Managing Expectations

I found an article on-line a few years ago about why AEC Marketing Director’s fail. ( It was a good reminder of the importance of marketing marketing and of keeping our professional practice colleagues educated about why we do what we do when we do and how we set priorities. Probably the best advice the article offered was  “By knowing what your firm needs, clarifying that for all involved, hiring right, and then developing an ongoing process that expects the highest level of leadership from those who perform these functions, you’ll see a substantial return on your investment.”  What I want to talk about is how we as marketing directors can help our firms do just that:

Knowing what your firm needs:  Most marketing directors can lead an executive group through an exercise to help determine what the firm needs from marketing.  The challenge comes in helping professional practitioners understand how reasonable those needs might be and how swiftly those needs can be met, and how much bandwidth their marketing staff can have.  For example, often this kind of discussion hasn’t involved talking about being published either in Architectural Record or the Wall Street Journal.  Part of my role in these discussions is to help clarify why these wants exist, what they will really net the firm on the back end and how long some of these goals might take to achieve.

Clarifying that for all involved:  Most firms I’ve worked for are partnerships in which several, sometimes many principals have a say in where the firm is headed, and it’s rare that all parties are in complete agreement.  When the consensus of the majority or the direction of an executive committee sends the marketing staff in a particular direction, that majority or executive committee has to “have the marketing director’s back” when the inevitable conflict arises between the firm’s overall priorities and one principal’s individual desires.  Leaving the marketing director alone to address those whose desires are in conflict with the overall direction of the firm at best creates speed bumps on the road to success and at worst makes the marketing director a scapegoat.  Thus, when setting a direction that may not be universally approved, give your marketing staff the tools and support to succeed.

Developing an ongoing process that expects the highest level of leadership from those who perform these functions:  I firmly believe that almost anything can be measured if we have clarity about expectations and processes and if we engage each other directly and transparently to develop these processes.  But let’s recognize this as the complex challenge it is.  For example, if the goal you set for your marketing director is to “grow the business”, a lot of discussion is required to unpack what this means and how to measure it.

For example, if your firm is committed to a closer/doer model, then marketing can only truly create opportunity, not actual business, so measure it that way.  Also, in my experience, it takes time to truly understand what the road blocks to business development at any given firm are and how best to address them.  I once worked at a firm where we had an 85% short list rate but a 40% win rate.  It took a year to discover this and six months of presentation training for the practice staff to see it improve.   It takes time for professional practitioners to solve systemic problems in the project management and design process.  Why would you imagine it wouldn’t take time to solve marketing process problems?

I would add one more word of advice on figuring out how to make marketing professionals succeed: recognize that we are as committed to our field of practice, to our craft, and to our firms’ success as are the architects and engineers with whom we are engaged.  We work diligently to learn how and why you do what you do and to communicate to your prospective clients how truly talented you are.  How much effort have you put into understanding how and why we do what we do?

Many is the time I’ve been faced with an architect or engineer who has looked down their nose at me or my team because they devalue what they don’t understand.  Many is the time I’ve seen architects talk about marketing as something they could just do themselves, while at the same time griping about clients who want to design their own buildings or interiors and simply have the architect sign the drawings.   When I don’t understand why or how you do something, I ask.  When something I need from you doesn’t get done as quickly as I like, I remind you.  All I hope for is that same level of courtesy and professionalism.


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