Why I Said ‘Non’ to the European Parliament as a Client

While the transfer window for football clubs to make summer signings slammed shut yesterday with the usual flurry of crazy stories and late moves, another deadline came and went in rather less sensational circumstances. The European Parliament closed the tender process for strategic social media support around Brexit.

Back in July I was contacted by the European Parliament Information Office in London and invited to submit a bid to support it with social media strategy development and coaching. The brief outlined a two year support contract specifically covering social communications around the European Parliament’s role in the Brexit negotiations.

Great opportunity, huh? I’m not going to lie; I was flattered.

The tender process was limited to a handful of invited consultants and, although the budget wasn’t the highest I’ve seen or delivered upon this year, you know… the bloody European Parliament! As Del Boy would say: “Pot pourri! Bonnet de douche, Rodney!”

And yet something didn’t ‘feel’ right about it. I’ve been trying to listen to my gut more when it comes to business opportunities this year, and not just the morning after a particularly spicy madras from the local curry house. So I asked around for some thoughts.

Opinions were varied.

Some of my peers told me to go for it. “Run at it full-pelt”, said one person. “Speculate to accumulate”, said another. And “it’s a great opportunity and it’s always about the client names on the CV”, said a third.

Which is quite true, of course. The European Parliament logo on my creds would be quite a coup.

Others, however, were more circumspect. One person said to me: “I’d go in for round one. Review the landscape and assess the situation from there. I work in a big corporate and our process is often long with many rounds to negotiate.”

Good advice; submitting a bid isn’t signing a contract, after all.

And then there were those who told me to “avoid it like the plague”.

“Why on earth would you go for this?”, asked someone who I’ve worked with a lot this year. “You’ll be judged, managed and measured by anonymous civil servants with no idea of how to do any of the things they’re measuring you on, and it’ll take so much time you’ll be diverted from building actual relationships and earning real money.”

A bit harsh on the poor civil servants but, in essence, a fair point.

“Think budget vs time vs your life and start there”, advised someone else, clarifying with: “I’ve been here before; it’s a recipe for unhappiness and resentment.” And another person asked me a couple of very pertinent and challenging questions: “Are you ready to scale and work around the clock when a crisis inevitably hits? Are you prepared for the inevitable personal hatchet jobs from hard core fringes on both Remain and Brexit?”

Hatchet jobs?! No-one had mentioned axes during our initial chat!

With all this advice in mind, I took another look at the brief.

Attached to the email that I received following an initial phone call were 17 documents. Seventeen! Now I’m sorry, but European Parliament or not, I’m not going to read 17 documents prior to even confirming my interest. I’d rather gouge my eyes out with a rusty cuillère.

Then there was the whole tender thing. In my agency life, tenders and pitches were commonplace. Despised, but commonplace. But since setting up independently two and a half years ago, I’ve not pitched for any business. Nowadays I have these things called ‘conversations’ with people and if there’s common ground I submit a proposal. That’s it – no form filling or dancing or chest-beating acts.

And the timing was, let’s say, ‘not great’. For the two weeks prior to the submission date I was on holiday. And for the sake of my marriage, I wasn’t going to spend part of my summer holiday sitting by a beautiful lake in the French mountains filling in tender documentation while my wife wrangled three young children. I mean, who the hell asks for tender submissions in the middle of summer?!

BUT…despite my (rather obvious) scepticism, there was still something nagging me. Would passing up the opportunity of working with the European Parliament smack of a lack of ambition? If I didn’t go for it, would I look back and wish that I’d at least have tried?

So I read the important parts of the brief (ignoring most of the 17 documents) and fired off an email to the relevant address with a few questions I needed clarification on. I sent that email on the 1st August with a tracker on it so that I could be sure it was read.

It was eventually opened on 8th August. An entire week just to read an email that, one would have thought, might be expected. Seven days gone. Or to put it another way, 25% of the length of time allowed to submit a bid.

Another week later as I was packing my speedos into my suitcase (sorry for the mental image that may have thrown up…), on 16th August I received an email clarifying a typo that I’d questioned in the brief. It related to the minimum turnover requirement for tenderers, which was stated as EUR 15,000,000. Er…I’m good, but I’m not THAT good!

So we’re now down to two weeks left of the tender process, I’m going on holiday the next day, and I’ve still not received answers to a few pretty fundamental questions I had that centred around where the work needed be carried out and how many hours’ support were required and/or budgeted for.

I got in the car and headed off to France with the family.

It was while I was away, on 25th August, that I finally received answers to my questions and those of some other poor sap who had similar issues. So, had I been intending on submitting a bid (which clearly I’d long since decided against), I would now have had four working days out of an initial month to complete and send the relevant tender documentation.

Suffice it to say, I’m over the ‘lack of ambition’ and possible regret. Having the European Parliament as a client would be awesome, there’s no doubt about it. But some of the opportunities that come your way in life aren’t really opportunities at all, and it’s important to have the confidence and self-belief to turn them down.

What will I look back on when I’m retired? That time I turned down the European Parliament, or that time I spent making memories with my family?

Oh, and just for the record, instead of spending hours and hours poring over tender documentation, here’s what I did with my time instead of submitting a bid:

Featured image courtesy of flickr user Xaf

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One comment on “Why I Said ‘Non’ to the European Parliament as a Client
  1. Jack Mallon says:

    Hi Paul

    I really liked your article on “7 Things you MUST understand for a future in PR”.

    I am just finished with my postgraduate in Strategic Communications and Public Relations, and I have had interest in working for a major political institution.

    Have you worked with other political institutions? I felt a conspicuous absence of social media presence from the European institutions themselves during the Brexit campaign. Do you think that it is productive for them to become directly involved in national political discussions?

    Would the European Parliament contract have required you to move to Brussels or Strassburg?

    I hope to hear from you in the future. I have recently upgraded my CIPR membership so I will most likely attend more events in the future.

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