Endangered ideas

Jun 12, 2017

When your marketing people are not empowered to make big decisions, their great concepts often get parked in committees, where they die.

Marketing is where the creativity is, right? Not always. Too many marketing departments in AEC firms are understaffed and underfunded. As a result, they are overloaded and only able to focus on the most urgent needs. This is the enemy of creativity. Too many firms with limited resources are stuck in an endless cycle of responding to RFQs and RFPs. These departments are often staffed with creative people who bring unique skills to the firm, and who could offer more, given the chance.

Seth Godin captures the struggle between ideas and execution: “Ninety-nine percent of the time, in my experience, the hard part about creativity isn’t coming up with something no one has ever thought of before. The hard part is actually executing the thing you’ve thought of. The devil doesn’t need an advocate. The brave need supporters, not critics.”

This quote captures a number of problems that I see in AEC firms every day. Great ideas are generated, only to fail because the resources needed for execution are either inadequate or misguided. Here are three important tenets to help your firm foster creativity while still getting things done:

  1. Have strong marketing leadership. Firms of all sizes need someone that focuses on providing real leadership to marketing. Unless you are a small business (less than 50 people), you need full-time dedicated marketing leadership. This is usually more than the marketing coordinator who worked their way up to managing a few people. This is someone who understands what true marketing is, understands branding, and someone who can earn a seat at the upper management table. Additionally, this person should have the respect of and be able to influence the project teams. This is a tough combination of qualities to find, but the reward is significant if you can achieve this. The measure of success for this role is balancing both marketing and sales activities and generating returns on both ends.
  2. Focus on balancing marketing and sales. Leaders must focus on investing in true marketing activities that build the brand and generate leads, as opposed to focusing only on reactive sales activities like generating proposals and chasing leads. If you focus on actually marketing the firm, you are likely going to accomplish the “execution” side of creativity. Creativity and ideas are necessary to communicate a truly differentiated message, something that many firms do a poor job of. Becoming a commodity is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  3. Be careful about involving too many people. As stated above, “The brave need supporters, not critics.” Creativity and new ideas can be risky, something that many in the AEC industry avoid. The brave firms that are willing to get creative and differentiate themselves really stand out. One of the biggest impediments to this seems to be the need for “consensus.” Because so many firms will not empower marketing with strong leadership that they trust and will follow, big projects seem to attract the attention of many or all of the firm’s principals. I have seen it numerous times where a firm has a completely “hands off” approach to marketing until there is a significant change on the horizon. An example might be a new logo or a new website or brochure. Then there are committees and meetings where all the principals are able to present their opinions and even given veto rights. The end result is often a diluted version of whatever creative and unique idea they started with. Too many cooks in the kitchen is a real problem for a lot of firms. You need strong and trusted leadership with strong ties to the top management team. That trust and guidance should be enough to get things done in an efficient manner without involving all of leadership.

In conclusion, marketing is where ideas should go to flourish and be nurtured by people who are passionate about marketing. Of course, the way in which ideas are processed and fostered should be guided by a strong strategic vision and annual business plans. When there is strong planning and strong leadership in place, you can have confidence in the strategies that each area executes. Don’t let marketing be the place where good ideas go to die. Invest in and empower your marketing team to be creative and be able to truly set your firm apart from your competitors.

Chad Clinehens is Zweig Group’s president and CEO. Contact him at cclinehens@zweiggroup.com.

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.