Tendering for big business in the new media era

IABC Queensland

This blog post really started as a comment in response to PR Warrior, Trevor Young’s post, Communicating in a Hyper-connected Marketplace,’ the topic of conversation to be addressed at next week’s IABC Queensland Be Heard® event.

The facilitated discussion, led by Trevor, promises to bring some lively debate to the table as we explore how organisations are navigating the new media landscape.


Trevor has already kicked-off the conversation in preparation for the intimate round table confab, drawing comment from would-be attendees (myself included) which will serve to set the scene for proceedings on the night.

Input so far has touched on demonstrating ROI for strategies grounded in new media (and corporate communication generally); getting senior management on board with social media; and senior executives using social media as a means for personal interactions with one’s team.

I suspect my own comment may be a little controversial, especially within what is shaping up to be esteemed company. Trevor, for one, has already presented his counter view, prompting me to go away and think a little more deeply about my assertion. Whilst I’ve definitely refined my position, I haven’t reversed it and I’d like to flesh it out a little more here.

New media and big business

Our brave new world of new media and connected communities presents all manner of challenges for big business. As Trevor states in his reply to me, the evolving new media landscape is all about change – the arch nemesis of conservative big companies.

I think it’s fair to take as given the fact that many – or even most – large corporations are conceptually at odds with new media and the extraordinary sense of authenticity, community and connectedness they bring. This is disappointing and sadly remiss, but none-the-less remains the current status quo for the most part (with some notable exceptions).

The lost opportunities are obvious for retail and consumer entities. Companies who provide products and services to individual consumers and even to businesses who have a single decision maker with regards to purchasing, (think printers/copiers, stationery, merchandise, legal and financial services, even motor vehicle dealerships and specialist consultants), have so much to gain by building a community and offering value-add through simple human interaction and genuine thought leadership. The point is, they can establish, develop and maintain connections and conversations with individuals.

The communication of project tenders

But what about the type of businesses who, in order to bring work in the door, have to tender for multi-million dollar contracts? There is generally no single person who will be responsible for this type of decision making. All information considered necessary for choosing a service provider forms part of the tender submission and associated presentation – if there is even an opportunity to make one. There is little scope to explore potential providers outside the tendering process – and in some cases is even frowned upon, with interaction between the customer and tenderers strictly prohibited. So for the tendering company, there are very strict boundaries around how they can demonstrate their capability.

So here’s the controversial bit: The fundamental difference between the scenario that I’m presenting, and the premise of the Cluetrain Manifesto (which virtually underpins the true value and potential of all new media), is that the end-user is still listening to – in fact, still prefers, and indeed requests – the reams of stilted corporate speak that get offered up in response to equally stilted and somewhat cryptic client-speak criteria. They’re still acting like seats and eyeballs, not human beings. So why mess with it?

How can marketing and communication professionals possibly break this vicious and self-perpetuating cycle? It’s almost a closed circuit – an endless feedback loop that will continue to support itself with an endless flow of energy borne of corporate spin. And is there even a need to break the cycle, if everyone is hearing what they (apparently) want to hear? Does new media even have a place here?

Part of the issue, of course, is that very few entities within these industries – either on the client or the provider side – are utilising new media to anywhere near its full potential – if at all. This space is often viewed as just another marketing channel and used simply for pushing out bland press releases, or editorial about a project or program. Self-serving documents filled with corporate speak and spin. Therefore, if an engineering or construction firm were to try to start building a community online, aimed at influencers in potential client organisations, chances are that their efforts would simply go by the wayside. My preliminary research indicates that no-one in these industries has truly started charting the territory of new media land. Yet.

And this, of course, is Trevor’s point. It’s up to us, as communications professionals to bring about that change from within our organisations; to act as change agents. Frankly, for the scenario I have presented, I reckon this is a pretty tough ask. What do you think?

Looking to the future

I feel it’s inevitable that infrastructure and resource developers will ultimately carve out a space for themselves somewhere in the new media landscape. The potential to use these tools for community interface is enormous – once big business is prepared to shut down the spin and be transparent. And make no mistake this is no small matter, when your history is one of carefully defining key messages about the big hole you’re about to dig in the ground alongside a country community.

As for the future of tendering, I think the potential for the process to become more interactive in a networked marketplace – and therefore competitive – is huge. But maybe this is a good enough reason on its own to continue to resist the change!

I believe ultimately, the circuit-breaker will come from within. Because inside the walls of the organisations that outwardly assert a preference for the formal dialogue of a structured process for engaging service providers and winning work, exist real people. Human beings who are already getting restless and impatient with the spin and bland, formal messages transmitted from above. They are already demanding real answers to their questions – in an open forum with direct dialogue.

Join the discussion.

What do you think? Am I burying my head in the sand about these businesses? Am I ignoring my charter as a business communicator to challenge the status quo? What do you see as the future for these – and other – businesses in the context of the hyper-connected marketplace?

Join the discussion here, over at Trevor’s blog or bring your thoughts to the table next Wednesday, 18th August. I promise we’ll be talking about a lot more than my personal agenda!


  1. You both make very good and interesting points.

    Susan, I think that yes it is up to us as business communicators to illuminate the opportunities and to find a way to demonstrate the value and relative ease of using new media. Perhaps even the risks of NOT using new media.

    Which brings me to your comment Francis – I agree it’s most often the legal, commercial and even IT(!) people who throw up brick walls. But I don’t agree we should wait passively for them to be prepared to get on board. If they’re not willing to find solutions that work for the real world that is unfolding in front of them, then we need to bring it to their door – find examples of others who have done it and survived! Even flourished… (gasp)

    1. Athanasia – I think the potential for these media is great – even within industries that are naturally averse to any perceived risk, and slow to change.

      As I touched on in the post, I believe there are already rumblings within the ranks of people who make up these types of organisations. People are tired of corporate spin – even within conservative organisations.

      There is also huge potential for using new media for community engagement on our resource and infrastructure projects.

      I think these places are where we start to build our case for new media. Our people and our community are key stakeholder groups. If they are asking for a change in the way they are communicated with, big business will deliver. I don’t see anything wrong with gathering the troops to clarify and consolidate what they are asking for. And this might just be our vehicle for change.

  2. Hi Susan,
    The aspect not considered in your post, which is an even bigger hurdle to overcome in my view, is the legal and commercial guys, the ones who sit in the back office and create the templates that the client organisation must fulfil to meet the ever more complex and labyrinthine requirements dreamt up by the various governing bodies. These legal and contracts guys are the largely self proclaimed guardians of the ethical and honest and have built a closed market for themselves that has restricted a lot of the new and novel techniques both the procuring and selling parties would like to try. Along side these guys of course sit the business schools who teach their doe-eyed MBA students that they must follow the practices taught in their schools or the world will stop revolving. Until the time these people are prepared to get on board and experiment with the technology of the last century such as email, the latitude for the rest of us mere mortals to explore the boundaries of the more modern communications methods are going to be somewhat limited.

    1. Francis, there will always be early and late adopters of technology. We all know this. The latent human propensity to resist change exists to varying degrees within us all.

      I’ve reflected a lot about the issues presented in this post and I think, rather than focussing on those who are resisting the potential of new media, and how we might overcome their resistance, in order to get the best value for an organisation, we need to seek out those who are already on board, and build a community of influencers.

      The powers-that-be can’t ignore the voices of many forever. And that’s what this is all about … isn’t it?

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