From the Marketing Department

To Boilerplate or Not to Boilerplate

boilerplate photo

Photo by Roger Griffith.

Boilerplate. To most, it’s a word for reusable content. To a Selection Committee, it’s a word that may send shivers down their collective spine. And to Marketers? It’s a guilty habit all too common and intractable.

The term comes from the early 1900s and refers to the sheet steel that was used to make boilers. This steel was more durable than softer, printing press metals, and thus it was suitable for mass reproduction of things like labels and stamps.

For certain professions, like Law and Computer Programming, the term boilerplate now refers to the benign concept of including portions of a contract or computer program code that need no customization, but are still required for proper functionality.

For Proposal Writers, however, the water is murkier. Deadlines, repetitive tasks, and any number of other considerations all influence why a Proposal Writer might simply copy and paste text into their proposal.

There really are parts of a proposal that don’t change. Boilerplate is a great way to avoid remaking silly grammatical and spelling errors. And if we are honest, sometimes we just don’t have any other choice as a deadline looms.

And maybe there is a bigger reason in favor of boilerplate. Brand unity, that over-arching blanket that ties successful corporate marketing efforts together, requires a commitment to ‘sameness’ and boilerplate can be a good platform to always give the firm the same face. Furthermore, in a profession with very little margin for error and high demand for output, efficiency plays a big role. Boilerplate, when streamlined and employed properly, truly is the most efficient assembly paradigm for generating large numbers of proposals.

But…

There is reason for caution. If boilerplate helps avoid typing errors, it can actually generate content errors when the boiler text subtly misses a key detail a given proposal may require. For better or worse, boilerplate is not usually the first thing that editors or proof-readers review and errors can easily go unnoticed. “Drop-in-and-forget” is a recipe for extraneous content at best, and flat-out oversight or omission at worst.

And maybe there is a bigger reason to avoid boilerplate. It concerns the pursuit of creativity and innovation. When boilerplate becomes a default starting place rather than a back-up plan, it breeds stagnancy. Proposals become merely a mechanical function of checking boxes. The victims of this approach are creativity and innovation. Thinking in new ways—doing things differently—takes effort. It takes a certain mindset that can rarely co-exist with the utilitarian, rote idea of boilerplate.

So do Proposal Writers continue on course, reaching into the boilerplate jar when no one is looking? Do they start from scratch on every single proposal? Of course the answer lies somewhere in between. It has largely to do with the nature of a given Request for Proposal, and requires consideration of the audience reviewing the document.

Certain government agencies, for example, truly are looking for boxes to be checked. Boilerplate here is often preferred, not just accepted. Other formal agencies can be targeted by starting with boilerplate, and then carefully customizing it. But in an ideal world, both of the former cases will ultimately free Proposal Writers up to spend time generating truly unique content for those jobs that really push boundaries.

Boilerplate is simply one of many tools used to communicate. Nevertheless, it still reflects its author and the ethos of the firm generating it.

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