In today's business climate, the more value your creative services organization can contribute to your company's bottom line the better. As part of your ongoing effort market your group's services within your company, do not overlook collaborating with your company's Proposal Center or Business Development Operations.

Marketing budgets for advertising and collateral development is ever shrinking. And, many small companies have red-lined their marketing budget altogether. Meanwhile, business proposals will remain the life's blood of your company's continued growth and can become the primary marketing vehicle. Therefore, becoming a partner with revenue-generating operations, such as a Proposal Center, may save your group from becoming the company albatross, heading for extinction.

Why Do Most Creative Services Organizations Overlook This Potential Client?
Common misconceptions and shortsightedness about what proposals are or should be extremely common--even within the very organizations that create them. The facts are:

  • Proposals are not a one shot deal. They have a life cycle of their own, beginning with the first gleam of a plan in the marketer's or sales person's eye through your client's agreement to commit to a contract.
  • Developing a proposal is not all "unsexy" grunt work. Persuasion, subtle and unsubtle, plays a major role in winning a contract. Think about it; what could be more sexy and successful, than a creative and original proposal?
  • You don't need to be a giant company to include more than boring pie charts and graphs in your proposals. Regardless of a company's size, today's technology makes it possible for even a small creative services group to produce Fortune 100 results.

A proposal's life cycle may span weeks, months, or years in the Federal arena. Each phase of this cycle is ripe for collateral material. Misperceptions or a shortsighted point of view on the part of creative leaders can result in a missed opportunity to open a new ongoing, steady and important work stream for your organization by not becoming a player in the sales/business development environment.

Yes, a typical proposal may be a primarily technical document with heavy emphasis on compliance (especially in the Federal arena). But, there is no rule saying this deliverable has to lack creativity or an infusion of marketing messaging, compelling visuals and business graphics that reflect your company's brand essence and positioning. According to one proposal executive of a Fortune 150 company,

"It was tremendously exciting to realize what creative services could do for our proposals. We raised our proposals to an entirely new level, identifying with our customers, distinguishing what we have to offer, and making our customers want to give us the award. I still keep pushing the envelope to find new or different ways to reach our audience."

Take a Second Look from a New Perspective
It is well established that creative people are good at seeing things in a different light, but we don't always bring that ability when looking at our own team. That said, take a second look at how your group can become a value add to Proposal Operations. To do so, take into consideration these basic fundamentals of a proposal:

  • Must have all the right elements to create a successful sale
  • Is a direct reflection of your company, and the reader will judge you on that basis
  • Must work hard to convey your brand, worth and value, as well as your sales proposition

By adding design and creative forethought to a proposal, you can grab attention and engage the audience, while at the same time demonstrating how your company communicates effectively.

Remember, first impressions last. Nothing substitutes for real creative input from an organization that understands your company and its core business plus the fundamentals of creating quality content and a visually precise document. Proposals offer a multitude of opportunities for the creative team get involved:

  • Many pre-RFP marketing opportunities could include advertising, conference and tradeshow materials and opportunities to impress your company on your client's mind.
  • Think of the proposal cover as an advertisement, narrowly focused to the target commercial customer or Government agency. Using part of the cover image from the start of your campaign through all of your marketing material give your proposal immediate familiarity.
  • Look for places in the proposal to creatively infuse and visually depict marketing messages (or, in proposal speak, "win themes"). You can bet that at least some of your competitors are doing so.
  • For commercial clients, an Executive Summary can be a standalone, "theme-driven" brochure or video tailored to that specific client and/or opportunity.
  • Create a landing page on your company's Web Site to target solution(s) being offered to the specific audience.
  • Obviously, content is important; however, the written word is not always the best way to differentiate your company and its proposal documents. Engaging your prospect in an effective way through your proposal may be the only way you can stay in the race beyond proposal submission--creative input can increase the proposals' effectiveness.
  • Creativity also adds value to the finished physical material. If your proposal consists of various parts or more than one media, consider how you will correlate/package these disparate items to make them look cohesive. When done properly, creating a branded, individual carrier can enhance the professional delivery of your proposal. You want your reader's first impression to be that you care about the documents and, therefore, the proposal. Chances are that will convey the message that you are the type of company that also cares about the services or products that you deliver.

In short, the compelling arguments for adding your team's creative talent to the proposal process are that you can play a key role in:
  • Making the proposal document more reader-friendly. Use creativity and design as a competitive advantage. Even a smaller company can give the impression of a serious contender if they present their proposal as professionally as the "big boys" who are in competition. This perception can level the playing field (or gain you an advantage) if your bid is within a comparable range of a larger company.
  • Increasing your company's win rate. Evaluators or decision makers frequently have a pile of competing proposal documents. Is your proposal engaging enough to stand out or will it just blend in with all the others?
  • Helping distinguish your company from the competition. Your company may have name recognition with the customer, but there is always a competitor ready to go the extra mile to out-shine you.
  • Providing a better return for the investment in proposal production. Adding creative services might add to the company's proposal production budget, but the tradeoff in the potential for a higher win rate is investing in the company's future.

This is the first in a 6-part series that we'll publish this year on proposal production.
If you haven't already participated in our annual "State of the Industry" survey--please join the more than 120 in-house creative leaders who have by taking the survey before our January 31st end date.
Cella Consultant Ceil Wloczewski is a 30-year communications veteran in the IT services industry. Managing annual budgets averaging $12-million and local and virtual teams of 100+, Ceil's primary focus is marketing collateral, branding, Web/interactive and publications work. Since 1990, Ceil has actively contributed to companies' growth and success. She transformed an in-house communications department into an industry-lauded, key strategic partner in sales and new business development, customer retention, staff recruitment and training.