clients and other stakeholders.
  • There can be no better way for an architect, contractor or engineer to clearly demonstrate their expertise than via a dynamic online portfolio.
  • Project photos, including themes and inspiration, progress and completion photos.
  • Collateral, for example project information sheets and case studies, as well as any other copy which has been repurposed for Pinterest.
  • Pin the images from your website, so that traffic is referred back. Also pin the first page of the case study or other piece of collateral and make sure the link takes the viewer back to the right landing page on your website.
  • Pin the first pages of your (online) brochures, taking the viewer back to the page where they can be downloaded. This could be via your own website or on your account on Issuu.
Blog posts and key web pages
  • Using rich pins for articles, pin your company blog posts.
  • Pin other articles of interest, for example industry trends or changes in legislation.
  • Create infographics to clearly chart out your company’s approach and process to key activities. This could be design, planning, preconstruction and construction or handover. Infographics are much more likely to be repinned, because information is easily understood.

These are just some ideas I have been mulling over, but I would love to hear what you all think, and how you are using Pinterest to market your construction business.

Buildings I love: Beetham Tower, Manchester

Buildings I love: Beetham Tower, Manchester

First up in my #BuildingsILove blog series is the Beetham Tower. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, when I stand on the balcony of my flat in the nearby Hacienda, I can see it, standing like the ultimate glass megalith. Secondly, when the building was first constructed in the early noughties (it was completed by Carillion in 2006), I thought it was horrible. As time has marched on, however, I have fallen in love with it. Come rain or shine, the sky is always reflected back off the glazing and this provides an unbelievable show, regardless of the time of year. The audacious scale of the structure provides a beacon and talisman throughout the city and the region as a whole. A non-Mancunian once said to me that if they were ever lost, they would search out the Beetham and they would know which direction they needed to travel in. So, it’s useful, as well as being beautiful!

Beetham Tower at sunset, Manchester

Beetham Tower at sunset, Manchester. Photo by Leonie Thomas


The building stands at 168 metres, making it the tallest building in Manchester. It is currently the 11th tallest building in the UK and the tallest outside London. When it opened in 2006, it was the tallest residential building in the UK and the second tallest in Europe. The building was originally planned to reach 171 metres, but was reduced by three metres to accommodate local wind conditions. It is located at the southern end of Deansgate, on the corner of Great Bridgewater Street and opposite Liverpool Road.

The building was designed by Ian Simpson now SimpsonHaugh and Partners and comprises 48 floors. Of these, the first 22 are occupied by the Hilton Hotel, the 23rd is the renowned Sky Bar, offering panoramic views across the North West to the Pennines in the east and Snowdonia and the Irish Sea in the west. The remaining 25 floors are apartments with the swishest address in the city.

The tower was very much of its time and a significant piece of Manchester’s regeneration jigsaw. The UK economy was experiencing a real boom (ironic really, given what came a few years later) and many similar high-rise towers were constructed in other UK cities, although none of them rivalled the height of the Beetham in Manchester.


Prior to construction, the empty site was an ad-hoc car park. A planning application was submitted by the Beetham Organisation in July 2003 and permission was granted in October 2003. By the end of 2003, 206 of its 219 apartments and 4 of its 16 penthouses had been pre-sold.

Construction commenced in spring 2004 and the building reached a height of 125 metres in July 2005, when it became the tallest skyscraper outside London. Topping-out took place on April 26 2006.

The Beetham Tower cost £150m to construct.


I can tell you with absolute certainty that the people of Manchester either love or hate the building. As I say above, I definitely fall into the latter camp.

Visually, the building is stunning, with full-height glazing reflecting the sky and clouds. It is located to the west of the city, so sunsets make a lovely backdrop at all times of the year.

I found this fascinating profile of Ian Simpson and the famed olive grove at the top of the tower.

Looking up at the Beetham Tower. Photo by Leonie Thomas

Looking up at the Beetham Tower. Photo by Leonie Thomas

The Beetham hum

In windy weather, the building creates an eerie humming or singing noise. I can attest to the fact that it can be extremely intense. The noise is believed to come from the building’s glass fin at the top. Works have been undertaken to reduce the noise, but it definitely still hums! I asked someone recently who lives there whether they could hear it and they told me they can.

Here’s a quick video to demonstrate (with thanks to Paul):

I have heard some amusing stories about the hum, including one where some tourists were seen running terrified down Deansgate, thinking that aliens were about to land. Other descriptions include a nuclear warning system. From a personal perspective, it’s ok, apart from when I’m trying to sleep or speak to someone on the phone, but it’s one of those anomalies which make a city unique.

Manchester: the ever-evolving city

Manchester: the ever-evolving city

I have lived in Manchester most of my life. I grew up in Stretford and now live in the centre of town. There is nothing unusual about living in the city these days, but during my childhood in the 80s, it would have been considered strange, or even unfortunate. The Manchester of today is a million miles away from the city of my childhood and I often think about how much the Mancunian landscape (or Manc-scape perhaps) has changed.

Manchester from Peter Street

Manchester from Peter Street. Photograph by Leonie Thomas

The Manchester of the 1980s was gritty, dusty and frequently derelict. I remember trips to the city centre on the 257 bus through Hulme, wondering who lived in this sad-looking jungle. The same area is totally different now, being subject to a focussed regeneration effort during the late 90s and 2000s. Manchester Metropolitan University has recently completed its amazing Birley Fields campus there, moving the area on again and diversifying the local populace to include students.

By the time I became a teenager in the 90s, something serious and fundamental had happened. Manchester had become the northern capital of cool and southerners wanted to come to university here. Suddenly it seemed that it wasn’t so grim up north, after all. Manchester became Madchester and the city acquired something nowhere else outside of London had: brand. It was the Mancunian brand, along with some excellent stewardship from Manchester City Council, which attracted the financial investment required to create the vibrant, exciting city of today.

The noughties saw the construction of some incredible landmark buildings, including the Beetham Tower and the Spinningfields development. I feel a very personal bond to Spinningfields. At the time, I worked for the contractor who built these great buildings. I feel very proud to have worked on the winning bid for 3 Hardman Street. I wrote numerous pieces of marketing collateral for buildings such as Manchester Civil Justice Centre and 3 and 4 Hardman Square. Given the turmoil we have all experienced since then, it seems at least two lifetimes ago!

Manchester is famous for many things, including inclement weather, stroppy women, being the crucible of the industrial revolution (Cottonopolis) and the birthplace of Baby, world’s first stored-program computer, as well as the cultural tidal waves of music and football. It is now becoming known for the quality of its architecture and is rightly becoming a very popular tourist destination.

My only fear that we lose all of the city’s glorious industrial grime, swapping it for the glamour of glass and steel. The canals and Victorian areas around Dale Street and the wider Northern Quarter are amongst my favourite places and I would be sad to see these sanitised or glamorised. The perfect happy medium for me would to be seamlessly integrate the old with the new, whilst accommodating the needs of this growing city. I’d also love to see more trees, flowers and general park areas. As much as I love the buildings, sometimes views would benefit from being softened.

On a final note, I’d like to point out the irony of some of the greatest Mancunians not being from Manchester at all. They became Mancunian through commitment, excellence and devotion. But people like (and this list isn’t intended to be exhaustive) Alan Turing (London), Tony Wilson (Salford) and Alex Ferguson (Govern, Glasgow) have made an unbelievable contribution towards Manchester being the vibrant city it is today. I once read something about Berlin in that its population isn’t necessarily born there, but they become Berliners. I think it’s the same with Mancunians.

As for me, I’m looking forward to another 40 years of watching this magnificent city grow and evolve.

The tradition of topping-out ceremonies

The tradition of topping-out ceremonies

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…

Construction marketing: Getting yourself organised for 2015

Construction marketing: Getting yourself organised for 2015

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.

Marketing: the missing link to attract young people into the construction industry

Marketing: the missing link to attract young people into the construction industry

The construction industry skills gap 

There is so much debate at the moment about the skills gap the industry is finding itself in. Of course part of the problem is that the UK economy is just beginning to pull itself out of the biggest black hole most of us have ever seen. Many people left the industry through this time, whether through choice or necessity and its unlikely they will be attracted back.

So now the focus is on how to make careers in the sector attractive to school kids and how to shift the perception of a career in construction from being one of labouring to one of aspirational achievement. Of course, many a successful career in construction was started on the tools, but trades are considered to be something only boys who didn’t try harder at school end up doing, rather than the highly-skilled occupation they really are.

The point is that the impact and purpose of the industry isn’t understood by people responsible for careers advice (including parents); its myriad benefits, including forming the backbone of the economy, improving communities and creating jobs. The industry is also one of the places you will definitely see the most awe-inspiring courage and ingenuity on a daily basis. I have often wondered why this isn’t more widely understood, appreciated and communicated.

Leveraging marketing to provide a solution  

My proposal to the industry is for it to leverage some of the fantastic marketing and communications talent it has to tell the construction story. Not just once, but over and over and over, using a variety of appropriate channels and media including activities, writing, images and video and to a wide spectrum of non-industry stakeholders.

The role of social media 

The built environment is such a visual industry that it is ideal for social media. I saw a fantastic time-lapse camera shared on LinkedIn by Clancy Consulting today . Time lapses aren’t new in themselves, they’ve been around for ages, but this was the first time I had ever seen one shared through social media channels. You can see the film here. I love this kind of thing and wish it was more accessible. It’s also rare to see photos or case studies of projects, unless you specifically know where to look. Why isn’t this sort of collateral more widely shared?


There are two key challenges to my idea. Firstly budget. I know the industry isn’t awash with money at the moment, but let’s find inexpensive solutions, particularly as most people are lucky enough to own smart phones these days. Share progress photos and videos via Twitter and LinkedIn. Share collateral wherever you can. Connect with local schools and start dialogues.

The second is the role and perception of marketing. It’s time to integrate the discipline properly into the sector and into projects. Let us help and support you to communicate and tell the story. Doing this will ensure more stakeholders understand the role and value of construction, and it will be more attractive to people considering their career options.

Top tips for writing construction awards, to guarantee shortlisting

Top tips for writing construction awards, to guarantee shortlisting

It’s awards season again in the built environment. Time to take stock of the achievements of the past 12 months and write compelling submissions to get shortlisted and hopefully win. Here is an ongoing list of construction and built environment awards you may wish to enter.

Awards are a key part of the built environment communications strategy for any organisation working in the sector. They provide an excellent opportunity to showcase talent and innovation, and shortlisting gives validation and benchmarking against competitors. Shortlisting alone has a lot of PR value and can be used in case studies and other collateral, such as web and tweets. Winning categories amplifies this value. The pinnacle of awards is of course attending the event, taking team members and client representatives to network and ‘be seen’ in a sparkly environment.  

So, follow my top tips to guarantee being shortlisted.

#1 – Obtain the buy-in of the client and the project team  

Finally, get the buy-in of the client and the rest of the project team. Make them aware of what you are doing and if you can share the load, so much the better!

#2 – Understand your organisation’s marketing 

Understand your organisation’s marketing and business development strategy. In which sectors does it want to raise its profile or win new business? Select awards on the basis of gaining exposure in these specific sectors.

#3 – Understand the awards you are submitting for 

Do some research into previous winners and shortlisters and assess whether your organisation, project or product is a good fit. Do the awards have the profile and reach you are looking for? Is there a fee to enter? Will you have the time and marketing budget to attend the awards ceremony?

#4 – Project, rather than award-led 

Award submissions need to be project-led, rather than award-led.

  • Select categories on the basis of having compelling stories to tell, which are supported with strong evidence.
  • Statistics, photos and glowing testimonials from clients and other project team members all constitute strong evidence.
  • Evidence also provides a strong framework and context for your entry and will often reduce the word count.
  • If you can’t pull this information together, consider carefully the value in proceeding.

#5 – Review all of the questions in advance of starting the submission  

Review all of the questions. Can you answer them all properly and concisely? Don’t risk the submission by fudging some of the answers. Judges can’t be fudged!

#6 – Respect the wordcount  

Don’t ignore or disregard the specified word count. Be targeted, focussed and concise in your response. If you are struggling with this, ask a professional writer to review and edit for you. They can magically turn ten words into one, without losing the technical meaning.

#7 – Review process   

Build time into the process for proof-reading, double-checking and making any necessary amends. Although typos are a fact of life, they won’t win you any points or enhance your reputation with the judging panel.

I have been writing construction and built environment awards submissions for 12 years. If you would like to chat through any submissions you are thinking of, please get in touch.

The bid cost survey 2014

The people over at Marketing Works have been working with the University of Reading on a piece of research to understand the true cost of submitting bids in the construction industry, updating the original work undertaken in 2003.

The research is wide-ranging and surveys costs across contractors, subcontractors and consultants, sectors, and project values.

This is a timely piece of research, particularly in light of the recent UK SBS fiasco. If bid costs represent significant overheads for organisations in the construction industry, how can this process be more streamlined and how can competitors make sure they are successful?

I spoke with Philip Collard recently on how things were looking, ahead of the December deadline and he shared with me some interesting findings at this stage. Philip has also shared these on his Twitter feed, so I’m not saying anything I shouldn’t!

Key findings at this stage include: 

  • 18% responses are from consultants.
  • 9% responses came from sub-contractors.
  • 33% responses came from main contractors.
  • The average cost of a bid is approximately £45k, an increase of £15k from 2003.
  • A significant proportion of the bid spend is now in pre-bid activities, suggesting more activities around understanding the client before developing bid solutions and responses.
  • A Tier 1 contractor showed average bid costs being £200K+ for projects in £20-50 million bracket. Bidding costs equate to a significant chunk of overhead for businesses operating in this space.

The deadline to complete the survey is 5 December and input can be provided here: #bidcostsurvey2014. Results and analysis will be published in February 2015.

Follow the #bidcostsurvey2014 on Twitter to be part of the conversation.

1 September – that back to school feeling

1 September – that back to school feeling

This time of year always reminds me of new terms and fresh starts, even though I left school 20 years ago. The sense of new exercise books and resolutions to try harder this time has never left me in my adult life and I always commence September with a list of objectives and resolutions for the coming months.

The weather in Manchester generally improves during the early autumn (although not this morning I must confess) and a summer’s reprieve can follow a dismal August. The sunshine and clear blue skies encourage positivity and clarity of thought.

This year, this feeling coincides with my new venture being in its infancy, so I am thinking about where I want to be and what I want to have achieved by Christmas, next spring and next summer. It is an exciting time for me. I have always wanted to experience the thrills and spills of running my own business and I am finally doing that.

My aims for the next year are to firstly deliver successfully the work I have already secured and develop a reputation for bid writing and marketing excellence. I will also be building my social media profile, demonstrating to the industry the value of social media and offering these services to clients. I will be increasing my skills base, particularly learning Illustrator to create infographics, so that I can provide a single-stop solution to clients.

From a business management perspective, I will be undertaking tasks I have never done before, for example finance. This fills me with trepidation, but there is a lot of help out there which I have been accessing. I am also thinking about what my business means and stands for. Not just in terms of the services it delivers to clients, but also how it delivers its services. I will be talking more about this in a future post.

So September and the following months will be busy, but I’ve got a stack of clean notebooks and firm resolutions, so I’m relishing the challenge.