The Shocking Proposal Trick You’ll Be Talking About For Weeks


A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel discussion for SMPS White outPhiladelphia.

One of the panel members was a marketer named Andy. Andy revealed one of his internal proposal tactics and I think the jaws in the entire room collectively dropped.

This tactic was shocking for two reasons:

  1. The sheer audacity of it
  2. The sheer brilliance of it

All I could say was:

“We all just got our $50 worth right there.”

But all I could think was:

“Thank you, Bette Nesmith Graham”

Liquid Paper

Bette Nesmith Graham was the mother of Mike Nesmith, the tall quiet Monkee from the 60s TV show.

But she was also a typist who invented liquid paper, commonly referred to as White Out.

In this digital age, people rarely use liquid paper anymore. But liquid paper, a little bit of ingenuity, and a lot of guts saved Andy’s Thanksgiving.

The White Out Trick

Andy is in charge of the marketing operations for a fairly large civil engineering firm. They had a big proposal due on December 2nd.

Andy knew they had plenty of time to get this proposal done well before the deadline. But he also understood Parkinson’s Law, which states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.

If the technical writers didn’t get this proposal done early, his team would likely be working over their Thanksgiving break.

So, Andy did something I never even considered. Before he distributed this RFP internally, he took White Out and changed the proposal’s due date to before Thanksgiving. He then photocopied it and sent it out to his team.

The proposal got done and everybody enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with their loved ones. Nobody was the wiser.

In fact, Andy’s boss heard about this the same moment I did. And his jaw dropped further than anyone’s.

No, Andy didn’t get fired. In fact, during the panel, Andy’s boss couldn’t speak more highly of him. I was impressed with him and I know my boss, who was in the audience, was as well.

Parkinson’s Law

The White Out Trick addresses a flaw in human behavior (the above-mentioned Parkinson’s Law).

Here’s how it works. If you send an RFP to a team and gave them two months to submit on it, they would get a proposal done in two months. If you gave the same RFP to the same team, but only gave them one month, they would get it done in a month. In each case, this team would be struggling to get everything else done and still meet the deadline.

If you already have a reasonable amount of time to produce the proposal, having an extra month will not drastically improve your ultimate proposal. You’ll just end up spending more time on it, or worse putting it off until you absolutely need to get working on it.

Sure, if you have two days to submit a proposal and they give you an extra two days…that’s going to have a huge impact. But ultimately, if you have two days, you’ll find a way to get it done.

The White Out Trick creates an artificial deadline forcing people to be focused and efficient.

This Trick’s Risk Profile

There is an obvious reason I never thought to do this. It sounds risky. It’s lying about a due date.

But let’s compare this to what I do. Anyone who has read Proposal Development Secrets knows I never speak about when a proposal is due. I only speak about when it is “going out.” I set early deadlines that incorporate “float,” because I don’t truly expect people will hit their deadlines.

How is what I do any more honest than the White Out Trick? It’s really not. Neither is telling your girlfriend she doesn’t look fat in that dress, when she accidentally put on the tarp to your Jeep (note: this is a hypothetical example). Or telling your boyfriend he’s the most handsome man ever, when you’d gnaw off your own arm to spend an evening with Ryan Gosling.

People “stretch” the truth sometimes because:

  1. We feel doing otherwise would be detrimental to the other person.
  2. To not ruin our lives.

A lie is a lie, is a lie. The White Out Trick is just significantly more ballsy of a lie.

That’s not to say it isn’t without risk. If per chance, a technical staff member, despite having the RFP in front of them, decided to:

  1. Go search it out.
  2. Download it.
  3. Then compare it to the version you gave them.

…then you run the risk of them getting pissed at you.

But I believe that is unlikely to happen. Plus, you might have a leg to stand on with, “I did this so you could spend Thanksgiving with your family rather than in the office.”

The very real risk I see with the White Out Trick is with last minute addendums to the RFP. But if you control the flow of information, I’m sure you could easily keep the ruse going.

And if you directed another staff member to use this trick, I think you are just asking to get fired. I don’t think it is ever in your best interest to ask a co-worker or subordinate to be deceitful (in any way).

To White Out Or Not To White Out

Do I endorse the White Out Trick? Would I recommend you start using it? No.

Is Betty Nesmith Graham rolling in her grave knowing that her invention is used in this manner? Probably.

But do I understand it? Yes.

What Do You Think?

What do you think about the White Out Trick? Genius, evil genius, or plain old foolish?

Leave your thoughts in the comments!

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  1. Deb Carlson says

    It makes sense to me! Some people are just seemingly incapable of meeting a deadline. As an example, we had a proposal that was due the day after Thanksgiving. That meant we needed to over night it Wednesday to get there on Friday, due to the Thanksgiving holiday. The SME who was a critical contributor on the proposal waited until Wednesday at noon to start filling in the missing pieces. She didn’t get done until 4 pm. That meant I only had 1 hour to do quality assurance on a 90+ page proposal. Not enough time to get it done by 5 pm. All I could do was fix the formatting and hit print. The proposal got there on time, but was it a quality effort? No, it wasn’t. And this was a current client who had been unhappy with our performance. In the future, would I consider the white out trick with this SME? Absolutely!

  2. Allison Raduziner says

    I have done this regularly over the years on due dates. Human nature is wrought with procrastination. Further, those who help Business Development and Marketing have their “regular” jobs and many times don’t take this portion of the work seriously, or don’t understand how to do it (which is another course each firm should supply for their employees). But the fact remains, building float into the schedule helps you do better work. Allison Raduziner/Pilchuck Business Consulting, and proposal director, writer, etc. for 25 years

  3. Genius!

  4. This is the best – I may have to start using this trick!

  5. Jana Brickey says

    This is no different than generating false deadlines for narrative knowing they are going to miss the original deadline.

  6. My answer is HOPE NOT using it. In my 12 years of experience in the field of proposal coordination I never had to do so. We only have to be well prepared and have a good catch team division behind us. If your team is not able to deliver on time, following the TOR, it is just not the right team. Maybe you need more humble personnel. A proposal team (even if it is punctual) is like a sport team. The fact of non-delivering a proposal is often related to a big belly button in the group. This is my opinion! You can share it or negate it as you want. It iwll be still my opinion. Best regards.

  7. Matt Connor says

    There is a difference between building in float and outright deceiving your co-workers. If you were to do this and then it came to light, you would essentially be tagged as “the boy who cried wolf” and lose a ton, if not all of your credibility. My advice is to be as up front and honest with everyone that you can.

    • Matt Handal says


      Yeah, that’s the risk…isn’t it.

      • I agree with Matt Connor completely. I regularly ask SMEs to turn in work at a “due date” of my choosing, but when it comes to deceiving my team by writing in a false date – that is the exact opposite of being a team player. I’d rather withhold a date than lie about it. Here’s my idea: cut and paste the sections they need, give them a due date and go from there. Or tell them you’re withholding RFP due dates until they can better manage their time.

  8. Creative genius!

  9. I completely agree that proposals stretch out to fit the time allotted – to the very last second, usually. Unfortunately I work with subject matter experts in other cities and states, and I’m not giving them the hard copy; I’m forwarding it electronically. Do I then edit the .pdf or Word document file? I think that has a version control risk, not to mention that our people are constantly on the lookout for amendments and extensions.

    Great idea in theory. Would not work in my case, and I’d feel a little greasy about it.

  10. Debby Critchley says

    Having had the due date withheld from me on a prop, I can unequivocally state that it made me angry and distrustful of the team leader. I won’t do it.

  11. Mike Borkett says

    This is not revolutionary, I always use this wherever possible, but it seems most of our RFP’s come directly from the Sales guy so not much chancde to change the dates. Where there is a chance is when the customer tells you that you can have an extension to the deadline – then your vistual team do not always need to be made aware of that fact.

  12. Yes – it’s a risk, but as always, the size of the risk depends upon the maturity of the bid team involved.

  13. This is pure genius! If only it would work with my PMs…but, unfortunately, they do their BD due diligence and frequently know when an RFQ is coming out waaaaay before it is actually released, and keep on top of when things are due, when the deadline for questions is, and when any kind of amendment/addendum is issued. Often before I do! It’s a little annoying, actually… If only (sigh)

  14. Ginger Kelly says

    great story. And so tempting to try it. Thank you!

  15. Been there and done that (on an occasion or two)! That said, it’s better to post internal deadlines to your group working on the proposal in the cover email. This is just as effective as the white out.

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