Identifying and measuring proposal graphics and visual communication

Visual communication is more effective than text. Most proposal specialists know that and seek to use a lot of graphics. Most start by asking questions like “How many graphics should I have in my proposal and where should they go?” Some don’t get any further because those can be difficult questions to answer.

People toss around ratios, like one graphic for every three pages, or even one graphic per page. If I could make my entire proposal a graphic, I would. And while those are good goals, the truth is they are artificial and the message should drive your use of visual communication and not some ratio. And besides, the ratios don’t help you conceive the graphics.

When we developed the Proposal Content Planning methodology as part of the MustWin Process, identifying graphics was just one of eight steps. But since then, we’ve found that it helps with developing graphics in a number of unique and interesting ways.

Content Planning involves using a document as a container to hold instructions and placeholders for things while you are trying to figure out what should go into your proposal. It provides an information flow from pre-RFP intelligence gathering into proposal writing. It provides a means to ensure that you consider what it will take to win and build it into the proposal. PropLIBRARY subscribers can learn the details for implementing the Content Planning methodology in the PropLIBRARY Knowledgebase.

Because it involves bullet-level instructions, Content Planning also makes it easier to scan the contents of a plan and look for items to convert to graphics. Instead of trying to read a draft proposal and find inspiration for graphics, Content Planning makes it quicker and easier to see the lists, sequences, comparisons, and relationships that could be shown visually.

If you start the planning by thinking of the graphics first, it gives you a mechanism to track what will be communicated via graphics vs. what needs to go into the text. It’s much better to replace text with a graphic than it is to add a graphic and keep the text. Content Planning gives you a way to achieve this without the extra effort of writing text and throwing it away after the graphic is ready.

Content Planning also enables you to flag the items that are potential graphics, without having to draw pictures (yet). You can track them, and pass them around, get input, and even show them to graphics designers if you can’t figure out how to render them as graphics. So it makes it easier to collaborate as well.

When you have a potential graphic, the Content Plan gives you a place to collect the information that the illustrator will need to render the graphic. So it not only facilitates tracking, and collaboration, but also communication and specification.

Because the Content Plan gets reviewed before being converted into a written draft, it also provides an easy method for obtaining approvals. If budget is a concern, you can see how many graphics and how complicated they are.

But most importantly, you can see how much of your message will be communicated visually. You can see how many items in your content plan will be communicated via graphics vs. how many will be communicated in text. Forget about crude graphics per page metrics. You can actually derive the percentage of your message that is communicated visually. If you actually track this metric across multiple proposals, you can formally establish the amount of impact that graphics have on your win rate.

You can also use Content Planning to prioritize your use of visual communications. Are you using graphics to address routine or unimportant items, or are you using them to address the items that are on your “what it will take to win” list? This can also be turned into a ratio or percentage, tracked across multiple proposals, and then correlated with your win rate.

Once the plan is complete and the writing and illustration has begun, the Content Plan gives you a better way to track progress. In addition to the simple metric of how many graphics out of the total are complete, you can track how many items in your Content Plan have been addressed and what percentage of your total message has been addressed.

All that is great, but it still leaves you with the problem of how to actually draw the graphics. Once you identify the graphics, getting them rendered is a solvable problem. If you don’t have the resources to do it yourself, you can always outsource it to a company like the 24 Hour Company. But when you use Content Planning, you can flag all the potential graphics, and then render only the ones that you are capable of drawing or have the time for. Out of all the potential graphics, you can pick and choose which ones to take on.

Flagging potential graphics in the Content Plan means that when reviewers compare the draft to the plan, they also see whether people followed through on the development of the graphics. It also gives you a better way to evaluate the quality of your graphics, by assessing how well they reflect the messages you want your proposal to convey, which instead of being a matter of opinion are documented in the Content Plan.

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Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of and PropLIBRARY

Carl is an expert at winning in writing. The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.

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