The Man with the Hat, the Moustache and Three Greyhounds

Tenders. That old chestnut. I wonder have the people that write tenders ever actually completed one? If they had they might spare a thought for those of us that, from time to time, are required to ‘do them’ to try and earn a living.

I recently went for one and praise God was successful. Took me about four days equivalent in hours to complete it. I also worked on another for a client, they were unsuccessful falling at a minor administrative hurdle, not being able to tick a particular box. Another one I assisted with during the summer has yet to be awarded. We have run out of bated breath to wait with.

The inclusion of seemingly important but arbitrary criteria like ISO 2000 are a serious pain in the arse. Granted, their inclusion is an easy hurdle to place in the way of a would be supplier. To me ISO suggests that you are good at ticking boxes. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are a good manufacturer, printer, designer or whatever your expertise. Therein lies the rub.

Likewise a client recently was required to demonstrate their ability to provide business continuity in the event of a fire, flood or other act of God. The fact is that had there been any natural or man made disaster that impacted on production, they would have been able to continue their business by subcontracting. They just hadn’t written down how they would do, so busy were they actually getting on with doing what they do.

I must admit I am gamekeeper turned poacher. I used to devise these fiendishly clever criteria thinking I was the big guy. How the suppliers must have despised us. I faced down a supplier once, he was expressing legitimate concerns about not getting a face to face meeting. Our process was rock solid, tight and fair. This guy just wanted the opportunity to tell us he could do the job. His business later went bust. Not my fault, but I’m sure we didn’t help.

I accept people need these sorts of processes. It’s nice it you happen to win a few but often you don’t get that satisfaction. And as one client told me, these things are often written so the right person gets them. That’s true.

If its written for a guy with a hat, a moustache and three greyhounds, then it’s most likely that the guy who applies who has three greyhounds, a moustache and a hat will get it.

Love Me Tender

In recent weeks I have been working on series of tenders with a number of partners, all in the interests of securing income in these ‘difficult’ times.

These tenders have varied from an excellent copywriting opportunity for a Council who wish to build a story bank of City success stories to other tenders that include a cultural visitor centre’s website and associated material; a large marketing/branding job; and marketing communications material for two education clients. I have also been on the other side of the fence drafting, issuing, receiving and collating replies for another client. Based on what I have experienced as a gamekeeper I was able to turn poacher again.

In all my years working at UU, we took what I now see was a very blasé approach to inviting tenders. The general attitude was ‘if they want the job badly enough they’ll do whatever work is required to put in a decent pitch.’ This included requests to provide graphics and visuals, often at short notice. We would have made suppliers jump through various hoops which, to their credit, they did without crying foul. In retrospect, in terms of purchasing the institution treated local small businesses very poorly and certainly showed little understanding of the business realities of life in a small business.

The advice and guidance from the purchasing people was helpful but seemed more designed to avoid litigation than to attract the best and most contemporary or suitable design. Latterly they introduced greater rigour to the entire process, introducing a series of scoring mechanisms but in my view assessors make a decision on a potential supplier especially after a beauty parade and then ensure the paperwork supports that decision. This may not be the PC thing to say but it is a fact.

Latterly I have been on the receiving end of a series of tenders emanating from government departments and government agencies. I suspect that there is a team of purchasing ‘consultants’ going around giving courses in: ‘Tender Documentation Best Practice to Achieve Value for Money’. Aside from the fact that printing off these behemoth documents to actually read them can write off an entire ream of paper, a lot of the information asked for does nothing to establish the actual graphic design or copywriting capability of my friends and I.

In one case, a tender from an organisation that supposedly exists to promote and support SMEs required a devastating and time consuming level of detail. This is time of course that is well spent if you are successful, but a waste of potential fee charging time if you are not. In this case an army of businesses no doubt beavered away jumping and even skipping through the various hoops placed in the way. The outcome? No decision was made, and the likelihood of a re-tender. Don’t you just love them.