ITT – Local Authority Framework (architecture)

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.

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

Contact details for Paul 

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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.

Construction marketing: how to capture project information

Project information capture: a construction marketer’s biggest challenge 

Without a doubt a construction marketer’s biggest challenge is securing and interpreting a never-ending stream of project information to enable quality content marketing to be produced, build profile and win projects.

Project information capture: why, what, when?  

There are some key considerations for project information capture.

They are:

  • Why do we need project information?  
  • What does quality project information look like? 
  • When do I capture it?
Why do we need project information?

Project information shifts your marketing content and tender responses from being descriptive and features-based, to being outcomes and benefits-based. 

From a marketer’s perspective, quality project information is literally worth its weight in gold. I believe its value can be demonstrated in one simple formula:

(Quality project information = quality content) = more projects won + more people in work.

Showcasing benefits, rather than features, speaks directly to client needs and wants, as well as demonstrating innovative thinking and added-value. It also creates amazing bid responses, award submissions and shareable blog posts.

From a purely practical point of view, proactively captured project information goes a long way towards making any kind of submission process a lot smoother.

What does this information look like?

Quality project information clearly shows why your organisation provided a better service to the client and project than your competitors. It will tell a story using examples, evidence, pictures and some words.

First things first 

It may sound basic, but double-check the project details you have on record. Include the contractor, architect, engineers and of course the client. Also find out who the contact is for references going forward.

Speaking with your project-based colleagues (the who bit of the process)

Speak with technical colleagues about projects regularly and schedule a formal interview when the project is completed.

Consider the following points during your conversations:

  • Challenges of the project and the solutions developed to meet them. Challenges will generally focus around key areas of site, programme, budget or sustainability. These issues require innovation and ingenuity to solve them and its these solutions we need to capture and communicate efficiently to our stakeholders.
  • Benefits delivered to the client and project through approach.
  • Examples of innovation, including why the approach or solution was innovative and quantification of the project and client benefits.
  • Added-value examples.
  • Examples of sustainability, quantifying benefits.
  • Examples of cost and programme savings, with the impacts properly quantified.

Use these conversations to develop your knowledge (assuming you’re a desk-bound marketer). If you are unsure of technical language, ask for clarification. And remember the golden rule: evidence, evidence, evidence. Any claim which can’t be backed up by proper evidence or examples shouldn’t be included in any piece of collateral or content marketing.

Information storage 

Using a tabulated format like this facilitates capture, storage and eventual retrieval. You will also find that this kind of format will provide a great ‘starter for 10’ when putting together those pesky last minute PQQ responses.

Challenge Solution Outcome Benefit to the client Examples or evidence
Challenge A
Challenge B
When do you capture project information? 

Please see above about regular dialogue with technical colleagues and a project completion interview. 

I’m a great believer in creating a project sheet right from the project being formally commissioned by the client, so essentially project information should be captured and organised from a project’s inception.

Please don’t leave project information capture to when a job is handing over. Clearly the delivery team will have other things on their minds to be wanting to help you.

Construction Marketing podcast – capturing project information 

For some more detail on this topic, last year I took part in a podcast with Pritesh Patel and Mike Reader. On the podcast we discussed the challenges and provided some solutions. The podcast can be listened to here.

Next steps

If I can help you to to efficiently capture project information, or use it to create amazing content marketing or scheme-winning PQQs, please get in touch and let me know.

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.

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…

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

Lego colour bricks

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?

Challenges 

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.

Developing a library of standard information… and keeping it up to date

Library shelves

One of the main challenges of bid writing and delivering any kind of submission is having an endless supply of accurate information. This task is never complete, but done properly will enable you to focus on developing quality bespoke content for each pitch, rather than searching for material you know you have written before, but can never find when you need it…

I speak from bitter experience on this subject, because I know how tedious it can seem to go back through submitted bids to strip out and archive good content for the future. However, I have also wasted many an hour under a lot of stress sorting through previous submissions for golden pieces of information.

Generic information which is asked for time after time

There is much standard information grouped into business functions which is requested time after time. The more you do to organise this, the easier your life will be.

This information includes (but isn’t exhaustive):

Organisational information

such as certificate of incorporation, company number, VAT number, registered address, number of offices, description of services provided. Review and update annually.

Finance and accounts

(always worth getting annual statistics on turnover by sector and service as well, if you want to be ahead of the game). Review and update annually.

Quality management

Including QA certificates, standard text on approach and process, implementation and non-conformance, and complaints procedures. Review and update annually. Speak to the QA manager following any audits.

Health and safety

Including H&S certificate or relevant procedures and systems. It is definitely worth getting your head around CDM regulations if you are a bid writer/manager working in the built environment. The roles and responsibilities are different and this has an implication for the information required. It is also worth noting the CDM regs will be changing again in 2015, with big implications for architects.

Review and update annually and keep up to date with any changes in regulations, so you can speak to the H&S manager about them

Environment

Such as an environmental management certificate or similar processes and procedures. Try to also to gather information which demonstrates the effectiveness of initiatives. Also, if your organisation is involved in designing and delivering BREEAM-accredited buildings, you can never have too many case studies on how the grade was achieved and what the quantifiable outcomes have been.

Review the standard information annually and produce case studies on an ongoing basis.

People

This information can be wide-ranging, including Investors in People, policies on a range of issues from recruitment to development, staff numbers cut by grade and staff turnover. Best to make good friends with your HR team and ask them to provide a range of information on a regular basis.

Review and update annually

Discipline-specific information

Such as design approach or approach to planning construction projects. This information will be guided by quality management processes and will be available within the business. Ensure you are communicating it accurately.

Review and update annually and be aware of any updates or changes

Bespoke ‘golden nuggets’

This is the information which is created specifically for certain bids and other submissions. It is generally technical in nature and takes a while to produce. Examples can include ‘added value’, ‘BREEAM’ or technical approach, but again, this list isn’t exhaustive.

When the submission has been completed, go through the bid and strip out this content and archive it in a separate Word document. The most simple approach is to create one document with an index of the questions, along with the responses. This will enable you to quickly search through in future and will also provide you with a boilerplate or ‘starter for ten’ for those last minute submissions.

Again, this information can be reviewed annually or more frequently and updated with fresh content or examples. Always key to these questions is the quality of evidence provided to support your claims. Make sure you speak to your technical colleagues to know what is happening on projects.

Please get in touch with me if I can help you develop a standard information library for your business.

My thoughts on social media in the built environment

Technology and social media is changing how we connect with each other and who we connect with. Relationships and friendships which wouldn’t have been possible ten, or even five years ago, are becoming commonplace. There are now endless opportunities to collaborate and network with people who share interests or work in similar roles and sectors.

I am a bid writer and marketer and I have spent most of my career working within the built environment. I am enjoying taking part in the changes in how we do things. I would point out, though, that technology isn’t changing what we do. This will always be building profile in the marketplace and winning profitable work. However social media is making it so much easier to connect with people, develop relationships and create influence.

Social media is also invaluable in getting the built environment sector story out there. If you don’t work in the sector, you probably have very little idea how design and construction influences our everyday lives, or how challenging it can be to complete schemes.

This informal flow of information, whether progress photos, timelapse cameras or video case studies of completed projects all contributes to developing society’s general knowledge of this key industry, as well as improving the sector’s reputation and hopefully attracting talented young people to want to develop a career in it.

So, social media is a real boon to the construction industry, all we need to do now is convince senior people that their clients really use it and engage with it, as well as other key stakeholders we may need to influence.

New starts: setting up as a freelance built environment marketer

So after many years of deliberation, I have decided to set myself up freelance. My service will be marketing and bid writing and my target audience is all stakeholders in the built environment.

It feels liberating to be able to work the hours I need to be able to complete an excellent piece of work, as well as work across many sectors and sectors in the industry, rather than being constrained by the organisation I am employed by.

The time is right for me to do this. I have spent nearly 12 years in this role and most of this time has been within construction or design. I am excited about being able to share these skills for the benefit of an industry I am so passionate about. However, whilst loving what I do, I have always felt envious of people who are entrepreneurial and masters (or mistresses) of their own destiny. I want to do this and if it doesn’t work out, I’ll do something else.

I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences of freelancing in this type of role within construction and any tips would be gratefully received at this point!

Wish me luck!