A new era for marketing

Aug 22, 2021

It’s important for firms in all stages of growth to invest in marketing and continue to plan for the future.

There’s a stark difference between the way AEC firms looked at marketing during the midpoint of 2020 (confusion, cessation of usual activities, budget cuts) and the way they are approaching marketing spending this year.

Business development is one of the top areas of AEC business management impacted by COVID-19. Latest figures from Zweig Group’s Impacts of COVID-19 on the AEC Industry Report show that the vast majority (72 percent) report the virus will (or has) impact(ed) their business development activities.

A lack of traditional opportunities – such as networking events, tradeshows, conferences, and other chances to get face-to-face with potential clients – drove marketing spending down. Zweig Group’s 2020 Marketing Survey Report states that in 2020, just 34 percent of AEC firms said they planned to increase spending on marketing. While AEC firms spent a median of 6.2 percent of net service revenue on marketing in 2019, this dropped to the lowest level in almost a decade, 3.6 percent, last year. While firms remain cautiously optimistic to spend, a pivot in activities such as increased use of online marketing and the return of some in-person events have led to 53 percent of firms reporting a spending increase in this area, according to the 2021 Marketing Survey Report.

It’s a new era out there and successful firms are not employing the same tactics they did a decade ago. We took a closer look at the data to see what practices and structures in 2021 help create a great place to work, growth, and award winning marketing.

All good things begin with a solid plan. To start off, fast-growth firms are much more likely to have a marketing plan – this special group of firms are twice as likely to have a plan in place than their counterparts who are shrinking in size and revenue (80 percent vs. 40 percent).

Marketing staff who are working with clients and on client projects in a variety of capacities are another key to overall firm success. Successful firms have marketing staff working on billable projects and it pays off with not only better firm metrics, but also better marketing outputs. The trend is clear, 100 percent of Marketing Excellence Award winning firms said their marketing staff also work on billable projects. By growth rate, 79 percent of fast growth, 68 percent of slow growth, and 67 percent of stable firms have staff working on billable projects – at firms with a declining growth rate, this is just 50 percent. This practice increases department efficiency, keeps marketing staff closely tied to opinions and needs of clients, and allows firms to staff up their marketing department with a wide range of individuals.

While sitting around waiting to respond to RFPs is far from a solid strategy, neither is in-your-face advertisements. Survey respondents listed their most successful marketing techniques, and most included some form of generating quality content. Just a few of the tactics mentioned on this theme included webinars on research, content marketing on the firm’s website, and using an in-house content writer to develop lead generating white papers to gain conversions and establish project leads.

Building a marketing department with in-house or trusted partners to provide resources such as photography and video production is quickly becoming a necessity. Investing in the tools necessary to efficiently develop business – such as a CRM or inbound marketing platforms such as HubSpot and Pardot, are other important investments that quickly pay for themselves.

No matter what happens over the next 12 months, it’s important for firms in all stages of growth to invest in marketing and continue to plan (even if it’s short-term) for the future.

Christina Zweig Niehues is Zweig Group’s director of research and e-commerce. She can be reached at czweig@zweiggroup.com.

Zweig Group’s 2021 Marketing Report of AEC Firms is a benchmarking and advisory guide to industry firm marketing activities, budgets, marketing department organization, staffing levels, compensation, and investments in marketing systems and infrastructure. This report also has statistics on proposal activity, hit rates, and other useful analytics. Click here to learn more.

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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.