Tag Archives: architecture

Coloring Outside the Lines

I was having a conversation over lunch today which reminded me that the more I refine my practice of AEC marketing, the more it requires me to venture into subject areas that were previously thought to be outside of my purview or pay grade.   Let me illustrate:

Let’s say I’m charged with charting a course that will get my firm to a determined revenue goal within a determined amount of time.  Among the considerations I look at under the circumstances is how profitable we are with certain types of clients or market verticals.  While gathering such information, I may learn that, for example, we tend to do civic work more profitably than healthcare.  I may also learn that, within the civic realm, we are more likely to be profitable when working with client A vs. client B.  I may also learn that profitability within this sector is much more dependent on which project manager/supervisor is leading the work than on type of project or the client.  Each of these outcomes requires a different response.

If I know we are more profitable with civic than healthcare, my response may be to work on lowering opportunity costs for healthcare pursuits.  Many of the steps that can be taken toward this end are in marketing’s wheelhouse.  If I learn that we’re more profitable working for client A than client B, I can gather and share this information to help make informed decisions about who we want to pursue and how much we want to spend pursuing them.  Some of this is in marketing’s wheelhouse too.  If, however, I learn that the real difference is based on which employee manages the job, most of the solutions that need to be employed to address the problem are not traditionally in marketing’s “lane”.  However, in my opinion, they are still marketing’s business.

Marketing has historically been an amplifier, not a creator of the firm’s “brand” – which is the cumulative perception of all the various experiences those inside and outside the firm have in their interactions with you – something we now call “human experience”.    What marketing communicates becomes what potential clients/employees/project partners expect.  Unless our billable colleagues can consistently deliver on what marketing promises, we set ourselves up to fail.  Thus, in the age of instant, on-line ratings posted on, Glassdoor, Yelp and the like, the days of “staying in my lane” are, by necessity, over.

So, how do I broach the subject when I see a marketing problem that’s not really mine to fix?  I believe the correct course of action is to present the challenge to my firm leaders with enough data to demonstrate why it’s a marketing problem.  I ask them to fix it and to keep me in the loop as they do.  I then try to focus my marketing efforts on the areas when I know we can deliver on our promise.  I also trust my firm leaders to keep me posted as they fix any problems that compromise a complete and positive customer experience.



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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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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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