The tender touch

Rob Nicholas, Managing Director of NPI, offers his thoughts on project tenders in the media space…

In a business world increasingly dominated by procurement managers, words such as ‘partnership’ and ‘value’ are being replaced by words like ‘supplier’ and ‘cost’

Let’s face it, we all want value. But, at the same time, we also want to be valued. And there is a not-so-subtle difference, especially in the sphere of knowledge-based projects.

Recently, we wished to partner with a digital marketing consultancy, so we met with a few. From those meetings we were able to separate the professionals from the pretenders and find the most suitable company. Our final selection wasn’t the cheapest, but we valued them the most.

The fact is that we adopted this approach naturally. It is within our culture to partner with the best people and the best companies. That is how we achieve. But is it a common approach?

In a business world increasingly dominated by procurement managers, words such as ‘partnership’ and ‘value’ are being replaced by words like ‘supplier’ and ‘cost’. I can understand it when we are talking about material supply – stationary, bricks, mortar – where costs can be compared on a like-for-like basis and service is barely a factor, but not when it comes to the demonstration of knowledge, expertise and creativity.

Let’s compare the creation of successful media to building, as this is an industry where tendering is part and parcel of awarding every job. Except – hang on for a moment – we have missed an important step. The build can only come after the design.

IM Pei didn’t design the Louvre based on submitting the lowest cost and 20 different options to the client upfront. There was recognition that he and his company had the skills, experience and knowhow to spend time understanding the client’s objectives, collaboratively establish a vision, design a plan and turn the project into reality.

The successful development of media also requires an architectural plan. It must be very clear who it is being designed for, or in our case, who the audience is (the client and/or readers and advertisers), to ensure that it will be attractive to them when completed. Then a team of professionals needs to build from that vision.

All too often we are invited to participate in a tender where the architecture is defined. The client is simply seeking a supplier to build. However, in many cases it is apparent that the strategy will not serve the client’s stated objectives or appeal to its desired audiences. To proceed on this basis would mean having to revisit strategy further down the line when it is often too late; like building an apartment block but then deciding it should be an office tower after residents have already settled in.

What’s more, many of these tenders require self-financing, requiring the media house to assume P&L responsibility. The rationale is that a client’s name/brand is considered enticing enough to attract support. This is the equity they bring to the table, along with additional requirements which may serve their objectives, but can also stifle potential returns from advertising audiences and add to the cost of delivery.

At NPI, we don’t subscribe to this view. Our brand, consultancy and expertise has a value and is most effective when it is put in place to shape a project from inception through to completion. That way, all stakeholders can be confident in the approach, understand the full scope of responsibilities and then commit to its successful delivery.

If a client doesn’t recognise the value of strategic input and is not prepared to invest, a partnership will always be impossible to achieve. Without a partnership, there will never be true success, leaving all parties frustrated.

Pitching should be about presenting your credentials and demonstrating why a client should work with you. Track record, accomplishments and insight into the potential project should be sufficient to achieve this, presented face to face where parties can get to know each other.

In the past, we have participated in tenders and were compelled to rewrite the architecture, even if it wasn’t part of the brief, then quote on its delivery. We felt that it would show our value and, in many instances, we were right. However, in others we were deemed too expensive or our presence was merely to assist negotiation with current incumbents.

So, although materials and labour can be compared on a like-for-like for basis, knowledge-based projects need a partner who can help shape the questions and suggest the solutions rather than answer a prescription designed to set a level playing field.

Successful development of media requires consultation, and quality will always have a price. It’s the value that counts.


Rob Nicholas is Managing Director of NPI. Connect with Rob on LinkedIn


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