As told by Tom Mason-Paley
In my salad days at university, studying the great masters of literature, I rapidly came to a cynical conclusion; any novel which was over 500 pages would naturally become a classic of the age as, once you got past the 49th chapter, you had no choice but to become invested in the characters, setting and storylines. For me, this could be the only explanation why some tomes, such as Victor Hugo’s Les Miserable or Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations, are considered classics whilst having plots which creak more than my knees.
Fortunately for me, bids do not follow the same self-made hypothesis; as David Ogilvy wrote in his internal memo to his team for bids as well as advertising,
‘Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs’.
Although I am guilty of sometimes thinking, ‘You (Client) set me a short deadline, get ready for 25 pages on business continuity’, I know this is a self-defeating form of revenge; the client does not want reams and reams of text, and I am only reducing my chances of winning.
Good bids need to be clear, to the point and focused on the client’s needs. As I task my bid writers, we must always ask, ‘Have we addressed the client’s actual question? Have we clearly defined the benefit of our solution? Have we presented our response in the clearest and most succinct way possible?’
To write succinctly takes great skill but, most of all, it takes courage; the courage to omit certain details, certain features of a solution, elements of a case study or technology, which although we may find interesting, distracts from the central messages we wish to convey to a client. It also takes the courage of conviction in knowing exactly on what the client wants to focus.
As I come to the end of a long meandering article discussing the importance of brevity, I am always reminded of a tender I once reviewed in which the description of our technology solution was less than a page long; a brief description of features and a longer description of client benefits. The salesperson went mad, ‘What about all its features and reporting capability?’ The bid writer coolly, replied, ‘They want to know that we have a system, that it works and that its best for them’. We went with the response and won the opportunity. For all his success, Victor Hugo could never claim that.