“Thank goodness we’re not reliant on tendering”

This sentiment, told to Access by Losberger De Boer sales director-events John Cochrane, is echoed by the wider industry. But is the process salvageable, and what can be done to improve it?

“I have yet to find the magic ingredient that wins tenders,” Cochrane continues.

“More often than not, in-spite of claims that innovation and competence of delivery will be the deciding factor, the lowest price is the main driver.”

The Fair founder Nick Morgan is also concerned by this.

“Tendering can be a benchmarking exercise to allow incumbents to continue working with an organisation which is frustrating and puts you off taking the risk of going for a tender as it is isn’t always a straightforward process.

“I would love there to be more opportunity to meet potential clients in person to ensure that there’s the right chemistry between all parties and that results aren’t just based on a quantitative process.”

Incompetence too often prevails, despite honest intentions, according to Paul Grecian, chairman, Gallowglass Group. “Most large organisations genuinely want the tendering process to be fair, but all too often it’s flawed by incompetence.  Processes aren’t followed, or weak managers are too timid to change the habits they’ve clung to for the last 30 years. 

“Those buyers who purchase purely on price, change suppliers frequently in the relentless pursuit of cheaper deals. But they don’t have the foresight to realise that it’s this pressure on suppliers to undercut each other that ultimately results in Carillion-style collapses of major employers.” 

Cochrane concurs: “Most tendering processes discourage human interaction, and they are simply data gathering mechanisms that produce a number at the bottom right hand column of a spreadsheet.

“If we were producing widgets, then I can see the benefit, but event infrastructure is a very different beast, and should be purchased in a suitably different way.

“Good customer relationships and solid reputations built on integrity and professionalism cannot be trumped by the tendering process.”

Tips for those navigating the tender terrain are offered by Morgan. “I think you have to take it on face value that going for tenders is a calculated risk  – they try and be as fair as possible but given that you are up against sometimes more than 10 other agencies, means that the process can quite easily be seen as unfair in terms of competition. Having said this, you have to accept the parameters and that the bigger the organisation, the more people there are to sign something off, the more evidence they need to do so.

“I would also say that it is important to never go for anything that is worth more than 25% of your turnover and make sure that the actual margin is understood before going forward with a proposal.”

Seeking opportunities to tangibly demonstrate what you do is advocated by all our commenters. Cochrane says: “Potential customers come to see our work at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, Farnborough International Air Show, The Gatsby Club at Wimbledon and so many more global premier events.

“This tangible demonstration of what we can do is the most powerful method of convincing potential customers to choose LDB. Conferences and exhibitions will always have a place in our sales and marketing strategy – we just need to select the most appropriate show.”

There can still be flaws, Grecian adds, even with a great strategy in place. “To win, you need to identify and get inside the mind of the ultimate decision maker. And they may very well not be the person who issued the tender and may not even agree with the stipulations in the document. We see so many tender invitations that are obviously cut-and-paste jobs, prepared by a junior executive who cribbed the content from a previous, often unrelated, purchasing exercise.”

“The lack of honesty drives me mad.  Tenders would be vastly improved by total transparency; we’re informed that the decision will be based on a series of criteria – including sustainability credentials and certification in international standards, and that cost will be a minor factor in the decision-making process.

“But because our own company’s credentials in terms of standards and regulatory requirements are pretty impeccable, we know that when we haven’t won a tender, the only area we could have lost out on would be cost.” 

Morgan adds that, despite the frustrations, creativity needn’t be totally stifled by tender box ticking. “Really, because of the amount of time and effort that goes into creative, the tender process should allow for more give and take with a stage to present initial ideas and re-develop creative direction. This helps both parties, we as agencies want to get it right for our clients and the tender process needs to be more of a two way street in this respect.”

Tendering, which is also a key theme in this issues cover feature (p30) is a topic that will run and run.

For now, however, the festival and event industry is very much at the mercy of the dreaded tender document.

Grecian, Cochrane and Morgan’s full commentary on tenders will be available on accessaa.co.uk shortly after this issue’s publication.