More than overhead

Jun 11, 2018

Non-creatives have to understand and respect what marketers do, or we run the risk of demotivating those who are critical to our success.

A recent study by InSource reported that “Creative professionals are being asked to do more work in less time – and it’s taking a toll.” I resemble that remark.

We – the non-creatives – seem to foster this culture, and it hurts our service-minded colleagues in marketing in a unique way, because so few of us really understand what marketing does. I know I am guilty of forgetting how easy it is to fire off an email with a “great idea” about improving our website, promoting an event, or developing a new marketing campaign, without comprehending the effort it takes to execute.

Perhaps even worse, I do so without respect for how my “great idea” fits within the firm’s marketing strategy or budget. We all have the best of intentions in wanting to share rich content or interesting approaches we see in other marketing campaigns, but doing so – without more than sending an email – fundamentally underscores the fact that the sender of the email (ahem), doesn’t really “get” marketing. Our marketing team knows what time of day to send an email about a survey versus a seminar in order to drive participation. They know what color backgrounds resonate, and what keywords are over-used by competitors and need to be avoided. That knowledge has to be respected.

We give marketing zero credit when we take a screenshot of a funny idea we saw on Instagram – and for an apparel company, to boot – and text it over with, “Hey, we should do this!” How infuriated would any non-marketing person be if we had to contend with all these quick ideas – coming willy-nilly from other areas of the business – while continuing to deliver proposals and executing strategy? We have to do better, or deal with turnover in the marketing department.

In-house creative/marketing teams aren’t just at risk of being overworked, they are also susceptible to demotivation when they are referred to as “overhead” or “admin.” This industry can be brutal to our colleagues when we keep referring to these degreed, credentialed, and experienced professionals in a term that really sounds like an afterthought, at best.

So what can we do?

  1. Increase internal marketing visibility. Celebrate and acknowledge marketing feats.
  2. Frequently and enthusiastically train and educate staff on the engine that marketing provides and the value of the brand. One of my favorite recent “Lunch and Learn” events at Zweig Group was an hour of jaw-dropping art and education from our graphic design savant, Donovan Brigham. I learned how much I didn’t know about graphic design, and left with a renewed sense of pride in our team. I also learned about the heated debate regarding the correct pronunciation of GIF. (I bet you didn’t know that a lot of people pronounce it JIFF, did you?)
  3. Instead of living in a constant state of rushing from one proposal to the next, establish metrics for marketing as you do for all other parts of the organization. Web hits, press releases, blog posts, number of contacts added to the CRM database, proposal volume, social media posts – give your marketing team something for which they can feel a sense of purpose and accomplishment for attaining.
  4. Create some accountability on both sides of the table. We often hear how frustrated marketing is that they’re tasked with proposals or articles and can’t get input or content from project teams. Now those metrics outlined in the above recommendation can’t be executed, so marketing is additionally burdened with stress over not being able to hit these goals due to lack of interest from co-workers. A strong marketing department with the ability to insist on participation from project teams and support from firm leadership can effect the kind of change we need.

The industry is going through an incredible phase of growth, demand, and profitability. Just because it’s easy to win work does not mean that it’s easy to win the most interesting or most lucrative projects. Remember that an investment in marketing pays off in a major way, although the fruits of the effort can be hard to notice until we get the big win or close-out that record job. Our research indicates that the most profitable firms in the AEC industry invest more heavily in marketing than the average firm. Let’s not burn out the key contributors in the process.

Jamie Claire Kiser is Zweig Group’s director of consulting. Contact her at

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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.