In April 2012, I was asked to participate in a panel at an evening event for SMPS Boston entitled “Powerful Proposals: The Integration of Strategy, Graphics, and Writing.” I was asked to represent the graphic design side of the panel due to my education and love of design, however given that I’m the Director of Marketing and Media here at MPA, I was able to contribute on strategy and production as well.
Although I’m unable to provide each person’s insights from the panel that evening, I am able to reiterate my portion of the presentation by providing some tips and tricks for creating and submitting “powerful proposals”.
The following 8 cheesy phrases help me to remember the overall goals of proposals.
IN IT TO WIN IT.
It’s easy to receive an RFP and simply begin creating a response. It’s natural for us in marketing to just jump right on and say “ok, let’s start,” which means it’s also easy to forget the point of this: WIN. Your goal is not [only] to get the proposal out the door, it’s to win the project. Every win increases the success of your firm. A successful firm means a better reputation and potentially a fatter wallet. So don’t just meet the minimum requirements of the RFP: wow them.
OBEY THY “MASTER”. Have a master template with master pages. RFPs are always coming in, and you may have several responses with the same deadline. Don’t recreate the wheel every time, have a boilerplate ready to go (only as a starting point). Obviously you have to customize each proposal to the project/client, but you don’t have to rewrite every word every time.
“A place for everything and everything in its place.” Keep your files streamlined, updated, and easy to find. Headshots have a home. Project photos have a home. Content has a home. Don’t proofread a proposal at the 11th hour and find that Joe Shmoe’s resume reads 10 years of experience when he actually has 15 years. Keep your content updated. I suggest reading all project descriptions and resumes twice annually to see what can be updated, and what is obsolete.
4MB. Make sure the files you send are less than 4 megabytes. Unless you are going after public work, your potential client is likely requesting a PDF. The majority of corporate email servers will not accept files higher than 4 MB, which means your proposals could bounce back. Given the number of beautiful architectural photos in your proposal, you may find the file size jumping to 10, 20, even 30MB at its highest quality. You must get it down to 4MB to be safe. To do this, play with the PDF’s compression settings. Remember, 300dpi is the standard for printing while 72dpi is for onscreen.
ONE LOOK OR TWO?
Chances are, your proposal will have multiple sets of information: YOUR firm, and your consultants. Do you redesign the consultants’ information? TWO LOOKS: My personal opinion is that your consultants are their own company, and should keep their own brand. It also takes a tremendous amount of time to lay out your own materials, so don’t spend precious time before a deadline laying out the materials of other firms, especially since they may not want you to. ONE LOOK: Others might feel that you are unified, and your materials should appear as if they are coming from one cohesive team. I say if you feel this way, think about time versus strategy. If you have time and you think the client might like this better, go for it.
The cover. It’s the first thing your potential client will see, yet it’s often an afterthought for us. Do you use a standard/boilerplate cover, or a customized cover? Again: time vs. strategy. Use a standard cover if you have left it to the last minute. But if you have time, create something totally custom (this doesn’t mean putting another client’s work on your cover). For brochures or qualifications packages, use something boilerplate.
BLOOD :: SWEAT :: TEARS The three things that often happen during the proposal production process. It’s all about time … do you have enough to meet the deadline? Full bleed pages to be trimmed down vs. standard printing … we know which one is prettier, but do you have time? During the proposal production process, you have so many little details about this package running through your head; do whatever you can to minimize confusion during the printing process. Maybe you have an 11×17 printout that need to be included in the middle of your 8.5×11 proposal: create a placeholder for that page. Once you bind your books, LOOK AT THEM. Make sure YOU catch any errors before your boss or the potential client does.
RULE OF TEN.
When considering your overall layout, keep the number 10 in mind:
10-point font size.
Your proposals should be readable; the general rule of thumb is to have a 10-point font for your body text (unless you are using a large font, then you can use 9-point). The older generation finds this to be too small. However, a larger font makes it difficult to fit everything you need on a page. My colleague has a good trick for convincing your boss this is a standard font size: throw down the New York Times in front of them, and remind them this is what the industry considers standard. Also make sure your leading is a few point sizes above your type size. This helps with white space.
Use [at a minimum] 10% white space. Don’t overwhelm your audience with too much text, tables, graphics, or photos. Leave room for their eye to have a break. This is especially important in the fee section of your proposal (we all know, this is the most important section!). Make sure you call-out headings and totals. Make it easy for them to read, and don’t scare them with enormous tables.
No more than 10 photos per page. I personally believe this is too many, but in some instances, I have witnessed 10 photos in one spread and it works. Just make sure you have a couple dominating photos.