Back in the early days of this century, I attended the Society for Technical Communication (STC) meeting here in Orlando. One of the hot topics of the time was using XML (the extended markup language, an advanced version of HTML) to speed up the process of tagging and repurposing content. Since that time, 22 years ago, I’ve worked in small, medium, and large businesses, and I have yet to use XML to do any of those things. Instead, I have had to use my own archives and brain to reuse content for different applications. Today I’ll share a few non-XML thoughts on how to perform this task.
Why Would You Reuse or Repurpose Content?
In my aerospace work, content is reused or repurposed frequently because our products remain relatively constant in description and purpose over time.
This is especially true in proposal work, where solicitations often feature the same sorts of section requirements:
- Technical Volumes want to know how your product is configured.
- Management Volumes want to know who is on your team and who reports to whom.
- Past Performance Volumes want to know who you’ve done work for before and how successful you were in doing it.
The stories aren’t likely to change much, so why reinvent the wheel, right?
These sorts of information–mostly–stay consistent from proposal to proposal and so can be reused to save your writer(s) time in developing the content. There are exceptions, however, which I will discuss next.
Updating and Maintaining Your Repurposed Content
Accessing the reusable content
Ideally, your proposal team(s) have set aside their boilerplate content in a network drive others can access. The content should be version and configuration controlled by a proposal manager or director. Anyone in the company who might work on a proposal is advised that such content exists and that they should use it to ensure consist messaging. It is possible that the content will be located on a network drive that is protected, shared within the proposal group, or open to the whole company. If it’s protected or restricted in some way, a team wishing to write a proposal would have to request access to it.
To make things easier for your team, your boilerplate content should appear in a proposal template using your company’s markings, fonts, and styles. All of these formatting items improve their reusability. These formatting items might need to be customized to match the requirements of a particular customer, but this pre-formatting gives your team a head start on putting things your organization’s brand on the work.
Note: It’s important that all of the content in your reusable files is spelled correctly, uses correct organization nomenclature, and is clearly and correctly written. Otherwise, any errors will cascade to any document using that content, and that is an editing headache you do not want.
Updating the reusable content
Boilerplate text does change from time to time, usually to address one of the following conditions:
- Rebranding – Sometimes your organization has decided to freshen up all of its content, including logos, brand names, value proposition, market positioning, and product descriptions.
- New features – If your primary products or services have added capabilities, improved performance, or changed in ways that make it useful to new customers, those changes would be important features to add your basic description. Additional, customer- or context-specific features can then be added as needed.
- Organizational changes – If your organization chart is a frequent part of your proposals, it’s important that you keep this content updated. This sets expectations when “selling” your management approach. Your customer will base their expectations of your capabilities based on the qualifications of your team members.
- Customer survey results or awards – Government contractors send regular performance surveys to their contracting officer (CO, pronounced as an initialism: SEE-OH) or contracting officer’s technical representative (COTR, pronounced CO-tar). Improvements or consistent high marks are worth highlighting, though there’s not much you can do about low marks except explain them and work to make them better. If your team or an individual employee wins an award of some sort from your customer based on your products or service, those are excellent past performance accomplishments to note.
What Should Not Be Considered Reusable Content?
Reusable content would seem to cover a lot of ground. Why not just reuse entire proposals and save everyone a lot of time?
Every customer and request for proposal (RFP) is different. It’s important that you read each solicitation carefully to make certain your proposal is “answering the mail.” Yes, you can use general boilerplate language to describe your particular product or service and how it works. However, the “special sauce” of your proposal appears when you explain how your product or service specifically solves the problem that your customer wants solved. This is, to an extent, a marketing language issue.
Additionally, depending on the RFP, your customer might be more interested in some aspects of your product over others. For example, if cost is their most important criterion for the solicitation is cost, your proposal-specific language should emphasize the cost-saving aspects of your product or service.
Also, sometimes you will need to modify your existing product or service to meet a customer’s needs. That language would be appropriate for a situation-specific proposal, but not necessarily anyone else.
In short, boilerplate has its place when it comes to establishing the basics of your product or service. The real work of your proposal is to show that you understand how the appropriate aspects of your product or service accurately match the customer’s specific need. It’s a test of your willingness to read and follow directions. Go forth and answer the mail!