How to write captions that sell

Most proposal teams use graphics (photos, illustrations, charts, graphs, etc.) to avoid endless “walls of text” in their proposals. Graphics add interest—but they only have selling power when accompanied by strong captions.

Think about how you read a magazine

Do you go straight to an article and start reading? Or do you flip the pages, scanning images before beginning to read?  Most people are flippers. And evaluators are no different. When asked, they confirm that—just like everyone else—their eyes are drawn to images when reading proposals.

So let’s tap into this tendency and get maximum benefit from evaluators’ first impressions of your proposals.

Putting graphics to work

Captions can turn graphics from mere decorations into powerful selling tools that help you win. But not every caption has equal value. Consider a safety meeting photo. Here are your four caption options:

  • No caption: The graphic just sits there on the page. Evaluators must decide for themselves what it shows and what—if any—message it conveys.
  • Label: “Daily safety meeting.” Now evaluators know it’s a safety meeting, but they still need to decide why it’s important—including whether your team even uses them.
  • Descriptive: “We conduct a 10-minute safety meeting for all staff at the start of each shift.” From this caption, evaluators may infer that these 10-minute sessions have value—or they may not.
  • Benefits-focussed: “Our ISO-compliant safety program has delivered a perfect no-lost time accident record at all construction sites over the past 3 years. We will implement our program for this Project.” This caption delivers a tangible benefit—peace of mind and reduced liability—as a result of your safety program.

Notice how a caption focussed on benefits takes an eye-catching, but otherwise passive photo, and turns it into a reason to select your company over others with weaker safety records.

Graphs and charts need captions too

Presenting data graphically is a great idea—but only if an evaluator can grasp the underlying message within a few seconds. Otherwise, he or she will just move on. For that reason, caption every graph and chart with the message and benefit it conveys.

A Gantt chart of your implementation schedule, for example, could include the following caption: “Our on-time delivery schedule is based on the same completion estimates used to deliver 11 similar projects on-time and on-budget in the past 3 years.”

Write compactly, but don’t worry about a caption that runs to 20 words or more. Once you have the evaluator’s attention, be sure to make your case.

Get bid evaluators leaning in early

Bid evaluators have the job of reading and scoring your proposal. For them this is work. If you get them leaning in with strong graphics and benefits-laden captions in those critical first few minutes, you’ll be well on your way to a strong technical score.

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