Tag Archives: architecture marketing

Sometimes, people surprise you

Did an exercise to teach folks the value of an “elevator pitch” and how to construct one.  This guy knocked it out of the park.  GGLO Elevator Speech

Many thanks to Robert Wright of GGLO for the outstanding writing and performance., Sarah Dymond and Simba Mafundikwa for the video and Maxim Fields and Lauren Hague for their acting chops



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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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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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Persistence or pestering?

In the not quite so new anymore world of marketing, we’ve come to realize that savvy B2B customers want to find us more than they want us to find them.  Oddly enough, the world of inbound marketing has both helped and exacerbated the problem.  Like all great inventions, we start with a startling new premise, based on true insight (in this case, the idea of a “pull” strategy that is content-focused being more effective than a “push” strategy that is close-focused), that is executed expertly and achieves remarkable enough results that the rest of us are compelled to jump on the bandwagon.  What follows is a mass need to ramp up, to demonstrate that we too know enough to be able to do this innovative thing for our customers, and mixed results as to how well we execute it based on how close or far away we are from understanding the original premise.  Those of us who watched the metamorphosis from innovative open plan workspace to Dilbert-esque cube farm have seen this trajectory bear “fruit”.

In the case of inbound marketing, this has led to some excellent consequences as well as some maddening ones.  On the maddening side, today I deleted the 11th (yes, 11th) automated voicemail from my local pharmacy chain in the past 2 weeks telling me it’s time to renew a prescription.  (Seriously?  Do I seem so feeble that you need to remind me every day?) I also deleted 123 (yes really) e-mails I got last month from a professional organization I belong to, all of which were either encouraging me to attend a webinar, reminding me that they provide me with good service (they don’t) or telling me why I need to be professionally certified (at a net cost to me of upwards of $4000 in coursework, test-taking and certification fees.)

What these examples tell me is that folks are applying a logic to their inbound marketing strategy that says more is always better.  This strategy didn’t work well in person-to-person cold calling. Why would it work in this arena?  Persistence is admirable, relentlessness is not.

On the excellent side, there are those blogs and websites that offer me content to help me get up to speed on a subject and the opportunity to talk with someone, presented either while I’m browsing the content or at reasonable intervals (which for me is no more often than monthly) without cluttering up my inbox with so many e-mails that I miss the one or two that might really be relevant.  These are the ones that recognize that when I trade my contact information for content, it’s to open a dialogue with a hope for real, measurable intelligence, not an invitation to cyber-stalk me.  So yes, let’s practice inbound marketing, but let’s focus on quality, not quantity.

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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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It’s just a proposal

Ask a marketing person at an architecture firm what four words are most likely to elicit a sound akin to a cat spitting up a hairball and I suspect they’ll repeat the sentence, “It’s just a proposal.”  These words are usually spoken by a principal in a down market with a utilization rate that’s too low for comfort or a go-getter new business developer anxious to get a mark, any mark, in the win column.

I understand why this makes sense to the person saying it.  They need a win; they have this marketing staff they call overhead, and they want to make sure they’re getting enough output to justify those salaries.  The lion’s share of the work to be done on proposals is done by those overhead folks, so the commitment on the part of the principal or business developer is relatively small until they are shortlisted.  For introverts writing a proposal is way easier than picking up the phone and reaching out to someone for new business, plus it gives them something to design.  Finally and most maddeningly, everybody has a story about how one time this strategy netted them an interview and/or a project.  They just forget to mention that they only have one such story.

I find it important to reframe the issue for the “It’s just a proposal” chorus and instead talk about the cost of a win.  Let’s say for example that it takes you about $5000 worth of people time to put out a proposal.  That doesn’t seem like much, right?  However, if your shortlist rate on proposals is 25% because you’re going after work you are unlikely to get, it actually costs you $20,000 to get an interview.  Plus you’ve burned out those marketing overhead folks who have been at the office until midnight for three weeks straight with not a glimmer of success to show for it.  Spontaneously bursting into tears is  not an unreasonable reaction at that juncture.

So, my dear marketing colleagues, when you hear “it’s just a proposal”, instead of picking up the letter opener you were just about to wave around wild-eyed, calmly challenge your principals and business developers to walk you through the go/no-go decision on this one.  If you want to be a respected strategic resource instead of an overhead cost, you have to behave like one.

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