Guest blog: The image of construction

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.

Paul Wilkinson: writer, speaker, blogger
Paul Wilkinson: writer, speaker and prolific blogger

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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
  • effective pre-qualification
  • 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 (hereherehere 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.

Guest blog: How to succeed at bid management

Denise O'LearyThis month’s guest blog is provided by bid management expert, Denise O’Leary, managing director of Purpol Marketing.

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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 hello@purpolmarketing.co.uk

Guest blog: How sandwiches make your bid responses easier to mark

Mike Read, Pick Everard's head of bids, proposals and marketing
Mike Reader
Kicking-off my guest blog series is Mike Reader, head of bids, proposals and marketing at Pick Everard

Mike’s role is to lead all bid and marketing activity across the business, with responsibility for proposal management, PR, web, social media, and branding.

His particular bid specialism is winning major frameworks and complex infrastructure projects.

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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 bid response sandwich

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 

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 

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.

A guest blog series on construction marketing

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.