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July 2015

Case Study: The Economist

Write for Results



The Client
The Economist Group, an international publisher of analysis on international business and world affairs. The Group includes The Economist newspaper, Intelligent Life, Economist Intelligence Unit, CQ Roll Call and EuroFinance.

 The Drivers
Good writing is a core value of The Economist Group. The Group prides itself on authoritative analysis, editorial independence, objectivity and topicality. It expects every member of staff to be able to write well, whatever their role.

In late 2003, Sally Bibb, then Director of Group Sales Development, decided to source external suppliers of sales writing skills. She turned to Write for Results, a writing training consultancy run and co-founded by Scott and top copywriter, Andy Maslen.

Sally asked Scott and Andy to create a 1-day persuasive writing skills workshop that could be rolled out across the Group to multiple, international teams. The goal of the workshop was to give staff a writing ‘toolkit’ that they could start using immediately and rapidly improve the speed, effectiveness and efficiency of their writing.

The workshop also had to be practical, interactive and enjoyable.

The Programme
The resulting workshop, piloted in The Economist’s Third Avenue office in a snow-bound New York in January 2004, was an instant hit.

Spanning the three steps of the writing process – planning, drafting, editing – the workshop covered dozens of writing techniques that are the stock-in-trade of The Economist’s journalists, such as how to open strongly, grab your reader’s attention and hold it from start to finish. Other techniques included: the best way of writing concisely; how to dramatise, emphasise and invigorate your writing; how to produce a better first draft faster and how to score the readability of your (and other people’s) text.

Interactivity came in the form of five writing exercises, with detailed debriefs on each, plus private feedback from the trainer to delegates on their writing samples. The workshop culminated in a ‘Show & Tell’, where delegates shared with the group what they had changed in their writing. Whoever showed the most radical improvement won a small prize (a leather-bound Moleskine diary).

The New York pilot was the prototype of a workshop that, over the last decade, we have now delivered to over 400 staff at The Economist Group.

The Feedback
The workshop gained a reputation within the Group and was always over-subscribed. Attendees rating it never gave it less than 4.5 out of 5.0, or 90% satisfaction, as exemplified here by a small selection of testimonials:

“Excellent course. Probably the most interesting, engaging and influential one-day course I’ve ever attended. Thank you, Scott.”

“Scott is an excellent teacher. I will definitely recommend this workshop to my colleagues. I’ve learnt a lot today.”
“Most useful training course I’ve taken while at The Economist. Excellent content and an excellent instructor. Thank you!”
“This workshop is excellent.”
“Excellent program. Great learning experience. I am looking forward to implementing the strategies.”
“Good blend of structured and on the fly. Very engaging.”
“Scott is an excellent presenter!”
“Very engaging and great tips.”
“Engaging, lively, great reminders.”
“The presenter made the topic interesting, the information is useful and will definitely be used from tomorrow. Thanks!”
“This class surpassed my expectations. It was fun and informative. I will be able to make positive changes in my writing immediately!”
“The instructor was excellent – very helpful!”
“You offered invaluable advice. I really enjoyed attending! I especially appreciated your patience and response to questions and issues. Good luck to you!”
“I liked the trainer’s energy levels and his way of interacting with us.”
“Very important and useful advice on effective techniques for communicating better with people.”
“Great class!”

#Scott’sMusings 14/07/15

Write for Results


Overall, it’s been a good month for SJK Consultants. We’ve delivered: four writing skills workshops to teams in two of The Big Four accountancy firms in London and Geneva (average 95% satisfaction); a successful writing workshop to the PSLs (Professional Support Lawyers) of a ‘magic circle’ law firm; and four writing workshops to defence & security consultants (93% satisfaction). We also won a bid writing coaching programme with a small, innovative pensions consultancy, and helped a GP Federation get shortlisted for a London borough NHS contract.

But it’s not all been plain sailing…We worked with a professional services firm on a major bid and failed to even get shortlisted. They’d over-estimated the quality of their relationship with the buyer. It was like being slapped in the face. But what did I learn from it? That bidders must assess with brutal honesty the quality of their relationship with each buyer, and bid consultants mustn’t accept the bidder’s initial assessment at face value!

Amusing note: the other day I was looking a consultancy website that preaches the merits of personalized communication. Guess what their email address was? info@domainname.

You don’t win a bid from behind a computer

Write for Results


Over the last 13 years we’ve observed or been involved in 100s of bids, tenders, pitches and proposals, from a range of organisations across many industries. The beleaguered bid team pour their heart and soul into writing the bid, working late nights and early mornings, often at the expense of their personal and family life. But that’s the wrong thing to focus on; it’s often too late by then. Too many firms over-emphasise the bid document and under-emphasise the relationship with the buyer. You don’t win a bid from behind a computer. The process of winning starts far in advance of this step and the stats seem to back this up.

Most businesses we talk to strive for a win-rate of 75%, ie they’re winning three out of every four pitches they go for. If you were offered this you’d probably take it, wouldn’t you?

Our win-rate is 86%. So what are we doing differently for our clients to hit this rate?

We help our clients to pre-empt the bidding process and tilt the odds of winning in their favour. We do this by front-loading the process, in five steps. We help our clients to:

  1. Nail their value proposition. Without articulating this clearly, the odds of success are against you.
  2. Identify the organisations they want to work with, and the individual buyers in those organisations.
  3. Raise their profile with those buyers and get to know them.
  4. Understand those buyers’ major headaches and put together a proposal for how to overcome them.
  5. Rinse & repeat.

Compare this proactive approach to the typically reactive response of many businesses to RFPs, ITTs and EOIs. Our approach is about playing by your own rules and time-scales, not someone else’s.

So my message to you is this: if the client doesn’t know, like and trust you and your organisation when they issue the tender, your heroic efforts on the bid document are likely to be in vain. The harder you work at the front of the process building great relationships with buyers pre-tender, the more business you’ll win.

Trouble is, most people are poor at building rapport, asking great questions and listening whole-heartedly to the answers, without an agenda. The micro-skills of client relationship building are the biggest business development challenge facing professional services firms today – especially fee-earners who are great technicians but not natural communicators. But that’s for another blog…

To learn more about improving your win-rate, download a free chapter from SJK Consultants Director, Scott Keyser, by clicking here.