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Virtual Proposals

Economic developers the world over are trying to help their communities compete in the creative economy. Communities will be winners if they can attract and retain companies that produce new offerings that combine market uniqueness with cost effectiveness and socio-economic benefits.

So it is with the economic development profession itself. Creativity is today’s competitive benchmark. In this series of articles we have shown how the web has spawned new forms of communication and marketing processes for EDOs. Virtual trade shows, meetings and a variety of online tools help communities differentiate themselves while also reducing costs.

These modern tools can help EDOs adapt to the need for constant change, and position their communities to be on the short list of competitors invited by prospective investors to submit proposals.

Proposals; everyone knows what they’re about. Or do they? Every organization has its templates, boilerplate data and color printers. But has your organization tried applying virtual techniques to this last and most critical stage of investment attraction?

Use of virtual tools can enhance your proposal and make it unique. The key advantage is that your proposal will exceed expectations. The prospect will be expecting a one-way flow of information, in accordance with what the RFP lays out. But your proposal can go far beyond that, and be interactive and engaging – extending reach and depth to really standout!

How about a video message from the mayor, EDO and/or key business leaders? The video can be configured so the prospect can call up specific topics or people. The same can be done with podcasts, or recordings of virtual meetings with the prospect.

The RFP might ask for the proposal to be delivered in print but don’t stop there. Your submission can also be delivered via a website or PDF, with links to all the relevant information that the prospect is interested in. This can be delivered on a private, password protected website so as to ensure privacy.

Take a tip from Steven Jones of Tulsa, Oklahoma. He’s not an economic developer, but he’s a clever marketer. And he’s an example of how creative ideas can be found in many places if you look for them.

In May 2010, Jones, 28, established his own home-improvement company called Tulsa Renew. As reported in Replacement Contractor magazine, Jones habitually carries his iPhone when he goes on sales calls. He uses it to shoot video footage during the walk-around time.

On the same evening, the potential client receives a PDF of Jones’ pricing proposal along with a link to the five- to 10-minute video that shows the scope of work. The video, posted on YouTube, goes over specification details and fine points of design, with Jones describing what his crews will do and why. It includes background music.

And if you drive past the yards of homes where Tulsa Renew is installing siding, you see on the yard sign the company’s name along with a 2-D bar code. If your smartphone is equipped with a bar-code scanning app, it will quickly steer you to Tulsa Renew’s YouTube channel, where owner Jones will explain what the job is about and how it will be accomplished.

Would you hire a company like that? Can you demonstrate that sort of proactive marketing attitude to a prospect who wants to locate in a community that is attractive to the creative class?

It’s much easier to do if you have already laid the groundwork and compiled appropriate materials through the use of other virtual tools throughout the balance of the investment attraction process. To summarize:

Virtual Tradeshows

Transformational products available from several companies can enable economic developers to link their websites to virtual trade shows where site selectors can watch seminar; interact with presenters; engage with others in chat rooms and through social media; and view and download archived materials. EDOs can also consider being hosts for community virtual trade shows in which they can track the visits and activity, getting to know the interests of their prospects even before interacting with them.

Virtual Meetings

EDOs can arrange for a face-to-face meeting, with documentation that everyone can refer to at once on the screen, in a fraction of the time it might take for a visit to the community – if such a visit can even be squeezed into overcrowded schedules. Using apps such as Citrix’s GOTO Meeting, GOTO webinar or GOTO Meeting with webcam, virtual meetings can be arranged inexpensively with people all over the world. The materials prepared for the meeting, and the feedback from surveys afterward, will be handy for inclusion in proposals.

Virtual Familiarization Tours

Virtual familiarization tours have become common in the tourism and event management industries, and are now spreading to economic development departments as a way to enhance statistical information by displaying a community’s attractiveness and high quality of life. Technology exists to show a prospect a custom designed virtual FAM tour within days or even hours of receiving their expression of interest – or their RFP.

Virtual Relationships

To build and maintain lasting virtual relationships, EDOs need a communications plan and the discipline to implement it. Today’s software tools can help in many ways – CRMs, social media, e-mail and even the telephone should be combined into a consistent program of communications that is regularly maintained. Such a program will generate data to guide your proposal’s themes and points of interest.


Investors and site selectors choose to locate in a particular community for many reasons. They have different priorities and expectations, and often these are not articulated in an RFP. You cannot persuasively customize a proposal by filling in the blanks of a template. And while your data must meet the prospect’s requirements, the final decision often comes down to human factors.

Use of web tools, both in a proposal and through the investment attraction process, helps an EDO demonstrate the creative spark that the prospect realizes they were looking for all along.

Please comment on this article, give us your feedback or provide a topic idea for a future article!


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One Response to “Virtual Proposals”

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