Over my first 5 years as a creative director I closed 95% of the jobs I wrote a proposal for. While it may have had something to do with price (I tried to price “high” which turned out to be “just enough to stay in business”), I think most of it had to do with giving a fuck.

I’m not the one writing proposals at my production house anymore but, needless to say, my percentage had dropped off significantly before I stopped being the one primarily responsible. I’d like to explore why and share some experience about what has worked the best for me.

Lest you assume that after years of giving a fuck I became jaded and gave less of a fuck: This is not the case. I give as much of a fuck now as I ever did. But, at some point, how much of a fuck I truly give stopped making it on to the proposal page.

There’s a dreaded compromise in a creative company between the creative energy it takes to do great work and the (very similar if not more intense) creative energy it takes to write great proposals.

Adequately managing creativebrain burnout and replenishment is mission critical in a creative company. For very sound reasons, we usually decide to favor real work we’ve been hired for over proposal work. We try to “streamline” as much of proposal-writing as possible.

The more a proposal is “streamlined,” the less care it conveys.

There are as many ways to demonstrate care through a proposal as there are people writing proposals but I believe that this demonstration of authentically giving a fuck is pretty much the whole game.

Beyond demonstrating competence and fitting the budget, the message of every good proposal I’ve written is “I understand your creative challenge and am thinking about it deeply. I’m genuinely excited to find solutions and I give even more of a fuck about the outcome than you do.”

This can’t be faked. This person is coming to you with something very important to them, something that connects many parts of their work and objectives, their hopes and dreams. The only way to convince them it’s important to you is by finding the genuine fuck you give.

And the only way to find that is by being honestly curious and empathetic, digging in and allowing their problem to become your problem.

When you know you’re the one who should have the job, they will too.