A mechanic will not order parts for your vehicle without first examining the car and diagnosing the problem.
We in the meetings and event worlds are not doctors. Life and death are not within the scope of our responsibilities. Nor are we mechanics that fix vehicles.
Or are we? We are responsible for the health and well-being of corporate messaging. We are often responsible for fixing a corporate problem with well though out and strategic events. Yet as event professionals we are often expected to respond to an RFP or even a first meeting with a complete proposal, renderings, descriptives and the like.
Provocative thought, isn't it? Is our industry taken so lightly that we are not allowed to think and plan, diagnose and solve?
An informal Special Events magazine poll revealed that event design and production companies spend from $12,000-$15,000 responding to a client's Request for Proposal. Many of my event planning and production associates agree that the cost of responding to RFPs has gone up over the last few years. I know in my own business that the cost has probably tripled at least primarily because my company is going after larger jobs.
Increased competition has also forced everyone to take it over the top spending more time researching, analyzing, diagnosing and creating our responses in order to be pertinent. Long gone are the days when we can take Proposal B-13 out of the archives and re-purpose it for a new client. So with an in-depth proposal as the goal we have to hire additional freelance creative staff, and design intricate floor plans and renderings, often even create film, to assure that our clients get our vision.
To double the pressure on all of us, clients want detail, detail, detail, including our financial statements as part of it all. [Translated: Our accountant needs to do double-time.) And, clients want it right now! Immediately.
The Catch 22 with extensive detail is that most RFPs also ask for subcontractor information. Along with that, you might find what I call the latest and greatest: Clients require they have the right to use your ideas, renderings, et al, at will. Oh, and guess what? Before they consider you, you must sign and agree to that nifty clause. If a client is merely window-shopping, where does that leave you?
Spending a lot of money with no clue what you are doing and why is my answer to that question. Why do you want to do that?
It would be sheer luck if you could win a bid before you fully understood the needs and goals of your client and this very specific project. Submit a capabilities document? Of course. It's not your capabilities that are changing. It's the specific client and their specific needs that are unique.
The SolutionsThe perfect solution to all of the issues outlined above is to charge for your proposal. Most of the companies you are dealing with have R&D departments. They are paid for their time. An architect does not design a building for you without charging for his time, does he? This is particularly effective if you know someone is trolling for bids. At the very least, it might keep the competition limited to three instead of 23 bids. Explain to the prospective client that the cost will be refunded upon the signing of a contract (i.e. applied to the job). Admittedly very few clients will allow for this, but it's worth a try.
What you can always do is have clients sign an agreement not to use any part of your proposal if the job is awarded to another company. Do this before you hand over the proposal. Using your ideas is theft. (This will put a stop to the practice of being handed a proposal from a competitor and asked to price it out against them.)
These two practices will give your proposals far more perceived value. And, just think, if this became an industry practice, all the above problems would be solved. Consider it. I'd love for you to share your thoughts on it with me via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrea Michaels is the president of multiple award-winning Extraordinary Events. EE just took home its 39th Special Events magazine Gala Award. Andrea was presented with the Steve Kemble Leadership Award during The Special Event, adding to numerous personal honors, including the Pillar of the Industry Gala and the Event Solution Hall of Fame awards. She is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower - Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life and co-author of a number of other business books.