When it comes to (witch)crafting a winning proposal, the Shipley method identifies seven critical elements that you don’t want to forget. One could argue that these seven characteristics can be applied to something more frightening than a bid… a scary story. In the spirit of Halloween and the spooky season, let's explore these seven characteristics in the context of both proposal writing and some classic horror movies.
1. Compliance (Meeting Audience Expectations)
Compliance in a bid means adhering to the client's requirements, instructions and specifications provided to you in the RFT. As any proposal professional knows, this is the #1 rule of any winning proposal, and it was not made to be broken. If you demonstrate an inability to do this in your bid, know that your evaluator will not be impressed. Don't leave your evaluator with an excuse to toss your well-intentioned bid in the bin.
Compliance is just as crucial in a good horror film, but instead of “compliance”, we can call it “meeting the audience’s expectations”. Directors pride themselves on their ability to respect the conventions of the genre while delivering a fresh and engaging experience. "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984) is an excellent example of compliance in horror storytelling as it adheres to established genre conventions and audience expectations, such as jump scares, creepy dreams, and a stripe sweatered, blade-fingered, supernatural villain.
So, in both scary movies and proposals, give the people what they want- compliance.
New Line Cinema
2. Responsiveness (Know your audience)
Responsiveness in proposal writing means addressing the client's specific needs and concerns. Some of these needs will be laid out for you in the RFT, but more likely, some will be missing. This means that the work put in during the capture phase massively impacts your ability to be responsive. Allowing the time to learn about your client's needs will give you the means to develop the benefits and features of your solution and determine what sets you apart (discriminators). Demonstrating your responsiveness in your proposal is critical because it shows that you have been listening to the client.
In a scary movie, responsiveness can translate to “knowing your audience”. Writers need to anticipate what will terrify viewers and address those elements effectively. And you can bet your bottom dollar that Hollywood is executing an intense capture plan to know their audience better so they can continue to release blockbuster hits.
3. Strategy (Crafting a Compelling Narrative)
A winning proposal requires a clear and compelling strategy that addresses the client's needs and differentiates your company from the competition. A good strategy places you in a favourable position by leveraging strengths, mitigating weaknesses, highlighting competitor weaknesses, and neutralising competitor strengths. It’s best to develop your strategy during the pre-solicitation phase of the bid; that way, they can inform messaging when you bring pen to paper.
"The Babadook" (1960) is an excellent example of strategy used in horror storytelling as it has a well-thought-out plot that unfolds in a way that keeps the audience on the edge of their seat. The movie challenges the audience to empathise with the “baddie” and understand its motivations. The movie's strategy is effective because it creates a compelling and emotionally driven story that is both too creepy for comfort and thought-provoking. The strategy in the film allowed it to become unique and memorable in a highly saturated industry.
4. Competitive Focus (Setting the Story Apart)
Competitive focus in your proposal means highlighting what sets you apart, demonstrating your knowledge of your competition and what they’ll offer your client. The best/easiest way to turn your competitor knowledge into discriminators you can use in your proposal is by performing a competitor assessment. Doing this well gives you valuable intel to inform your price, solution, strategy, etc.
In Scary Movie Land, competitive focus means distinguishing your story from others by offering a unique and memorable experience. The 1996 “Scream" distinguishes itself from other horror movies by breaking the fourth wall and satirising the genre while delivering a frightening experience. There’s nothing like actors talking about scary movie tropes in a scary movie to give a competitive edge.
5. Quality of Writing (Creating Engaging Dialogue and Descriptions)
High-quality writing must ensure your proposal is clear, concise, and persuasive. Now, this doesn’t mean you can just run your bid through spell check and be in the clear (please still do this). To craft a compelling proposal, it is important to remember that it is a sales document, not a technical one. So, this means benefits before features every time and using the customer’s name way more than you use yours.
In horror storytelling, quality writing means creating engaging dialogue, vivid descriptions, and compelling arguments. "The Silence of the Lambs" (1991) is an icon of quality writing, with engaging dialogue, vivid descriptions, and compelling arguments that make it a well-crafted horror narrative. Who can forget the infamous prison scenes between Hannibal Lecter and Clarice? To this day, when I see a bottle of Chianti, I think of Anthony Hopkins and that gross thing he does with his lips.
6. Visualisation (Creating Vivid Mental Images)
Visualisation in proposal writing is using visual aids to enhance the reader's understanding and engagement. This can come in the form of graphics, photos, tables, etc. Anyone can throw a picture in a document, but a true proposal professional recognises the immense value visuals can add to your bid. They know that it’s common practice for decision-makers to skim proposals. So, if this is the case, it is your mission to give the reader everything they need to know about your bid in the headings, visuals, and Action Captions. Ensuring you’ve put yourself in a position for the evaluator to easily justify your score and the decision makers to give you the deal.
Horror movies are known to create nightmare-inducing mental images, but "A Quiet Place" (2018) stands out for its exceptional ability to do so. Despite having only 3-4 pages of dialogue in its script (compared to the average 90-120 pages), the film was a massive success and even inspired a sequel. The film's storyline, emotion, and character development were all conveyed through visuals and music, which caught the audience's attention and left them wanting more. If you can do the same with your proposal using graphics and visuals, you know you’ve got a winner.
7. Page/Document Design (Enhancing Overall Presentation)
Page/document design means using an appropriate layout, typography, and colour scheme to enhance the overall presentation and readability of the proposal. A well-organised design helps evaluators quickly find the information they need while being easy on the eyes. Don’t underestimate the appearance of a document because when all the proposals begin to look the same to the evaluator, you want to stand out as one of the good ones, not the bad ones. Don’t forget your proposal reflects you, your organisation, and your solution, and it never hurts to make a good impression.
In the context of horror storytelling, page/document design means using a visually appealing (or very unsettling) design that enhances the overall experience for the audience. “The Shining” is a classic example of a film that utilises design to impact the audience. The isolated hotel, where most of the movie takes place, is a labyrinthine and disorienting space designed to confuse and terrify the characters. The use of colour, lighting, and space creates a sense of claustrophobia and isolation central to the plot.
In conclusion, compliance, responsiveness, strategy, competitive focus, quality of writing, visualisation, and page/document design are integral characteristics of winning proposals and good scary movies. By incorporating these characteristics, you can captivate your evaluator (or audience) and leave a lasting impression they won’t soon forget!