Industry Guests Sonya Wooley and Neil Cobb Visit TECM 2800 | Technical Communication
December 2, 2019

Industry Guests Sonya Wooley and Neil Cobb Visit TECM 2800

By Julianna Soberanis

Recently two experienced industry executives, Sonya Wooley and Neil Cobb, lectured in Mr. Oren Bruton's TECM 2800 class about proposal writing and their careers as proposal managersin their respective companies.

Wooley, CEO of Mammoth Consulting, has roots in pricing and accounting, but later turned to proposal writing. This background led her to create Mammoth Consulting, a company that helps clients develop proposals in response to Requests for Proposals (RFPs) from the federal government.

Cobb, an alumnus of and former lecturer in UNT's Department of Technical Communication, is the former executive director of AT&T's federal and commercial proposal operation. In addition to working with proposals for government RFPs, his unit worked on commercial proposals as well.

Proposal Writing as a Profession

Both visitors discussed the process and profession of proposal writing, including the need for proposal writers to manage large amounts of information and work within strict deadlines. If proposals are not submitted by a given deadline, they are not even evaluated. The success or failure of a proposal can have major implications for a company. If a proposal is rejected, a company might have to cancel plans for a project, or it may even have to lay off workers. If a proposal is accepted, however, it can lead to new growth opportunities for the company.

Proposal writers can join a professional organization devoted to proposal management. The Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) offers its members many resources. Writers can attend an annual conference or earn APMP certification. Both Cobb and Wooley are active APMP members. Wooley is the Chair of the Lone Star APMP chapter, which has regular meetings and will be holding a regional conference in 2020.

Being an Executive

Being a proposal writer is one career, but managing people is another. Wooley oversees a small team of two proposal managers, one proposal writer, and one graphic designer. Together, Wooley and her team have written more than 200 proposals since 2010 and have won a combined total $1.5 billion in funding for their clients.

The team that Cobb managed at AT&T was much larger in order to develop proposals in response to both federal and commercial RFPs. The large number of people on Cobb's team made it challenging to achieve a unified writing style. For teams in similar situations, Cobb recommended developing a company style guide and implementing extensive editing protocols to ensure a cohesive voice.

The Future of Proposal Writing

Thanks to technology, the process of researching and writing a proposal is much faster than it used to be. Major proposals that used to take years or months to complete now can take only a few days because the content for proposals is saved in pieces which are easily reused. Cobb helped to develop a component content management system for that purpose at AT&T. The process of proposal writing may continue to change as technology advances, but proposals are sure to remain an important part of the way business is conducted for years to come.

"As long as businesses have to compete for new customers and companies are compelled by either regulation or company policy to offer business to multiple bidders or diverse suppliers, proposals will be the preferred medium for doing business," Cobb said.

Proposal Writing with Tech Comm

For students interested in becoming a proposal writer, the Department of Technical Communication at the University of North Texas offers courses in technical writing, editing, and even dedicated proposal writing classes, so students can be prepared with the skills they'll need to have a successful career as a proposal writer.