October 26, 2006
Why marketing during the good times is critical
By JULAINE FLEETWOOD
The best time to fix your roof is when the sun’s shining.
This old saying might have been written for architectural and engineering firms, who often wait until times are tough before investing in marketing programs.
The problem is that when your firm is busy, you’ve got the money for marketing, but no time to run programs. But when work is slim, you’ve got the time to market, but not the money.
The solution? Invest both time and money in marketing when the jobs are rolling in to ensure that they keep rolling in the future.
Power to the people
Many A/E companies are actually turning away work right now. They’re experiencing growth as high as 15 percent over the past two years.
Their success derives from several possible sources. They could just be lucky to be in a good niche, like health care or sustainability. On the other hand, they may be reaping the rewards of ongoing marketing efforts started years ago when times were harder. Or, more likely, both of the above.
Nobody can predict where the A/E market is going to swing next. However, we can be prepared for many eventualities by creating a broad base of expertise. That requires hiring the right people, and letting the world know you have them.
The right people have experience, clients and industry contacts. They’re so good that they bring business along with them. And here’s the good news their fan base enjoys hearing about them. So you can conduct a direct-mail campaign without the perception of junk mail, because you’re sending news people really want to know.
Send out mailers announcing the star-quality people you hire. Personalize them, so they send the message that your firm is approachable. A “real person” announcement might focus on the sports, music or other extra-curricular activities your staff member likes.
The goal is relationship-based marketing.
For example, when my firm announced the promotion of Joe Llona as director of sustainable design, we made sure that it wasn’t just another boring promotion announcement. Instead, we designed a fun double-fold post card that talked about Joe bicycling to work in the rain. It illustrated his personal commitment to green policies, and generated terrific client feedback.
Similarly, a recent double-fold card introducing Leslie Jonsson showed her personal side. Leslie is a mechanical engineer in our sustainable design group who won the BetterBricks Award, one of the most prestigious in our industry. We showed her in casual poses, talking about how she realized her dream of an education while raising two children. Besides making Leslie appear approachable, the mailer carried the subtle message that the firm values gender diversity.
All too often, A/E firms put off necessary changes like leadership restructuring, reorganizations or office relocations when they’re busy. But what happens if the good times continue? You could very well be stuck with conditions that hamper future growth.
A move is always a great excuse for hosting a party, otherwise known as an open house. Clients of consulting firms rarely have a chance to see your office, particularly staff members who are lower on the project totem pole. An open house is an inclusive event that shows how much you appreciate all players on your client teams, and goes a long way toward cementing good will.
Use the invitation to the open house to convey warmth and friendliness. You want clients and prospects to feel at home and relaxed, so they’ll naturally pick up the phone or e-mail you the next time they have a question or better yet, a project idea.
Provide a map with the invitation, too. Even if people can’t come to the event, they’ll get an idea of where your new location is, and possibly save the map for future use.
Leads for LEED
Our firm’s recent move and tenant renovation proved to be an ideal opportunity for creating the first registered LEED-CI (Commercial Interiors) space in Snohomish County. It allowed us to walk our talk concerning sustainability, and then use the space for industry and prospective-client tours.
Shortly after the move, we were fortunate enough to have the International Facilities Managers Association annual convention at the Lynnwood Convention Center, just a block from our new office. We offered a seminar for them at our office, showing them how to incorporate green engineering practices into commercial structures.
After the seminar, four engineers acted as tour guides so guests could actually see the sustainable concepts in practice in our workplace. We served beer, wine and snacks, and many guests stayed for hours. The event even generated a referral that turned into a choice project several months down the road. And we’re expecting more in the future.
Establish a policy of community involvement for your firm, and encourage individuals to be active on their own. Outreach efforts such as support for food banks, homeless shelters, literacy groups and other nonprofits are good for the soul of your company. They also help create a presence in the community where you can network with other like-minded firms.
Industry programs are equally important. While they take time away from income-generating work, they also boost the status of your company, provide important personal enrichment for employees, and ensure that you’ll be in the know concerning future developments.
In addition to other organizations, 20 of our staff members are active in the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, with several participating in energy-related focus groups. Two are on the staff of an educational committee with the American Society for Hospital Engineers. Yet another serves on a committee of the American Institute of Architects, preparing guidelines for health-care design.
Because other employees are involved with the Society for Marketing Professional Services, SMPS toured our new office and learned about marketing green designs.
Teaching at local universities and colleges is also a great way to give back to the community and the industry. At the same time, instructors can be on the lookout for especially desirable students for possible recruitment. One of our employees is on staff at Seattle University and another teaches select engineering courses at the University of Washington.
Start at the top
Whether your firm is experiencing boom times or bust, the success of any marketing program depends on buy-in from your leadership. Marketing takes time and money. You won’t have sufficient amounts of either if your senior management team is not on board.
Since A/E leaders may not understand how essential good marketing is, applaud them for every step in the right direction. Demonstrate the return-on-investment they receive from public-relations programs, and remind them frequently that their current business is an outgrowth of prior marketing efforts.
If you’re lucky enough to have executives who “get it,” do your best to lead by example. Show others that competition isn’t everything and raising the bar through good communications enriches our industry and region as a whole.
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