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Five golden rules for bid success

We look at ways to make the bid process as smooth and as successful as possible. Thoughts from Paul Dennis, Managing Director of 400.

The competitive bidding environment is as fierce as ever. Often painful, bidding and pitching are an unavoidable necessity and a fact of corporate life. In this article, we look at ways to make the process as smooth and as successful as possible.

Everyone knows that first impressions count. The branding, design and packaging of tenders shouldn’t just be seen as the icing on the cake because, in the right hands, it can make all the difference. By skilfully aligning the creative approach and bid theme, and the client’s drivers and win strategy, it is possible to make your bid stand out in every way.

Whether the RFP demands a bespoke, high-value document or one that adheres to strict tendering criteria, delivering a response in an appropriate format that is easy to navigate and that has impact will undoubtedly strengthen your proposal, brand and reputation.

Of course, clear, visually engaging documents that reflect the importance of the tender can be difficult to achieve every time. Complex solutions, produced on a regular basis and often to very tight timelines, present various challenges, which we will cover later in this article. But before we get to that, let’s talk about the key tips for success…

Our experience in delivering bid and tender materials for a client list of international, market-leading organisations, operating in both public and private sectors, has helped us to define five fundamental principles. These can streamline the tendering process and improve your chances of success (assuming you have a firm understanding of the competitive and overall environment).

Our five tips for success

1. Preparation is king
Delivering the best possible response within a limited timeframe requires preparation. Developing a submission framework and a toolkit of content-defined templates will enable the efficient organisation and layout of your documents.

2. Understand the requirements
The approach to the design, layout and packaging of every aspect of a submission should be guided by a clear understanding of the questions that need to be answered, how the responses should be structured and what additional written and visual content is required to support the bid.

3. Stick to the criteria
Where specific tendering criteria are defined (in terms of how responses should be presented, packaged and even delivered) they should be adhered to and not compromised by the design. We have learnt that procurement teams are often relieved to receive tenders that demonstrate an understanding of their requirements in a readable and organised format. Clear communication of mandatory information in the requested format will make a good impression and makes the evaluation process easier. Oversight or neglect of this can easily create hurdles to your submission making the right impact.

4. One size does not fit all
Whilst specific, high-end responses may often be required, having various options available in a template framework will allow for the efficient production of materials that meet a multitude of tender requirements, whether it is a pitch document, bid response, information memorandum or a presentation.

5. Be distinctive, as well as professional
Distinctive, professional, high-quality design and production will reflect the importance, value and profile of the bid. It will also reinforce your brand values, as well as those of the client. The results will have impact, make the response stand out from the competition and be memorable throughout the tendering process.


Even when following this framework, there are still challenges to overcome and there are crucial issues that can be cost-effectively resolved by partnering with an experienced design agency. For example:

• Often internal design teams are under-resourced and can be stretched right across the business. This can have a negative impact on turnaround times and quality of response

• An internal design team can often be too internally focussed and lack perspective that is built on external experience such as client base, sectors, research etc. This external vision can consistently provide great creative ideas to drive bid success.

In a world of information overload, where it can be difficult to filter out the relevant data from the white noise that surrounds us, it should be no surprise to learn that the most effective bid and tender designs communicate key information as clearly as possible. This can be achieved in a number of ways:

• Define document structure with intuitive colour and/or number-coding, tabbing and dividers etc.

• Clarify titles, messaging and statistics with considered typographic styling and layout

• Distil complex data through professional table and chart design

• Simplify complicated processes or content with engaging infographics

• Bring key elements of your proposal to life with a memorable visual style that has impact.

All of the above will significantly improve your bid by making it easier to navigate and understand the key points that make your organisation stand out from the competition. The following case study, for Mace, is a good example of where all of this was put into practice.


Case study

When international consultancy and construction company, Mace, began to prepare their tender to be the main contractor on one of the City of London’s most iconic development projects, they recognised the need to produce a bid that reflected the value and profile of the landmark building.

Lacking the in-house capabilities to deliver such a complex, high-quality response in the limited time available, they were keen to partner with an external design agency to translate their proposal into an engaging and distinctive submission.

From start to finish we worked seamlessly with the bid teams, project managers, writers and other contributors to ensure all content was ready ahead of schedule. We then managed the complex production stages to ensure the finished materials exceeded expectations.

Workshops with the Mace bid teams provided insights into the project, win strategy, tender criteria and submission requirements, from which we defined a content calendar and schedules for design, approval and production. Working closely with the bid team we then developed document structure, pagination, format and layout recommendations, plus table and chart styles that would communicate the required information as clearly as possible.

For such a content-heavy tender it was critical that a robust framework of templates and layouts were developed that could be easily adapted and combined to accommodate all content types as efficiently as possible.

Particular attention was paid to the navigation and organisation of the different sections, as well as how best to present and package the different materials. Our recommendation was to split the content into four separate A3 volumes, two for the technical, one for the commercial and one for the digital submission.

Cloth-bound, hard-backed covers were produced in advance, and the internal pages were printed digitally, wire-bound and glued in to streamline production without compromising quality of finish.

The scale of the submission demanded robust outer packaging. Inspired by RSHP’s design we explored how materials and finishing could reflect the building’s distinctive external structure, expansive glazing and bright yellow servicing core. The outer case was constructed from powder-coated MDF, with etched and ink-filled yellow text. Clear perspex revealed the inner volumes while holding them securely in place and a reinforced handle ensured that  the entire package could be safely carried.

Following submission we were briefed by Mace to develop new standards for all their future bid submissions. We produced a comprehensive template library, detailed structures and user-friendly guidelines for how every element of the their tenders should be designed, produced and managed. We were tasked with introducing the new bid standards and acted as consultants for the internal teams during the handover period. The resulting framework has empowered Mace’s bid teams with the tools and processes to efficiently produce high-quality tenders in-house.