The marketing conundrum

Feb 03, 2017

You know what you’re supposed to do, but since your marketing department is understaffed and disempowered, you can’t make it happen.

I’m sure many of you have found yourselves in that familiar seminar or conference listening to a speaker tell you how to better position your firm for opportunities or how to develop more business. I’m also pretty certain that it’s something you have heard before and that there’s nothing earth shattering about anything that is being shared. Why then if we have heard these things over and over are we not going back to the office and implementing them? Well, there are probably a number of reasons but I will focus on just a few key issues.

Most of us are or have spent the majority of our careers as design or technical professionals and we do not naturally connect with the marketing side of the business. Our job descriptions dictate a list of priorities that allow little if any time for real marketing strategy. Being billable and maximizing utilization is natural to us and offers instant gratification. This is one reason that firms have trouble investing in marketing anywhere close to where they should be. It’s just not in our DNA.

When I spend an hour on a project, I can immediately turn around and send a bill for one hour of work and get the return on that investment directly and almost immediately. When it comes to marketing, I can spend an hour of effort and might never see any direct benefit, and even if I do, it could take time. Marketing investment requires more faith and risk-taking than we are naturally wired to take. And it doesn’t provide the instant gratification that the business is built around – working on billable projects.

We also have an organizational problem with marketing. It operates off to the side as a support function, often with little leadership or oversight. Until, of course, there is an opportunity to micromanage a proposal or make a thousand changes on the general brochure. But that’s not leadership or oversight, that is unqualified meddling. We don’t hire people who are strategic or who we trust to make decisions, so when something big is in the hopper, the firm’s principals come out of the woodwork to manage things. Because of our chronic underinvestment in marketing, we cannot go to these seminars and conferences and then bring that great information back to the firm for someone to implement. We don’t have the staff or resources to make those things happen.

Further evidence of this marketing conundrum is provided by our most recent 2016 Marketing Survey. In it, we ask the open-ended question of what you believe are the most effective marketing strategies/activities. You cite:

  1. Personal selling/relationship building.
  2. Website, social media, and content marketing.
  3. Direct calls to existing clients.
  4. Provide training/seminars.
  5. Engaging more employees in marketing.

I cannot disagree with a single one of those priorities. Bravo.

Now here are the five least effective marketing strategies/activities:

  1. Brochures and direct mail.
  2. Hosting and sponsoring events (open houses, etc.).
  3. Advertising.
  4. Responding to too many RFPs or unqualified leads.
  5. Tradeshows.
Now for the conundrum. Why is it that you spend the most time and money on the very things that you cite as the least effective? It’s just crazy!

As you look to 2017, make a commitment to spend more on marketing. Make sure you have the right leadership for your marketing team. Make sure your marketing leader is fully empowered to make decisions and aid in the execution of the overall strategic plan. Make sure the firm principals are sharing those interesting approaches and new ways of marketing that they are learning at those seminars and conferences and that the marketing leader is accountable for making those things happen. This is far bigger than just making sure all of the proposals get out the door. This is about leadership, seeking opportunities, and building a brand in the marketplace. This is about breaking down the conundrum and focusing on those activities and strategies that are most effective. You know what they are, now see it through!

Chad Clinehens is Zweig Group’s President and CEO. Contact him at

This article is from issue 1184 of The Zweig Letter. Interested in more management advice every week from Mark Zweig, the Zweig Group team, and a talented list of other guest writers? Click here to subscribe or get a free trial of The Zweig Letter.

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.