Content drives AEC firms

Jun 19, 2017

Regardless of what else the future holds for B2B marketing, one thing is certain: Content marketing is here to stay.

Marketing communications. Social media. Graphic design. Media relations. Proposals. Internal communications. Event engagement. Brand management. Advertising. Presentations. Direct marketing. The list of responsibilities goes on, and the best organizational structure for a marketing/business development team responsible for executing these activities depends on a variety of factors unique to the firm.

Nothing earth shattering here, right?

How about if we take a look at marketing responsibilities through a different lens? One that positions the roles based on core competencies?

I was introduced to this perspective last fall by Joe Pulizzi’s article titled “10 Content Marketing Roles for the Next 10 Years.” In it, he points out that many marketing organizations are transforming themselves into publishing organizations, and as such, redefining key business roles that are and will continue to be vital to success over the next 10 years. Since you may not have time to read his article, I’ll glean enough from Pulizzi’s list so you’ll get the gist of each role’s primary responsibility. (Keep in mind that he didn’t intend for these to be titles, per se.)

  • Chief content officer. This is your content ambassador, responsible for making sure stories remain consistent and make sense to the audience(s) across all channels (PR, email, social, search, etc.).
  • Managing editor. This person’s job is about execution, working to make the stories come alive (including tone, style guides, and content scheduling).
  • Chief listening officer. This “air-traffic controller” for social media and your other content channels listens to the groups, maintains the conversation, and keeps tabs on how the content is performing.
  • Director of audience. This person is responsible for monitoring your audience, making sure all content creators are intimately familiar with the audience members’ characteristics, their passion triggers, and what actions you want them to take.
  • HR for marketing. This individual will work closely with human resources to make sure that employees understand their integral role in the marketing process.
  • Channel master. Wherever your content is headed (social media, email, print, in-person, etc.), this individual is responsible for getting the most out of each channel in addition to curating the current content assets for distribution.
  • Chief technologist. This person is responsible for leveraging the proper use of technologies in the content marketing process, such as marketing automation, freelancer integration, and emerging technologies.
  • Influencer relations. Formerly known as media relations, this individual’s responsibilities include developing your hit list of influencers, maintaining direct relationships with them, and integrating them into your marketing process in the most impactful ways.
  • Freelancer and agency relations. As content demands continue to evolve, organizations need to cultivate their own expert content teams and networks. This person’s job is to manage responsibilities so that all members of your team (internal and external) are united in their work.
  • Return-on-objective chief. This person is responsible for ensuring an ongoing return on marketing objectives and communicating why your business is developing content assets in the first place.

While having all of these roles on the team would be sheer utopia, if asked to select the top five I feel would be most valuable for our firm in the foreseeable future I would pick:

  1. Chief content officer/managing editor (I’m not trying to cheat by squeezing two roles into one; our need would be well served by a hybrid of the two)
  2. Chief listening officer
  3. HR for marketing
  4. Channel master
  5. Return-on-objective chief

Show me the content. In a similar vein, several recent MarketingProfs articles highlight the premium placed on a well-defined content marketing strategy. One such article points to a 2016 study conducted by Curata, which found that 75 percent of companies are increasing their investment in content marketing and 43 percent are increasing staff levels. Perhaps an even more compelling statistic, which clearly proves the business case for content marketing, is that 74 percent of marketers indicate that their company’s content marketing investment results in an increase in lead quality and quantity.

So how does this relate specifically to marketing/BD in the AEC industry? The fundamentals are the same – the variable is based on what is defined as “content.” Not unlike other firms, we consider our thought leadership, client stories, compelling designs, measureable results, and perhaps most importantly, our people to be among the strongest subject matter for content marketing. How we fully exploit this information is based on our marketing strategy and each item’s relevance to the various channels of communication. It’s also how we help move a prospective client from having little (or no) awareness of the firm to winning a project and ultimately developing a deep client relationship that spans decades.

Unbeknownst to me when I joined the firm 15-plus years ago, having compelling content to mine for marketing purposes would never be an issue. Back then I thought everything was fascinating because I was new to the design industry, but it remains so to this day. Rarely a week goes by that I don’t hear at least one interesting client story, learn something intriguing about a fellow employee or see a photograph of a recently completed project that doesn’t make its way into some facet of our marketing efforts. The question is, should we structure our marketing teams in a way that more closely aligns with Pulizzi’s article to better capitalize on these content opportunities? My suggestion is keep the baby, toss the bath water. If there are parts of your structure that are working well then integrate those into a more deliberate structure that focuses on the future. Regardless of what else the future holds for B2B marketing, one thing is certain: Content marketing is here to stay.

Tina Howell is Little’s national director of marketing and business development. She can be reached at

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.