A common misstep

Jun 03, 2019

A lot of AEC firms fall into the trap of neglecting their marketing departments because the work is not billable. Marketers need to fight back with consistent effort.

In the AEC industry, project work is where it’s at. Maximizing billable time for production staff is the main goal. And logically so. We are all in business to make a profit, right?

But somehow, that project-time-as-all-consuming-time mentality has seeped into every corner of many firms. The smaller the firm, the more likely this is, as staff members are called on to serve multiple functions, especially if they are billable functions.

This is especially true for marketers – who are often closest to a project in the beginning stages, due to the proposal process. At those initial stages, who else knows more about the project and what the firm is expected to deliver as the marketers who first reviewed the RFP and helped to bring the proposal submission to completion?

It is very easy to fall into this trap, which is one of the biggest challenges for AEC marketers – when project work and proposals are your first priority and everything else plays the part of ugly stepchild. After all, billable work is billable. However, the whole point of marketing is to develop future billable work, so doesn’t that make marketing as important to the health of your firm as today’s billable work?

So how do we stay out of the trap?


A consistent application of marketing effort makes all the difference. Every day, your firm should be making progress toward reaching your marketing plan goals. If you have a marketing department of one, that one individual, no matter how busy, should make some positive progress toward the completion of your marketing plan. If your marketing department consists of five people, that effort should be multiplied by five. Every day.

This progress is outside of the day-to-day demands of the job. A lot of what takes up the work day is valuable – fielding phone calls, answering emails, reviewing RFPs, scheduling and attending meetings – but these activities do not advance your marketing goals in an intentional way.

Ideally, your marketing plan consists of goals. These goals each have a strategy behind them. Each strategy has an accompanying set of tasks. Each task may even have multiple to-dos that need to be completed before that task is finalized. So truly, slow and steady wins the race. Steady progress on a daily basis will lead you to goal attainment.

Steady progress is also manageable and achievable in the face of that daily grind of phone calls, emails, RFPs, and meetings. Steady progress is motivating and perpetuating, and that is a lot of fun.

Our marketing friend Seth Godin has this to say:

Persistence is sort of annoying. Consistency, on the other hand, is the happy twin brother of persistence. Consistent with your statements, consistent in the content you create, consistent in the way you chip away at the problem you’re seeking to solve. Persistence can be selfish, but consistency is generous. And the best thing is that you only have to make the choice to be consistent once. After that, it’s simply a matter of keeping your promise.

Jane Lawler Smith, MBA, is the marketing manager at Derck & Edson, LLC. She can be reached at jsmith@derckandedson.com.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.