Tag Archives: AEC marketing

Leading From Behind

I have a quick lesson in role reversal for my billable AEC colleagues.  Imagine you work for a large, Fortune 100 public relations and marketing firm. You lead the in-house team transforming all their global facilities. Sound good so far?

You report to a leadership team that knows everything about marketing, and a little about workplace design. Thus, you need to learn the language of the marketing industry to communicate well in your job. Some of the billable staff don’t respect you because you’re overhead. Some of the people you are called upon to mentor sign your paycheck, and they are more accustomed to leading than being led. So how would you guide that firm’s leaders? What about those who don’t see your value but need your expertise?

For the architects, engineers and contractors out there, relax. This is not your job. For the marketing folks at AEC firms out there, I think you’ll recognize that this is exactly your job. Learning how to lead from behind is an essential skill to master if you’re going to do your job well. I was raised to command and control, so it took me a long time to learn how to lead from behind. Eventually I got it and I have some experience to share.

The term “leading from behind” comes from Nelson Mandela who compares being a leader to being a shepherd. Mandela says, “He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”

He stays behind the flock

Leading from behind requires one to inspire or nudge rather than direct. It provides a vantage point from which to see those who are confused about or distracted from the path, and to help these stragglers along. My first boss, Jerry Irvine, was excellent at this. In my 20s I was an eager and arrogant college grad. When I came to Jerry with an ill-informed idea, he never said, “Don’t do that; do this.” Instead he asked me questions about my idea. By answering his questions I figured out myself when my idea was flawed, which helped me make better decisions going forward.

“Letting the most nimble go out ahead,

If you’re going to bring up the rear, you need to inspire someone to lead the charge, and make sure they benefit from going out ahead. I learned this lesson my 30s when I taught college. Having practiced and studied my craft for over 10 years by then I had forgotten how I learned what I knew, so I wasn’t teaching everybody well. I made a deal with whatever students had “As” going into finals. If they would run a study group with at least five of their classmates, they could opt out of the exam. When test prep was done by their peers, more students attended and everyone in the class did better on the exams. All I had to do was let my own ego get out of the way.

“whereupon others follow”

Change happens on a bell curve. While early adopters may “go out ahead”, innovation is always in danger of dying until the majority adopts it. The majority needs to see the benefits before they opt in and my job is to show them something better than what they have now.   Lest you be tempted to disparage them, we need followers. I learned the value of following by taking dance lessons with my husband. Ballroom dancing only works with a leader and a follower. With two leaders, it’s just stand-up arm wrestling.

“not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind”.

Good leaders found the genius in me that I didn’t yet see in myself. Can you think of a more remarkable gift? They gave me the credit when things went well and took the blame when things went south. They didn’t just tell me the way, they showed me, so in watching how they handled themselves, I learned how to become a professional.  Just as you appreciate your own parents more after you have kids, so it is with some leaders.  You often only recognize them once you’re a leader yourself.

Those who have led with humility, by example, have been my greatest teachers. Their reward came from seeing light bulbs go on above the heads of those they have guided. Nowadays, I see the advantages of being the kind of leader most people can only see in the rearview mirror. I’ve been given many gifts. They need to be paid forward.

 

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Who’s Your Tribe?

A facilities director, a contractor, an architect and a development director walked into a (breakfast) bar and began a frank conversation about the things each of us do that drive the other ones crazy when trying to get a project going.  No, it’s not the punchline of a joke, although the conversation was at times as hilarious as it was instructive; plus it was interesting enough to draw a crowd of over a hundred eavesdroppers/contributors at a national facilities conference.

On the way home from the conference I was reflecting on the things that made this panel a success and recognizing that they were also the things that make a project a success: common purpose, enough trust to allow for vulnerability, open communications, and acceptance of shared responsibility for the outcome.  In other words, we were united in the understanding that, for the purposes of this particular 90 minutes on this particular day, we were all members of the same tribe –  built environment professionals – and it was our job to understand and inform each other about how we can work well together.

So often projects go south because instead of aligning ourselves with our project teammates, we identify with our particular discipline, lumping all other disciplines, and occasionally the client, into the broad category of “them”.  When the latter happens you end up with the equivalent of a group of people standing on a sinking ship arguing about who punched the whole in the boat in an effort to assign both blame and risk to one of “them” .  When the former happens, you focus on fixing the hole because you know that, at the end of the day, all project partners will share the risk.    Personally, I think the former is how it should be.

The best project experiences are those in which honorable people develop a bond driven by mutual respect, shared purpose and commitment to collaboration.  They recognize that it’s all human beings on this team and that each of us is tasked with giving our best effort to the assignment and the benefit of the doubt to each other.  Sounds like a tribe I want to join.  How about you?

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AIDA: The Conscious and Unconscious Trajectory of Marketing

If you went to school for marketing, chances are at some point you were confronted with the acronym “AIDA”, which stands for Awareness, Interest, Decision, Action.  Let me illustrate how this process works with a personal story.

In my twenties I had a job that required a lot of travel.  I would be out for two weeks at a time, in a different city every day, with typically one week back in town before the next trip.  The only luggage I owned at the time was the set I had gotten as a high school graduation present and the backpack I used to carry my books in college.  My growing need to travel for work gave me an AWARENESS of luggage.  A few trips developed in me an INTEREST in what kinds of luggage might make business travel easier.  Thus, as I read airline magazines, I paid attention to the luggage ads more than I had previously.  One ad that caught my eye was for a piece of luggage that was the kind I had been looking for, which I noticed was being sold at a store where I had worked while I was in college.

One Friday in December, I was returning from a business trip and getting back on a plane the following morning to spend the holidays with my sister in another state.  I was at the baggage carousel at about 7:PM waiting for my luggage, when I saw my make-up case circling the belt.  Then I saw one of my shoes, followed by a slip.  I looked up to the top of the conveyer to see my backpack, caught on the metal corner at the top of the belt, a deep gash down the side, and my belonging spilling out.  I blinked a few times, got a trash bag from the airline desk and began grabbing my belongings as they came down the ramp and stuffing them into the trash bag.  Now I had a DECISION to make: how was I going to replace my luggage in time to board a plane the next morning? I needed to take ACTION.

While sitting in a taxi on the way home, I remembered that ad I saw in the airline magazine for the luggage I wanted being sold at the store where I used to work.  I asked the driver to take me directly to the store.  Once I got there, I asked about the particular piece of luggage I had seen.  I bought it, got back in the cab, got home, repacked, and left again the next morning.

This experience with the AIDA trajectory illustrated two key things that contribute to successful marketing:

  1. Much of the AI part of the trajectory happens unconsciously.  I was only able to unpack my experience of that part of the process in hindsight and I was only interested enough to do it because marketing is my profession. The average person is unconscious of these two phases as they’re happening.  This is what makes tracking how successful we are in these phases so difficult.  However, what happens in this liminal state informs our decisions.  Whatever projects you’re chasing, know what motivates the decision makers and become associated with those positive motivations.
  2. “Decision” is the part of this trajectory when things become conscious.  Decisions usually happen in response to circumstances and occur in tandem with deadlines.  This is when we become conscious about the process and can start tracking it.  The end of a fiscal year, the start of a school term and the need to meet staff growth projections are all triggers that create deadlines that require decisions.  Whatever markets you compete in, know the attendant deadline drivers.

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5 Ways Marketing Coordinators Drive Project Managers Crazy

In the heat of the RFP process, we are all under a fair bit of stress, which sometimes leads to behavior that, if we thought about it, we would realize was not particularly useful.  Just as practice staff can drive marketing crazy during this process, marketing can frustrate PMs and principals.  Here are five ways we lose our minds and vex theirs:

1) Keep asking for the same information about a project over and over and over.

Often we get information from PMs about a project while we’re working on a proposal deadline, then forget to store it somewhere so we have it to use the next time we need it.  Recognize that by the time you are looking for details on  Project B for a proposal, chances are good that the PM is well into Project C and what you’re asking for requires them to go back to archived files or banker’s boxes to gather the info you need.  Thus, if a PM did the work to find it for you a month ago, they’re not likely to feel too kindly about having to find it again now.  Practice colleagues are organized.  We should be too.

2) Pout, sulk or throw a tantrum when you are asked to do something you can’t fit into your schedule

It’s not the PM or Principal’s job to know what’s on your plate every day.  If someone asks you to take on a task you truly can’t fit into your schedule, give them the benefit of the doubt and help them understand your reluctance.  A good thing to say might be, “Okay, in order to do that task, I need to take something off my plate.  Which of these other tasks can get put on the back burner in favor of this new one?”   Usually a conversation like this will yield a positive discussion about how to solve the problem as well as an understanding of how hard you’re already working.  That’s what I call a win-win.

3) When the onset of a high priority project changes the deadline for another project on your plate, don’t tell anybody about it. 

On Monday a PM asked you for an introductory brochure to send to a client and you said you’d have it by Friday, but on Tuesday an RFP came in that’s also due on Friday and you can’t get both done.   Clearly the RFP takes precedence, but it’s only common courtesy to go to the PM and let them know that you need to adjust their deadline.  If I give you a project to do and you give me a deadline, I assume that’s when it’ll be done.  If you have to change the deadline, let me know so I can plan accordingly.

4) Assume it’s somebody else’s job to make sure all the i’s are dotted and all the t’s are crossed.

If you’re in marketing and you’re working on an RFI/Q/P, it’s your job to read that document cover to cover.  It’s your job to know when it’s due, how many copies of what kind are needed, how much of the response you can put together from information you already have and how much you need your practice colleagues to create for you.  You are the expert on how many project sheets we have, whether the right kind of resume is available for everyone chosen for the project team and for ensuring that all questions asked in the RF? are answered in the response.  It’s also your job to make sure your practice staff know which parts of the proposal you have covered, which you need from them, and when you need their information so you can put together a coherent submission.  Take ownership.

5) Phone in your first draft by simply assembling as much existing, unedited, standard content as you can, then wait for feedback.

If you want to be taken seriously as a marketing professional, rather than pigeon-holed as a glorified admin assistant, review your draft thoughtfully and make sure the most relevant information is also easiest to find.  Read the resumes of the team identified for the project and rearrange their experience lists so the most relevant projects are the first ones listed.  Read the project sheets, look at the photos and see if things need to be edited slightly to make the document relevant for this particular project.  If you have copy available about a specific requested topic (sustainability experience, BIM capabilities, quality assurance processes, etc.) include the version of it that’s most relevant to this project as a leaping off point for editing.  If you’ve left something out but know it’s coming, leave a place for it in the draft and indicate that.  Let’s do everything we can to make it easier for our professional practice colleagues to fit in marketing among the scores of other responsibilities they are juggling each day.  Respect is at best, reciprocal and, at worst, earned.

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5 Ways You Are Wasting Money on Marketing

The retailer John Wanamaker once said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”  The same can be said for AEC marketing.  Here are 5 ways to tell if you’re wasting your marketing dollars.

1) You exhibit at a conference, get a stack of leads, but don’t follow up

The real value of conference marketing isn’t what happens at the conference, it’s what happens after.  Leads you gather while either speaking or exhibiting at a conference are useless if you don’t follow up and nurse those leads into real project opportunities.  I typically gauge the success of conference marketing not only by how many leads we got, but by how many of those leads were converted to projects within the next 24 months.

2) If you’re an architect, you settle for the cheapest photography you can get.

Spaces like people may or may not be photogenic and spaces, like people, can be made to look even more beautiful when the right photographer shoots them.  Why would you spend several years and thousands of your firm’s staff hours on an important commission, then rely on snapshots that your intern/project manager/marketing coordinator who is good with a camera took to demonstrate the quality of your work? This is the very definition of penny wise and pound foolish.  There are all kinds of ways to keep costs down and still get very good photography.  Make sure you put only our best foot forward.

3) Not project managing proposals like you project manage projects.

There are costs associated with responding to RFPs and there are many people who may want to be involved in crafting the response for an important commission.  Both the process and the volume of staff hours allocated to achieve it can easily get out of hand, especially these days when a number of proposals are calling for design ideas/solutions as part of the RFP.  I have seen senior principals sit beside marketing coordinators literally for days having them tweak and retweak copy or move images an eighth of an inch to the left or right, agonizing over every layout decision.  It would be smarter to spend extra time on strategy rather than execution.

4) Not having an effective go/no-go process that you actually follow

It’s easy to rationalize a reason to answer an RFP for a project the firm logically has no hope of winning.  Perhaps it’s because it’s the kind of project one of your principals is dying to do.  More likely it occurs because 1) work is slow and people are finding ways to fill their time, 2) someone believes that responding to an RFP is a good way to introduce yourself to a potential new client or 3)”It’s really only costing us overhead time so what’s the problem?”  None of these are good enough reasons to put the time and effort required into submitting an RFP.   There are many more productive ways to fill time and meet clients and it will cost you 2.5 times the salary of your current marketing person to hire and train the new one when the current one gets burned out and leaves from overwork and lack of success.

5) Not checking whether your identity and your image align before you begin marketing your “brand”

Your identity is all the ways those of you who are part of the firm see the firm.  Your image is the way all those outside your firm see the firm.   The extent to which those two perceptions are mismatched is the extent to which any and all of your marketing communications activities are set up to fail.  If you see yourselves as a service oriented firm, but your clients don’t believe they are getting good service, then you’re promising what you aren’t delivering.  It pays to stake your claim for the reputation you want, just be sure to also be clear about the actions you will take to back up that talk.  In other words, make sure your practice staff actually walks whatever your branding efforts talk.

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Why Reputation Management Matters

My firm and another firm were in hot competition for a prestigious commission.  Both of our business developers and project leaders did the requisite relationship building prior to the RFP being issued.  Both firms were shortlisted, we both interviewed, and after the interview, the client contacts simply could not decide between the two firms because both of us did so exceptionally well.  So, they kicked the decision upstairs to their new boss who had only joined the client company two weeks before.  He reviewed the proposals, got the interview downloads and affirmed to his colleagues that he could see why they were stymied. So, how did he decide?  He said the following:

“Well, they’re both great, but I’ve heard of firm A and I haven’t heard of firm B, so let’s go with firm A.”

This is why keeping your firm in the front of the popular consciousness is so important.  Major AEC projects are high risk/high reward endeavors for our client contacts that can make or break their reputations within their own organizations.  If a Director of Facilities hires a firm even his boss has heard of and at some point the project goes south there may be a lot of ways to assign blame and targets at which to aim it.  Yet no one is going to blame that Director of Facilities for having chosen the wrong service provider.

The better known and better regarded we are among our client’s bosses, the more likely we are to be a safe and sensible choice as a service provider.  This is why we get published, why we focus on PR, why Marketing professionals care about the quality of service we provide our clients, and why we present and exhibit at conferences.  In other words, this is why the marketing communications part of marketing matters.

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