How does a brand create a long-lasting legacy well beyond any individual contributor or even just its founders?
It’s a fact that successfully surviving a founder transition can be one of the most difficult times in an AEC firm’s history. Not everyone is ready to be a leader or sage enough to shepherd a firm into the relatively unknown. When cartoonist Charles Addams began doodling out what soon became some 150 individual tile cartoons for The New Yorker in the 1930s, did he envision everything that would result from that?
Whether he knew or not, the content, brand, and legacy of The Addams Family make a great case study for a Halloween day publication. Let’s take a walk down to 001 Cemetery Lane and see the impacts that can be made by a strong brand and legacy.
- Cross marketing. This is where a lot of AEC firms fall short in their overall marketing efforts. Firms need to promote their work in ways that attract other industries to buy into the value of their services beyond what design or project management functions provide. AEC firms must concentrate on furthering their influence beyond the AEC industry. For example, there are technology/software development companies and government associations lobbying higher education institutions across the U.S. to encourage enrollment in technology focused majors. In some cases, institutions are even heavily financially incentivized to do just that. When recruiting and retention is one of the greatest challenges in the AEC industry today, why aren’t we exerting that same type of influence?
- Recruiting and retention. We encounter too many firms saying the exact same things to draw attention to their brands through the lens of recruiting and retention. Most promote things like “We work on exciting and innovative projects” or “We offer a competitive (which often means standard) benefits package and compensation.” This repetition furthers the sense of firms being seen as a commodity and not as innovative thought leaders responsible for our built environment. It’s also not enough to achieve the type of growth firms need to keep up with current and future demands for work. Creating and promoting a brand around your passions and employees’ interests are much better ways to uniquely create a strong brand and legacy.
- Culture. The Addams Family has had a profound influence on American media culture. It’s helped inspire an entire gothic subculture and the tangibles (additional revenue opportunities) that go along with it. They are considered such an American icon the family is as well-known as some of the most famous families in our history, fictional or not. It’s rare to encounter AEC firms whose brand is powerful enough to impact our teeming culture at this point.
- Additional revenue streams. Since its inception, The Addams Family brand has been so attractive that other media outlets like television, film, video games, comic books, Broadway productions, and a massive merchandising effort have seen the opportunity to carry on this legacy. It’s easy to imagine the brand awareness today is well beyond anything Charles Addams envisioned in its creation. Until very recently, it was almost impossible to find the AEC industry being celebrated through a variety of different industry channels like The Addams Family.
I wish we could ask Charles about all of this but, well, he’s been dead about as long as I’ve been alive. Something tells me he would love the macabre associated with that coincidence. Happy Halloween!
Chad Coldiron is a principal and director of executive search at Zweig Group. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.