Alternatives to Tendering for the Creative Industries

Alternatives to Tendering for the Creative Industries

31st May 2022, 11:49 am

As a professional working in the creative industry, I have become frustrated with the tender process, to the point where I made the conscious decision not to tender for new business anymore.

Here I share a process that I believe to be the viable alternative to tendering should you decide the same, highlighting a tried and tested process that could be hugely beneficial to creatives and businesses on both sides of tendering. Saving time, money, ensuring that creative companies match with like-minded businesses and keeping the process focused on its core objectives.

My main issue with the tender process is that it does not provide a fair platform on which to evaluate creative services such as my own. What is written in black and white on a tendering document is a over simplified version what the final relationship will look like. There’s no opportunity to elaborate. it doesn’t allow for improvisation and the organic growth of creativity. Very often when I first sit down with a client what they think they want, is actually nothing like how a project ends up.

Time is an issue. Often, the bidding process is drawn out. Great if you win, not so if you don’t. And creativity doesn’t translate well into words on a document.

I do have an issue with the fact that on some tender documents, the complexity and effort it takes to put the document together actually provides a blueprint for delivering the project. How much to give away, how much to keep close to my chest was always a conundrum.

And my final issue with tendering is that it doesn’t highlight the USPs of a creative company – the people, the ideas and the chemistry.

My process

So, is there an alternative? Here is the four-step process I use within my own business and one that I see as a viable alternative to tendering.

  1. The Chemistry Test

My initial step is to meet with a potential client. I ask lots of questions and drill down into what they want to achieve. I set objectives with them, decide upon measurable performance indicators, and try to get underneath the skin of their brand as well as the reasons why they are looking to appoint a creative.

There’s a lot of fact finding, but the main reason for this meeting is to see if there can be a rapport. If I don’t feel that chemistry, I will simply walk away – because this is a partnership that needs mutual respect. Once the trust has been established, only at this point will I go away and put a creative plan together.

  1. Find out everything there is to know

Second stage is research – and an almost pathological attention to detail. When I collaborate with a client, I want to know everything about them. If it’s a corporate, it’s getting underneath the skin of a brand. There are few that will go to the level or of research that I do, but to me this where the ideas begin to flow. Crucially, I charge for this part of the process. Time is money.

  1. Sell it to them

At this point, I present. This may be a vision board, a video, or a presentation, usually I will bring prototypes so they can look, touch and envision the ideas taking shape. It’s incredibly difficult to get those wow moments across in black and white on a generic form, to sell you must be there in person.

There may also be an element of re-education where they have outlined something that doesn’t quite fit; because I’m immersed in my trade, I can always suggest a more fitting alternative.

  1. Signed, Sealed, Deliver.

At this point we sign the contract, and the project begins to take shape. My client conversion rate is probably about 99%. Very few pull out at this point because the process until now has them heavily invested. They’re sold on the vision of the final product.

Always throughout the agreement we check back to those original objectives and KPIs.

Finding the right creative

I am aware that tendering does give companies the opportunity to scope out creatives companies but there are better ways to do this than a financial spreadsheet.

Some ideas are:

  • Do the groundwork, invest time you would have spent completing the tender process in researching.
  • Attend events or view the final products/campaigns of your top three companies.
  • Research their values and see if they’re in line with what’s important to you.
  • Speak to their customers, learn from their experience.
  • Meet with them, ask them questions, and understand the individuals you are buying into because that is the main thing you need to worry about. Will the relationship work?


My entire business is based on relationships from my dedicated staff, suppliers I have worked with for thirty years – to clients new and long standing.

My process may not work for everyone, but it works for me. And it will work for when companies searching for something different who want to invest in long term relationships.

Next Article

How North West businesses can drive sustainable transformation post COP26

Martyn Kendrick, Regional Director, SME & Mid Corporates Banking North West at Lloyds Bank, discusses the opportunities available for businesses […]
Read Article