Getting Marketing Off Dead Center

Nov 11, 2002

As the year winds down, it’s apparent that the majority of design and environmental firms are finishing up a year that wasn’t as good for them as 2001. Flattening out of growth coupled with a two- or three-point reduction in profits is how this year is shaping up. With a growing awareness that backlogs are declining and that sustaining high profitability is difficult without some revenue growth, firms are taking a really hard look at their marketing as they get ready to face 2003. First things first. To the skeptics who continue to refuse to acknowledge that there is a relationship between marketing expenditures and profitability, consider this tidbit from our yet-to-be released 2003 Successful Firm Survey of A/E/P & Environmental Consulting Firms. High-profit firms (those with annual net pre-tax, pre-bonus profits as a percentage of net service revenue of 15% or more over the past three years) spend, on average, 30% more than their “typical” firm counterparts on marketing! If you’re in a cost-cutting mode, marketing is probably not the place to be cutting. That said, if profits are down, and backlogs are shrinking, you can’t blame firm owners if their appetite for major expenses is reduced. The future looks less certain. It’s time to be cautious. The bottom line is we need to get marketing ramped up when we feel we can least afford it. I understand your plight, so here are five suggestions to consider that can get your marketing off dead center in 2003: You want a real client relationship management system (CRM), right? But the costs and time to get what you really think you need to have (one shared client and potential client database) that is used firm-wide is scary. I suggest you take an interim step. Set the stage for an eventual CRM implementation and start by putting everything you’ve got into Outlook or some other software that you already have available throughout the firm. You need to be able to send out mail, put calling lists together, and get out press releases. Just getting everyone’s Rolodex into Outlook will be a heck of a lot better than nothing…and may make the full CRM implementation go smoother. There’s no time for the creative, positioning type marketing? All the resources are still flowing into proposals and specific project opportunities, and yet you cannot afford to hire someone else? Get a consultant. This is one place where you might be well-served to go to a local SMPS meeting and put the feelers out for some outside assistance. Find someone who can help you get some other types of marketing started, even if it is only for a three- or six-month engagement. In any city of size there are people out there who are available. Some of them could do a lot at a relatively low cost. You don’t have a press list? Buy a canned list. We sell one and so do other sources. And supplement that with a quick addition of the editors from all of your local newspapers. Get the e-mail addresses for these editors and start sending something to them every week. You are bound to have the laws of probability kick in and get some press. No cold calls being made? Call all of your existing clients. The end of the year is the perfect time to get on the phone with your past and present clients and tell them you are in the course of planning for next year and wanted to discuss their upcoming needs in 2003. Here’s your chance to drum up some new work under the auspices of wanting to be in a position to meet your clients’ demands. It’s very easy to do if you do it now— even for those who don’t want to make cold calls. Clients still don’t know all your firm does? Get a commercial recorded for $500 so when they are on hold they learn about your other services. Put a description of all you do in your auto-reply e-mails that you turn on when you aren’t in your office. Update your web site so it’s quickly apparent to any visitor that you do a lot more. Send out inexpensive postcards to your client and potential client database that communicate each of your service offerings. Take people from other discipline areas with you when going out to see a client and make an introduction. There are many ways to deal with this problem. The point of all of this is that there’s really no excuse for not lighting a fire under the marketing effort in your company, and now is as good a time as ever to do it. Originally published 11/11/2002.

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.