I’ve had plenty of stimulating discussions recently with Mark Jones, one of our associate directors, who we use to help clients to write more competently and confidently. (So many salespeople and subject matter experts lack confidence and skill with their writing that Mark’s work proves to be a most welcome and very powerful intervention).
As a result, he and I ran a short workshop in September for a few senior proposal folks in the UK. I scribbled down some of Mark’s words of wisdom, and thought you might enjoy them:
► magazines: “like a mediaeval monarchy, with an all-powerful ruler at the top, called the editor” – versus many proposal managers struggling for influence
► magazines have around five seconds to catch your attention on the newsstand: does your proposal catch the evaluator’s eye in the same way
► the importance of strong “cover lines” for a magazine to sell itself to potential readers: could we do the same with proposals?
► playing with formats – many magazines have shrunk in recent years; could that help your proposal to be different and appealing?
► the use of a “magazine within a magazine”, or pull-out section, to cover specific topics
► the use of bylines (articles generally being by a named author – whereas proposal text comes from the corporation, not the individuals who would own a particular aspect of the solution: “let’s hear from your people”)
► the importance of design: “There’s always relief for the eye somewhere on the page”, and the editor and art director work closely alongside each other
► the need to make an impact from the start: the first double-page spread is usually the most expensive for advertisers, yet the opening pages of most proposals look “very dull”
► “the beginning should be big” for every article
► the use of signposts throughout the magazine (“The highlights”, “Need to know”, “Boring but important”)
► “give the reader a treat” and “give something back to the reader”
► “get the newsroom atmosphere going somehow… there’s no substitute for getting people together to knock ideas around”
► “we sometimes spend more time writing the summary of the article than we do writing the article itself”
► the concept of the magazine editor “commissioning” content from writers (“who could write this best?” and “how to I fit the right writer with the right story”)
► “people are so sensitive about their writing”
► your proposal is “like a mediaeval knight, flying the colours” of your organisation
► the importance of reader research (and the fine art of doing this) – “describe in three words what you felt about our proposal”; “which of the following words would you use to describe our proposal”.