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Why do marketing tenders attract wallpaper solutions?

Being on the receiving end of tender requests it’s quite easy to see the pitfalls in the process, both from a supplier and customer perspective. Having been caught up in the craziness that frequently happens when pitching for businesses, it is easy to see the flaws with both open and closed tenders. I’m referring to ‘through and above the line’ tenders in the private sector mainly, including advertising campaigns and brand development – that sort of thing, as opposed to ‘commodity’ tenders.

As an alternative or addition to generating agency business through the usual promotional channels, the lure of a meaty project described in a tending brief can feel very appealing if you’re prepared for failure. If you’re good at what you do then the failure rate for an agency can be much higher than following other avenues of new business.

Closed tenders can feel more appealing - if you are told that only three agencies are competing for a project for instance, then it can feel less of a risk simply because there are fewer people to compete against. It is this ‘risk versus reward’ that needs to be weighed up before your team starts burning the midnight oil in order to create the necessary tendering content.

Open tenders, on the other hand, can feel quite daunting when there is no cap on the number of entries. An agency might be competing against hundreds of others, but then the ultimate prize of a juicy contract in a market where you can demonstrate expertise might just make it feel worth going for.


The biggest issue for me though, from an agency perspective, is not the risk of competing against others – it’s the nonsense of needing to present a scattergun range of creative ideas based upon a loose and poorly prepared tender brief, on most occasions, and the issue of ‘SUBJECTIVITY’.

Here at Dupree International, we have worked very hard over the many years to get away from the madness of this subjective approach that is so commonplace in our industry and, in our opinion, under-minds our integrity and marketeers. It is something our industry should be challenging. Unfortunately, the tendering process encourages all that we strongly contest as a rational process, but we can’t see it going away any time soon.


For all those companies that are asking for several creative approaches from agencies, then they should be asking themselves ‘why?’. If they were honest about it, they’d agree that the briefs they’re sending out aren’t tight enough – usually because they really don’t know what they want and don’t even know what there’s trying to do. They’ll regularly have no business strategy, let alone a brand strategy. They’ll often have a vague proposition and if they have evaluated their core values, they’ll be sitting in a drawer somewhere and nobody will have attempted to define what they either mean to anyone or articulate them into a tone of voice or point of difference.

We abandoned tendering many years ago because the requests we received generally lacked the insight into what brands are trying to achieve, where they were going or how they are going to get there. This was always because the procurement manager didn’t have the knowledge to even understand what a brand strategy is, let alone identify who’s best to appoint for a project or contract.

That’s unfortunately where it all starts to go wrong. If the person tasked with briefing anyone with a project without a brand strategy or marketing road map, then an agency can only pick ideas out of the air and present them as a broad range of options to select from – like a range of sports cars in a garage showroom. Using that analogy, it was often like finding out in the ‘thanks but no thanks’ email that the buyer had forgotten to mention that the vehicle had to seat a family of seven and have off-road capability.


People with limited marketing expertise are likely to throw a wide net to hopefully capture loads of ‘creative’, tick a few boxes and then pass them up the chain of command to a committee that is even less qualified to understand what they’re looking at. This is because they weren’t even involved in putting the original brief together in the first place. At this stage the selection process generally becomes even more absurd and subjectivity then becomes pivotal to its outcome.

I am sure many other capable agencies resist the temptation to get involved in tenders for the reasons I’ve highlighted, so more incapable agencies would inevitably want to sign up to tendering websites. These agencies can play the numbers game and actually rely upon subjectivity – after all, someone on a committee with strong opinions is going to love purple - and photos of puppies have got to be a winner at some point, surely? So tending isn’t always going to get the response from the most capable people, so what’s the alternative?


The alternative starts where it should always start – with a clear and concise brand identity and strategy that a company had engaged with and that has become part of its culture. The brand proposition needs to be clear, authentic and quick to get. It needs to be relevant to its target audiences and needs to reflect core values that are understood and can be adhered to - consistently. The brand narrative will have a tone of voice and a personality that needs to be abided to so customers can forge a relationship with it and grow to trust it.

Once this groundwork is in place, projects are much easier to brief. The criteria are all set. We believe the process shouldn’t be to push all that great brand insight out to tender though, as any agency that knows what it’s doing should have many case studies that will demonstrate the ability in various areas of interest to suit a project. It should be easier to find them than wade through a mass of tender submissions if someone knows what they’re looking for. If the brand objectives and strategy have been managed successfully then a company shouldn’t need to request a number of ideas for creative – not if a company understands the brand requirements and an agency really understands the task in hand. There should only be one right solution, so why create three?

When in life is it ok to accept there could be three right solutions… wallpaper? – you choose.

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