From the Chairman: Where do your clients learn?

Feb 02, 2011

By Ed Friedrichs I’ve long wondered why architects, designers, engineers, and environmental planners haven’t figured out where the action is for their clients. Almost every client I have ever worked with was an active participant in a forum that focused on his or her unique and specialized industry. It’s amazing how many of these societies exist and how focused they are in addressing the needs of their constituents. By no means am I going to give you a comprehensive digest of the overwhelming number of entities that act as support systems to your clients. That would defeat the message here: it’s not for you to guess which one your client spends time with; it’s up to you to ask. And to be quite specific in your questioning, learn why they chose to join that particular group, what they get out to it and whether allied professionals like you are allowed to participate. So, what am I talking about here? Let’s explore a few examples. I’ll use the Urban Land Institute as my primary case since it’s the one in which I was most actively involved. The others function very similarly. ULI This is where real estate developers of all types (commercial, industrial, retail, residential) gather to share lessons learned. Lenders, architects, planners and other allied professionals are invited to join and participate. The lenders turn out in force and are a valued resource to the development community for obvious reasons (“Show me the money”). Architects and engineers have a much smaller presence, but those who do participate quickly figure out how to offer a talk on a subject of interest to the development process, such as the latest on LEED and sustainable design, and other similar topics. But this audience doesn’t want technical solutions; they want to know if such solutions will make their project more attractive to tenants and if they will command higher rents. If you get really good at thinking this way, imagine how much more effective your client presentations will be. If you become a full member (it’s not inexpensive) you are eligible to be invited to join a council. These are medium-sized groups (around 40 members) that spend a day together sharing experiences and listening to a variety of presentations twice a year in conjunction with the ULI national meetings. After meeting with the same group for a year or two and socializing a bit between meetings, you begin to develop a very rich network of “friends in the industry” and probably a client or two. This is where I went to school on real estate finance and learned the arcane intricacies of what it takes to put a project together. Being able to communicate with a developer in his or her language and to be conversant on a topic that is far more interesting to your developer client than design makes you much more relevant. ULI has local councils in most major cities (and in a few less major ones as well) and can provide a great way to get an introduction to that client you’re struggling to meet. They generally gather monthly and love to have programs of general interest to their membership. Have any in mind? SCUP (Society for College and University Planning) How on earth could you be doing a university building and not participate in SCUP? At regional and national meetings, along with presentations on topics of general interest, university planners (often with their architect or engineer in tow) offer presentations of case studies they’re particularly proud of. Can you think of a finer endorsement? Since this is a very close knit group, they are much more likely to call one another to find out if anyone has had a favorable (or not so favorable) experience with your firm than they are to call the references you provided in your information packet or proposal. CORENET (Corporate Real Estate Executives) Ever wonder why the regional executive of a major corporation who is also your best friend in the local Rotary chapter won’t give you the time of day when it comes to his next facility? Usually, the answer is: he can’t. With the consolidation of so many industries globally and with mergers leading to giant enterprises, very few regional folks have any clout these days. Procurement of your services has become centralized and, in many cases, has been outsourced to a third party corporate real estate consultant like Jones Lang LaSalle or CB Richard Ellis. In one case, my firm (Gensler) had a substantial body of work with a particular financial institution. Over the course of a few brief years, the work, which had been spread across over a 100 firms in our service categories, was consolidated to 16 firms and then to two firms. We were exceptionally pleased to be one of the two firms left standing. But how would you have felt if you had enjoyed a decades-long relationship and suddenly found it, inexplicably, taken away? CORENET is where you learn what the trends and directions are and glean lessons from those who are making the hiring decisions about how to stay in the game in this new economy. CORENET also has regional chapters with more frequent meetings and are also looking for “relevant” (meaning how do I save money and look good to my boss) presentations of case models. ACI (Airports Council International). This may be the closest-knit fraternity of all. Face it: there just aren’t that many airports in the country. ACI is also a politically active group, lobbying in Washington frequently on regulatory issues that are of concern to them. Heard of Homeland Security and the constant changes in protocols that affect every airport? Can you see an opportunity here to become relevant to the members of this organization? If you’re interested in doing an airport, you’re not likely to be seriously considered without a strong reference from someone in this group. These are four groups that I happen to be familiar with. There are literally dozens more for every industry and profession from health care to law firms. Without an acute focus and participation in the forums that your clients are involved in, you’re going to be left in the dust by your competitors who do. Ed Friedrichs is a frequent (and a favorite!) feature in the The Zweig Letter ... Want to read more of Ed? Find out how ...

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