Big-ticket items

Jun 25, 2018

A larger client database, higher shortlist rates, and measurable metrics. Yes, marketing is expensive, but it’s a good place to spend a bit of gold.

Paying marketing people is expensive. Recent salary data says a marketing director’s average salary is anywhere from $83,000 to $98,000 depending on the size of the firm, with regional averages even higher in certain locations. For some firms, marketing labor can seem like a big expense. And once you have a department with people in it, the marketing department then wants to spend even more money on things like events, advertising, collateral, gadgets, and software. And that’s just the beginning!

Many firms in the AEC industry are afraid to build marketing departments and make serious investments in marketing because they feel it’s too hard to determine ROI. How do you determine the effectiveness of a new website? A tradeshow that results in no new proposals? An event sponsorship? An email campaign? There’s no debate on any of this. It’s difficult.

I hear from clients all the time that they want to invest in marketing, but they don’t know what they should be spending their money on. The other common story is that they did invest in some things, or spent a lot of money going to tradeshows, or did a big event sponsorship, and the whole thing seemed like a huge waste of money.

Reading through Zweig Group’s 2017 Marketing Survey, I came across a surprising statistic. Median marketing spending was 5 percent of net-service revenue at firms that had marketing departments, compared to 12.7 percent at firms with no marketing department. That includes spending on labor, which makes up an average of 40 percent of the overall marketing budget! That’s a huge difference!

Firms with no marketing staff may also have more expensive people spending more time on marketing. These people also might be more inefficient and be mired in the quicksand of multi-tasking. Furthermore, a lack of dedicated marketing personnel is also often correlated with a lack of a marketing budget, marketing plan, and the absence of a person who ensures marketing expenditures are effective in driving revenue.

Here’s the harsh reality: Firms that don’t have dedicated marketing staff often don’t have the right people or tools in place to measure ROI in anything other than proposal amounts or accepted contracts. And in marketing, one-to-one conversions are rare (although they do happen). This lack of measuring leads to a feeling of failure.

A better way to spend your marketing dollars is to have a marketing department with a budget, goals, and a few different metrics for measures of success, such as new leads, number of contacts, website traffic, and proposals sent out.

Firms with a marketing department were more likely to have proposals shortlisted than firms without a department – 50 percent to 42 percent. Firms with a marketing department also have more names in their CRM database, with the client/customer list size per full-time employee at 411, compared to an average of 276 for those without. In an industry that is built on warm connections and repeat clients, contacts are critical to success.

Have I convinced you of the importance of a good marketing department yet?

Christina Zweig Niehues is Zweig Group’s director of marketing. Contact her at

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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.