Being strategic about marketing

May 12, 2015

Diverse firms can implement rules-of-thumb to establish priorities and see results for years to come.

140By Andrea Bennett Managing Editor A/E/P and environmental firms have several items on their to-do lists at any given time: RFPs to consider; go/no-go evaluations to make; constant communications with past, current, and potential clients; not to mention HR and other internal priorities. On top of all of that, savvy firms know that in order to keep business coming in, they must continue putting their message out through continuous marketing of their services and successes. Though the actual means and message will vary by firm and industry, Zweig Group’s Executive Vice President Chad Clinehens says that most A/E/P and environmental organizations can utilize some basic principles and strategies to ensure that they stay at the top of their marketing games – and ahead of their competitors. For starters, Clinehens says, it is essential that firms stop thinking of marketing as another overhead expense. “Marketing is an essential business-building function,” he says. “It should always be viewed separately from support services like payroll and other general overhead functions. The healthy perspective is: ‘With every dollar I spend on marketing, I should expect to get some return in the future.’ Growth starts with marketing.” Though there is no specific formula or ideal media mix that can be implemented across-the-board, Clinehens says that firms can use some rules of thumb to determine their ideal budgets and channels. “In general, firms spend an average of 3.8 percent of their net service revenue on marketing, and we suggest that firms outspend their peers by at least 30 percent to gain a measurable competitive advantage,” he says. “There is not a generally accepted ranking of activities that all firms should use to prioritize their investment. Rather, the priorities should be defined by that firm’s unique position in the market and its strategic plan for modifying or expanding that position. Firms, in general, however, need to make sure that they distinguish what is true marketing, versus what is business-development. “Regardless of size, firms need one person that is solely accountable for driving return on marketing investment. In smaller firms, that could be the CEO, but, as firms grow, having someone specifically tasked with marketing is crucial. We normally recommend this for firms with 50 or more people. Firms should also carefully consider who has this role: Understanding the unique spects of this industry, combined with creativity, is a must.” As far as where to look to begin making these decisions and distinctions: Clinehens says that it all goes back to the strategic plan. “Firms must have a clear and concise strategic plan that is updated yearly,” he says. “Have goals and activities in that plan that are designed to advance the firm and its vision. Then provide adequate resources to accomplish the short- and long-term goals in that plan. The marketing priorities included in the plan should be set by a clear vision and mission for the firm. “At the end of the day, everyone is looking for measurable results. Measurable results, however, are particularly difficult to define in our industries, because we do not sell products in the retail sense, where a sale can be tracked to a specific activity. Rather, marketing activities in firms aim to build a brand, which results in purchases for possibly years out. This is why marketing is an essential business function, not an overhead expense.&rdquo

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.