Only after the content is the best it can be should you worry about packaging the information. Otherwise, the information is pretty but empty.
Is a picture worth 1,000 words? Yes. Are we visual learners? Yes. Are we enticed when a document looks great and has a nice layout? Yes. Do people judge books by their covers? Of course, but they shouldn’t! Let’s say you see a movie poster that blows your mind, inspiring you to see the movie right then and there. Let’s also say the movie was picture-perfect, with astonishing cinematography, impeccable set designs, and costumes “to die for.” There’s one little catch: The story was horrible, boring, and full of crater-sized plot holes. Would you say you liked the movie and recommend others to go to the theater? Probably not.
The same can be said about proposals, especially in this era of InDesign addicts. The new normal is that submittals look amazing; some even resemble magazines. Fun! This is all great and extremely important, but not at the expense of one simple thing: Content. There are a million reasons why this has become an issue in A/E firms in the last decade, so let’s discuss a few of them.
- Increased competition. Once the industry bounced back after the recession, a new trend started emerging where big firms started pursuing smaller jobs. Now, there can be 20 submittals for an opportunity that in the past attracted only a fraction of those proposals. Naturally, this increased competition resulted in firms going after more and more projects. Some marketing departments shifted their priorities and started functioning like pseudo production lines, cranking out documents one after another. This method sacrifices content creation, quality checks, and technical reviews to complete and deliver documents on time and that are compliant to the proposed requirements.
- Relaxed go/no-go decisions. A common mistake made by firms struggling to find new work is to go after everything that even remotely resembles their experience and the services they offer. Making poor go/no-go decisions is a surefire way to take your hit ratio in a downward spiral and, in turn, increasing the marketing professional’s level of frustration. Working on doomed submittals is listed as one of the main culprits of burnout in our industry. Marketing A/E services is a stressful undertaking and when you sprinkle that with unwinnable pursuits, professionals take note and start looking elsewhere.
- Inexperienced marketers. More and more mid-level marketers leave the industry due to burning out, usually caused by working on an insane number of concurrent proposals and limited engagement in decision making processes. As firms struggle to attract new talent, more inexperienced marketers are filling the void. Naturally, as they begin their careers their focus, especially in proposals, is to package attractive and inviting documents. Once they gain more experience, they participate in strategic discussions and decision-making processes.
- Software availability. At the risk of sounding like a dinosaur, the younger generation was raised on Photoshop and are usually savvy with desktop publishing tools. These software packages are relatively easy to learn and make all the sense in the world to use them to develop proposals.
These are some of the reasons why the industry is seeing so many “pretty” proposals, but with awful content. If there is one vital rule, it should be that content is king. Only after you’ve made the content the best it can be should you worry about packaging the information. Remember that just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Renowned content marketer Andrew Davis said: “Content builds relationships. Relationships are built on trust. Trust drives revenue.” I am all for delivering proposals that are visually stimulating, inviting to look at and fun, but not at the expense of content.
Javier Suarez is the central marketing and sales support manager with Geosyntec Consultants. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.