Your Greatest Asset?

Feb 17, 1997

Although conventional wisdom says that an A/E/P or environmental firm’s greatest asset is its staff, that may not always be so. I don’t want to diminish or underestimate the importance of the workers to a firm in this business. Certainly, no firm in our industry can consistently deliver what its clients want unless it has a good staff— one that cares about the firm and its clients, and has pride in what they do. Without good employees, you can’t cash in on the potential of the other assets of the business. On the other hand, if you look at a firm in terms of its assets— what it could be worth if you sold it— you can’t really sell the people. The fact is, beyond equipment, accounts receivable and cash, the real assets (i.e., what an experienced buyer might be willing to pay for) are the company name and the client roster. But while owners and top managers of A/E/P and environmental firms are quick to acknowledge the importance of their clients, most are ignorant of the value their company name could have. Too many firms in our business conduct their affairs as if their company name were irrelevant and had nothing to do with their success or failure. A widely recognized company name makes the phone ring with calls from clients who have immediate needs. It results in other consultants calling with opportunities for teaming because they think the “name” firm will help them close the project. A known name gives the familiar company a leg up with a selection committee that has lots of qualified alternatives to choose from. It helps cold callers get through to whomever they are trying to reach in the client’s organization. A name that is known to all in the client organization will break down barriers to hiring the firm, especially in bureaucratic organizations (most government agencies, institutions, and large companies) staffed by managers who don’t want to look bad to their superiors. A widely known and familiar company name may even result in what is ultimately a more successful final project, because the client is more willing to listen to the advice of the firm’s professionals because of the organization they come from. So how can an A/E/P or environmental firm make the best use of its name asset? Here are some things you might want to look at: How the name is used in all references to the company. What kills me— and we have even been guilty of it in our own company— is how firms in this business allow any employee to change the firm’s name in external communications at will. What I mean is how “Able, Baker, Charlie & Associates” suddenly becomes “ABC & Associates,” “ABC&A,” or “ABCA.” All this does is confuse the client and dilute the recognition of the company’s name. Color and logo consistency. Did you ever notice how Coca-Cola always uses the same script and same red background in its logo? The reason is they want anyone who sees that name and logo to immediately recognize it as “Coke.” Yet in our industry, it’s not uncommon to see firms that change the color of their logo every time they use it, whether it’s on a letter head, proposal cover, presentation board, brochure, or business card. Once again, this dilutes the recognition factor of the company name. Marketing materials, especially newsletters. Why are so many companies bound and determined to make it difficult for a reader to tell what firm published the client newsletter they’re reading? Many of these things have names like “Highlines,” “Solid Waste News,” or “Design Watch” as the banners across the top, and you have to search to find out that the thing is really a “ZH43C” marketing piece. The truth is, most people who get these disguised marketing pieces don’t even read them. But the newsletters can still serve a purpose if the potential client who receives them notices what firm they are from, even if all they due is glance at them before they drop them in the trash can. And by the way, the larger the firm is, the more likely it is to have four, or six, or eight of these different pieces, each with its own colors, type face, and name. These firms seem to forget that they aren’t in the newsletter business— they are in the business of providing architecture, engineering, planning, or consulting services. All of this clearly works against improving the recognition factor for the firm’s name. Exterior building signage. I know building signs are expensive. The one we have on our building cost us $6600, and I’m sure that’s a lot less than some of our larger clients spend for exterior signage. But I don’t understand why companies won’t make sure these signs are done up in the right colors or use the right type style, consistent with what the firm uses elsewhere when its name and logo are used. Or worse, one or more partners leave the firm and the company name is changed, yet the sign on the building keeps the old name alive because the company is too cheap to pay to change it. Public relations efforts used by the firm. This is just one more area where the company name is frequently abbreviated, changed, or used inconsistently. Press releases are no different than any other marketing piece and should reinforce a single name and identity for the company. Believe me, marketing concepts used by firms in the consumer product business will become commonplace in professional services firms in the near future. Mainstream marketers understand the power of a brand name to sell lots of products at a premium price. That’s why “Tide” costs twice as much per ounce as “Jane Parker Laundry Detergent.” Once again, we need to look outside our industry and learn. Originally published 2/17/1997

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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.