Is There Still a Place for Bid Rooms?

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A lot of things were different when I started out as a bid writer over 25 years ago. Notably, in the land before Skype, Zoom, and Teams, every bid team interaction was face-to-face. Big campaigns would usually culminate in a bid-bunker session, with team members hauling up in a hotel for a week, working late into the night, day after day, to get the bid over the line. In retrospect it was somewhat antisocial, and about as grim of an example of maintaining work/life balance as you might conceive. But it wasn’t all bad. These windowless bid writing marathons were invariably driven not just by coffee, but by a collegiate desire to win, alchemising lead-like half-ideas into bid writing gold. In a strange and unconventional way, they were a lot of fun.

Nowadays, in-person bid meetings are on the brink of extinction, replaced by rapid-fire daily check in videocalls from the comfort of your living room/home office. So, it was something of a novelty in late 2023 when a client asked, nay insisted, on using a bid room for its campaign. I was, at first, a little reticent. It was quite a trek for me to get to the location. I wondered if it was all necessary. (If I’m honest, it wasn’t to a degree.) A lot of the ground could have been just as productively covered over Teams. But (with more than a hint of nostalgia for the good old days) when it worked, it worked really well.

There was a lot to be said for having subject matter experts and bid writers in the same room, collectively reviewing a draft answer line-by-line on a large TV screen, and scribbling ideas on white boards. The process triggered fresh perspectives and unearthed forgotten examples, and elicited compelling alternative datasets in a manner that would not have been nearly as forthcoming had it all been online. Placeholders were readily filled, sentences were sharpened, wordiness was trimmed, and presentational formats were tested. People weren’t just in the room, but they were genuinely present.  People who were, in some cases, strangers at the start of the process felt like they were part of a team by the end.

The bid was finally submitted, and I wearily made the long train journey home. Part of me was glad to see the back of it all, and to sleep in my own bed again. But part of me was equally a little energised. It may be more expensive and time-consuming to use in-person bid rooms these days, but there is an upside. At a time when people are increasingly looking at new, high-tech solutions to improve their bids, there might be more to be said for revisiting the old school too.

This article was written by Jim Carley.

Jim Carley, founder and Managing Director of Carley Consult Ltd, leads a top bid consultancy in the vocational education, employability, and justice sectors. His firm won APMP’s UK Supplier of the Year Award in 2021. He chairs APMP UK’s Procurement Group, is Vice President of the Doncaster Chamber of Commerce, and directed Doncaster’s successful city status bid in 2022. His book on the campaign is available here.

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