Brand Building: Build a competitive marketing department

Nov 13, 2014

Using industry benchmarks can help invest with confidence.

Have asked yourself how many marketing staff members your firm should really have? Firm leaders often ask us this because they are constantly hearing how they should be investing more in marketing. Say the words “marketing investment” and many things can come to mind: Marketing staff, computers, software, printers, business developers, golf sponsorships, conference booths, advertisements – and the list goes on.
  • Having a good marketing department is the first step in getting the most out of your numerous marketing expenditures. You need enough people and the right kind of expertise to earn a decent return on your marketing investment. For firm leaders or marketing professionals looking for guidance on what a marketing team should look like, benchmark data can help you invest with confidence.
  • Have enough marketing people to adequately support your technical staff. Firms often subconsciously believe that all overhead is bad; therefore we should have as few marketing staff as possible. Having adequate marketing support resources can actually free up your billable staff to focus more on projects and therefore make more money for the firm. Having the adequate number of quality marketing team members handle more marketing tasks at lower hourly rates is preferable to using your technical professional staff. Firms in this industry have a ratio of total staff to marketing staff of 26:1, according to Zweig Group’s 2014 Marketing Survey.
  • Have the right expertise for your firm. The larger firms are, the more varied the expertise they have in-house. Firms often add a marketing director once they reach 25 employees. Once a firm surpasses 250 people, they tend to have one marketing director, two marketing managers, four marketing coordinators, two public relations and communications specialists, one graphic designer and one web designer. For firms to compete in this market, their marketing departments need to be staffed with the expertise that will help them stand out from the competition.
  • Have your marketing effort reflect your vision and mission. Industry benchmarks are great for offering a basic sense of what the market is doing, but to truly stand out, your investments must empower your strategic plan. For example, the average 2014 marketing budget as a percentage of net service revenue was 1.6 percent for stable growth firms versus 3.4 percent for growth firms, according to the 2014 Marketing Survey. Firms growing 20 percent of more for the past three years are therefore spending over twice as much in marketing. That clearly demonstrates that fast growth firms believe and invest more heavily in marketing. If your strategic plan includes an aggressive growth plan, a preemptive investment in marketing staff is likely necessary to enable a scalable organization. A clearly distinguished vision and mission is greatly enhanced by strong marketing!
Being armed with industry data can provide a good starting point for where and how much you need to invest in marketing. Additionally, the data supports a powerful argument when you need to get other firm leaders on board with what may be a significant investment in marketing. Knowing what other firms are spending in marketing is a good way to benchmark your investment. As we have said it many times: The margin between winner and loser in our industry is often painfully small. Anything you can do to outsmart, outspend and outperform your competition can make the difference in being a stable firm versus a high growth firm! More information about Zweig Group’s 2014 Marketing Survey of Architecture, Engineering, Planning & Environmental Consulting Firms can be found at Chad Clinehens is The Zweig Group’s executive vice president. Contact him at
This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1080, originally published 11/17/2014. Copyright© 2014, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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.