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Powerful Proposals

March 27, 2012

Today’s post was written by Kathy McMahon, associate principal and director of marketing at CBT Architects. Questions or comments? E-mail Kathy McMahon at

When that new RFP lands on your desk, here are three things to think about to make it the best response in the pack:

  1. Do your research. What projects has this client done in the past; who has worked with them before; and what is their brand, business goal, mission etc. and how can that inform your response. Then call the client, ask questions, and confirm your assumptions.
  2. Highlight key issues. Make sure your proposal focuses on the key project issues and how you can solve them. Quals are to talk about your firm. Proposals address the client and project.
  3. Boilerplate is not always your friend. Prioritize the RFP response and customize all that you can.

Proposals today, more than ever, are highly customized and visual documents. They need to not only provide an answer to a series of questions posed about a particular project, but also convey a firm’s brand, expertise, and communication style.

Show in your proposal that you are professional, can listen, and follow instruction— offer something to add value to the process and more than the baseline asked. This can be accomplished by providing information about the actual project— design ideas, a schedule, logistics plan, or customized project approach are a few examples – or by providing examples of where your firm and team have solved similar problems or issues.

You can begin with boilerplate, but you must read each word and look for places large and small to edit so that you make a better connection with your client and their project. Little things like changing the generic word “client” in a sentence to the name of the actual user group or owner goes a long way to making the reader feel like the proposal was compiled with specific intention. Larger efforts, such as beginning each proposal with a custom written understanding of the project and outlining how your proposal responds uniquely to the RFP, can really make it stand out in the crowd.

Getting input from technical staff

Engaging the principals in your firm or the technical experts can often be a challenge for A/E/C marketers. Try making a mock table of contents and proposal shell with some sample content to review with those involved, assigning sections to those with the most to offer on each topic. If that involves multiple people, be sure to get the draft content back with enough time to review with one person in charge to make sure all information is coordinated and in sync— for example, make sure the schedule and work plan or approach are consistent. Often, providing sample content or a beginning that can be edited is an easier way to get customized feedback rather than asking others to start from scratch.

These are just a few shorts tips on how to do more customized and successful proposals. For a more in depth discussion, join us for Powerful Proposals: The Integration of Strategy, Graphics, and Writing.

Through SMPS Boston, Kathy will be presenting Powerful Proposals: The Integration of Strategy, Graphics, and Writing, at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, April 4 at the Atlantic Wharf, 290 Congress Street, Boston. For more information about “Powerful Proposals” or to register, click here.

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