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BEATBLOGGER “OFF THE AIR”…BUT JUST FOR SPRING BREAK!

Who else wouldn't mind a small breather?  A blogger "Spring Break" of sorts.  So that is what's happening this week on A/E/C Beat;  BeatBloggers is taking  a brief hiatus.  But no need to worry...everything will resume next week (03/31/2015) with more original content to "rock your world!" 

In the meantime, if you have any comments, thoughts or ideas that you want our readership to consider, post them below!

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Welcome to the Machine... The Proposal Machine

I've been doing proposals for more than a few years now. When I think about it, it feels like an eternity…like decades. Wait a minute, it has been decades!  Decades of staying late at the office, missing weekends with my family, skipping outings with my friends, neglecting holiday gatherings, foregoing countless hours of sleep and medicating myself to counteract the effects of long-term anxiety. For the most part, I have come to accept my role in this industry and have even come to terms with the notion that I will never be as respected for my professional acumen as my technical counterparts. I realize that as a marketing professional for the industry of A/E/C, I may never be able to fully disengage from the task of proposals. But for Pete’s sake, does it have to be the ONLY thing that people think I'm capable of doing?!?!

About five months ago, one of my company’s out-of-town managing partners visited our local office. This was a company-wide traveling assignment intended to deliver “state-of-the-company” updates. While he was in town, he made the rounds. He was sure to visit every single partner and employee for at least 20 minutes individually. Not surprisingly, I was the last one on his list. He started out with some tedious chit-chat (the awkward type that prompts you to burp-puke in your mouth and then forcibly swallow it) and it was my overall impression that he didn’t really know what to talk to me about. Then he said something that I will probably never be able to forgive OR forget: “so and so says that you are really great at proposals.” REALLY?!?!? After the years that I have invested in the company and all the OTHER things that I’ve accomplished for and with them, THAT was all he could come up with.

On the outside I was genial enough, appearing ever appreciative of the compliments from “above.” But on the inside I couldn’t help but think to myself “I am a proposal machine…they flow out of me like beef from a meat-grinder. I am the mechanical apparatus that executes the process.” In other words, working on proposals has been a necessary part of my daily functions in A/E/C, but I wouldn't exactly call it a great achievement or anything. Telling me I'm great at proposals is not what I would consider a compliment at this point in my career, especially when I spent four years (okay, five years) of my life going to school to become a marketing and communications professional.

Yes, it’s true that proposals are a necessary part of a marketer’s role within this industry. But it’s also true that A/E/C focuses a great deal more on this “end game” than on ANY OTHER areas within the marketing spectrum. In fact, proposals dominate an A/E/C marketer’s time to the detriment of everything else. All the things that set the stage for a firm to be viewed in the best possible light by major decision makers - everything that influences positive impressions of a firm leading up to or separate and apart from a proposal - are virtually ignored.    

But why is that? I used to think that it was because proposals are the most tangible deliverable with the most obvious link to measurable revenue; the metrics practically report themselves. But after years of speculation on this particular topic, I think the real reason behind why marketing professionals have been dubbed the “proposal grunts” in A/E/C has more to do with two central issues:

  • First and foremost, there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the very nature of marketing. When I talk to industry principals about what it is they think that marketing can actually do for their firms, they struggle to come up with anything OTHER than proposal work. There is this supposition that marketers would have nothing to do if it weren’t for the endless onslaught of deadlines.
  • And second, there is an overarching aversion to the concept of marketing as an ACTUAL profession, one that in most industries requires a degree. We are constantly being referred to as “overhead” by technical colleagues, categorized as “non-productive” by accounting staff, and excluded from “big-picture” meetings regarding strategy. We are viewed as the lowest man on the totem pole.

It’s no real surprise then that A/E/C’s marketers have been so marginalized. We have not been afforded regular opportunities to prove our actual worth or even sharpen our skills in other marketing areas…like planning and strategy, market research and consumer trends, branding and messaging, campaign development, etc. These items are incredibly important to a firm’s overall visibility and represent a MASSIVE slice of the comprehensive marketing pie. Not surprisingly, though, they are continuously overlooked or sidelined as menial tasks to be squeezed in to a marketer’s spare time…if A/E/C marketers had any spare time between proposals, that is. Ugh…proposals…  

They have become the bane of my existence. As awful as it sounds, proposals have come to dominate so much of my life now (both personally and professionally) that they have actually made me physically ill. Basically, stress levels build until the perfect storm of long work hours, sleep deprivation and the office “bug” finally grinds me into a beefy pulp. As soon as I recover, the cycle starts all over again; chuck steak…grind…package…repeat. Each day is like a clone of the last, slowly degrading with every copy that is made. Am I even awake? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. I now have dreams filled with large ticking clocks that pierce my ears and give me vertigo; sometimes it’s a front-desk clerk whose time-stamp shatters the silence and makes my stomach churn…“ka-clank!” Like scenes from The Wall, where an endless stream of people with blank faces line the hallways to submit their proposals. Welcome to the machine…

I used to have really vivid dreams though; like technicolored dreams. I held aspirations of changing the world, of doing something remarkable, of doing something that MEANT something. And I was going to do it through marketing. That’s how I was going to make my mark. But with the ideals of my college days FAR FAR behind me, it seems that “my mark” is now only worth the last proposal that I completed. Ostensibly, in A/E/C, dreams are a luxury reserved for technical people well on their way to partnerships and presidencies, or those few and far between marketers who have both the talent and shrewdness to venture out on their own (and it has to be said that those people are incredibly gifted, incredibly gutsy and wholly deserving of our applause...read On Being a Consultant). But by and large, the rest of us will forever be stuck under the thumb of proposals and all the connotations that come with working on them. By and large, there are no Chief Marketing Officers in this industry and at this rate, there never will be. 

So why am I bothering to bring this up at all? Because I'm TIRED of being useless every weekend because all I have the energy for is sleeping; because I’m tired of missing my kid’s soccer practices because another BIG proposal deadline is closing in; and because I’m tired of A/E/C companies asking for so much from their marketers while thinking so little of them and offering even less in return. I bring this up for the benefit of all the marketers reading this; it’s not too late for us to collectively do something about the situation. We have power as a group and we don’t have to subscribe to the “take-it-or-leave-it” mentality that has historically governed our profession in A/E/C and consequently kept us small.

Now that I think about it, this might be the perfect time to take action or be demanding. So many companies are looking to fill marketing positions right now and there are so few of us marketers left to actually fill them (following the decimation of our profession during the Great Recession). Maybe the post-recession years represent our greatest chance to tear down these walls and escape the machine. Perhaps a full-fledged A/E/C marketer’s revolution is in order…

Whatever stage you are at in your career, I urge you to STAND UP for what the marketing profession actually STANDS FOR. If you’re searching for a new spot to “hang your hat,” be sure to find out if that firm has any non-technical principals on their team, and what the career path is for the non-technical staff there. This is a good indication of how they view and value their marketers. If you want to stay put with your current company, then insist that professional development opportunities be made available to you; ones that not only develop a broad range of marketing skills, but also teach you about other aspects of the company. And if your firm doesn’t offer those opportunities, then make sure to carve out some time (and money) in your life to develop them for yourself. But don’t pigeon-hole your potential and don’t let others pigeon-hole you either!

I suspect that A/E/C could and WOULD reap amazing bottom line benefits if firms would let their marketing people get down to what they're really good at…MARKETING, in all its glory…not just proposals. Then again, this would require that A/E/C give weight to the idea that someone categorized as “overhead” might actually have insight into (or have something of value to add to) the bottom line. But because most firms don’t really understand what it is that marketing does (or can do), marketers are kept busy doing the overly-simplified tasks that ARE understood by firms. Then when those same firms don’t get the results that they had envisioned, marketing is blamed for being ineffective, thus reinforcing our position at the bottom of the totem pole. This then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, whereby companies don’t think enough of their marketers to invest in them any further. There have been a few interesting reads on this topic as of late:

Why Managing Partners Don’t Trust Their Marketing Departments and What to Do About It

Why Your Marketer Doesn’t Understand Your Business

That being said, I hope that after reading this you share it with your marketing friends and industry colleagues, and if you are really brave then share it with your boss. But more importantly, I hope that you take all of this to heart, because marketing in A/E/C won’t change if none of us are actually willing to DO or SAY anything about it. The reality is that if we don’t make a concerted effort NOW to stand up for ourselves and point our careers in the directions that we REALLY want them to go, then we will be no better off than we were before…proposal machines, grinding out chuck, day after day after day after day after day. I know that I am not alone in this sentiment; there are a lot of us in marketing that feel this way...especially post-recession. And it would be a real shame to sit silent through the best years of our careers when we could have been fighting for our DREAMS.

About the Blogger: Anonymous Beat Blogger  is your typical over-achieving under-appreciated marketer. This person has always been a realist, but thanks to the Great Recession and A/E/C firms everywhere, they now regularly traverses the space between comatose and temporarily insane. 

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Is A/E/C Afraid of Social Media?

Fear of the unknown is scary! It’s the reason why little kids hide under their covers at bedtime, why teenagers cover their faces during a horror flick, and why adults hide behind their podiums when making a presentation to a large crowd. Whether you’re three years old or thirty, the fear of what might be lurking on the “other side” waiting to pounce on you is something that we all share. In fact, fear is an agent that is hard-wired into the psyche of every living thing on this planet with a singular purpose for self-preservation. But when can fear get the best of us?

As a consultant for a number of A/E/C industry clients over the years, I have witnessed first-hand the paralyzing fear that comes with tackling the realm of social media. But where does this shared industry fear come from? When more closely examined, it is plain to see that companies AND people actually share the common thread of fear in both reason and purpose. A/E/C’s fear of social media comes from the exact same place that all other fears come from; a fear of what might be lying in wait. That fear also serves the same exact purpose; an instinct to avoid threats and to preserve one’s self.

When a company commits to a social media campaign and then takes their first steps into launching it, the act itself can feel a lot like an open invitation for criticism. And that is DAMN scary! After all, no one wants to walk around with a giant target on their forehead. This represents the top fear that my clients express to me when venturing into this new frontier (well…new for them). “What if someone says something negative about us?” But here’s the thing: just because a company chooses to refrain from utilizing social media does not mean that they are shielded from the perils of online dialogue about them, either positive OR negative. In this sense, doing nothing only cuts the company out of the conversation.

Have you ever tried googling your own company? What shows up on the first page might shock you. Besides your website, which is typically the first result listed, you might find reviews from a disgruntled former employee or even a previous client who was unhappy enough with your services to write something online about their experience with your firm. Then again, you might find a glowing testimonial! Obviously, you want that ratio to lean more towards the latter than the former. Unfortunately, there’s really no way to get rid of those bad reviews…but there IS a way to minimize them. So don’t get disheartened just yet; I’m about to share some good news with you. And you don’t even need to be a SoMe super-geek to understand it.  

For those of you still hiding under the covers, you’ll be happy to learn that social media can actually help you control the online message regarding what is being said about your company. There’s quite a bit of technical stuff that goes into all this, but for today’s purposes all you really need to know is this: with regular activity, you can actually employ SoMe strategies to push those bad reviews to the second or third results page (you know…the pages that NO ONE generally visits). Because popular sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are trusted sources for major search engines like Google and Bing, increased activities on company SoMe accounts causes the search engine’s algorithms to move your account sites further up their results pages. This, of course, is known as Search Engine Optimization (or SEO).

As a quick sidebar for the SoMe gurus reading this, I fully acknowledge that SEO is undergoing an evolution of sorts right now. I recently read an article on Clickz.com that summed it up quite nicely. I’m paraphrasing here, but today’s SEO calls for “quality content.” Metatags and keywords are out; “content-rich” sites are in. And this article didn’t even delve into the projected effects of an increasingly photo-focused environment on SEO going forward. But the evolution of SEO doesn’t negate the validity of a firm’s efforts to increase their social media activity. What it does mean is that firms should strive to generate regular activity and content of consequence to their readership. I have no doubt that the firms who understand how to leverage these tools will be far better off than those who don’t, especially in the virtual landscapes of the future.  

Now, for those of you still questioning the importance of social media for the A/E/C industry, you might want to consider this. In a recent survey, 60.2% of A/E/C firms chose “attracting and developing new business” as a top challenge for 2015. This trend reflects an industry-wide need for firms to:

  • Build awareness of their brand and services
  • Increase the visibility and reach of their teams
  • Separate themselves from the rest of the marketplace

Savvy companies that are willing to invest the time and energy into strategic social media initiatives can work wonders in these arenas. There are more than a few examples of Corporate America deploying social media as one of the tools used in achieving massive bottom line success. One of the best examples has been Ford Motor Company’s turn-around from bail-out candidate to re-emerged automotive power-house (check out “4 Examples of How Corporate American is Crushing Social Media” and "Ford Motor Company: Greatest Corporate Turnaround in U.S. History”).

Just like the roll out of the first fax machines and email addresses, Corporate America is now leading the way with social media communications. They are also setting the bar AND the public’s expectations for these platforms. And because business trends like these eventually trickle down to the mid-sized and smaller firms throughout all industries, it won’t be long before A/E/C clients have set expectations of their own…especially with the accelerated introduction of younger generations into the workforce.    

What this means for A/E/C is that we really need to put our SoMe fears aside and start thinking critically and creatively about how we can exploit these tools to our industry’s advantage. Maybe it’s time we stop spending our energy on what we perceive as impossible and instead initiate an exploration into what IS possible. After all, everything seems “impossible” until someone accomplishes it for the very first time.  

One of the obstacles currently standing in the way of our achieving this, however, is that A/E/C still sees social media as a “thing” rather than a tool (one of many now at our disposal). To be most effective, social media campaigns should be fully integrated with all other marketing efforts, not separated from them. Although we HAVE come a long way and covered a lot of ground - even since 2009 when the A/E/C companies using social media were few and far between - we still have a long road ahead.

As more and more A/E/C companies jump onto the social media bandwagon in 2015, here are a few motivating factors to help companies stay the course as they take their first frightful steps into the unknown.

1.  Social Media helps build awareness of brands and services. Remember back in the day when we all thought we would never need a website? Those days are long gone! The same now goes for social media. Why is that a good thing? Because with social media, A/E/C companies can drive traffic to their websites, thus building local, regional, national and even international awareness. What is the first thing you do when you hear about a company that you want to learn more about? Google them, right? What typically shows up first is (hopefully) their website. But companies utilizing social media are also going to have Google’s first page of results completely filled with social media links, effectively reinforcing their firm’s virtual presence and prowess. Not only can consumers check out a company’s website, but they also now have access to additional resources like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to familiarize themselves with a company’s brand, services, markets and areas of expertise. This also provides added opportunities for potential clients to learn about new companies of interest when they are organically led to links on social media.

2.  Social media is the online version of networking; it can help increase the visibility and reach of A/E/C teams. I already know what most of you are going to say next; “The people that do business with aren’t on social media.” Really? According to Pew Research Center’s Social Media Update 2014 survey, approximately 81% of American adults (categorized as ages 18+) use the internet.   When broken out by specific social media sites, 71% of adults were utilizing Facebook, 28% were on LinkedIn, 28% on Pinterest, 26% for Instagram and 23% were on Twitter. When taking into account demographics of the “up and coming” business owners and project managers, these numbers alone should more than motivate a company into action. Of course, social media does NOT replace relationships, but it CAN enhance them. For example, let’s say that you’ve met a potential client at a networking event. Why not invite them to connect on LinkedIn with a customized invitation asking them to meet you for a coffee or lunch? If you did, then LinkedIn just assisted you in initiating multiple touch points with a new prospect with little effort.

3.  Social media helps separate companies from their competitors. Social media can assist with the delivery of tailored messages that reinforce a company’s unique value proposition to a wide audience. Luckily, sharing a company’s “story” is easier now than it has ever been before. Think about how many times you may have written a press release in the past, hoping that one of the coveted industry publications might pick it up. Skip that mess and make your own news through social media; it’s SO much easier to get covered! Not only that, but if your targeted audience doesn’t visit your company’s website on a regular basis, then social media is a great resource to open the lines of communication with them organically.   I mean, you can always update your website, but sharing news through social media outlets helps spread the word AND drives traffic back to your site. And because today’s consumer is prone to conducting online research well in advance of initiating actual contact with a company, it is increasingly important for today’s companies to provide enough content to satisfy this need and pique the consumer’s interest.

Feeling more motivated? Good! But there is one very important rule of thumb that most firms forget when they set their sights on launching a social media campaign…the “Rule of Thirds.” I’ve broken it down for you below:  

  • One-third of your social content should promote your firm, convert readers, and generate profit.
  • One-third of your social content should surface and share ideas and stories from thought leaders in your industry or like-minded businesses.
  • One-third of your social content should be based on personal interactions and build your brand.

For the most part, sharing your own branded content is the third that comes most naturally; it’s the other two thirds that are the most challenging. But even so, there are a few simple steps that companies can follow in order to achieve success and eliminate most lingering fears:  

  • Strategy: Be sure to get consensus and buy-in from the leadership/executive team on what they want to get out of social media. What is the message that they want to broadcast and what are their metrics for success?
  • Plan: Create a roadmap for how the company is going to meet its social media goals. Get into details of where, when, how often, etc. Define which social media platforms your company will be utilizing and be sure that your company understands how to communicate on each.
  • Policy: Create a policy and share it with your team. This should protect your firm from cyber-attacks and reputation damage while balancing your employees’ right to privacy. (Always get a legal consultant that specializes in online policies.)
  • Schedule: Some firms find it helpful to set up monthly publication schedules, but at a bare minimum, users should set specific start and end times within any given posting day. Companies might also want to utilize monitoring and scheduling tools like HootSuite or Bufferapp to assist with time management.

After all is said and done, social media isn’t any scarier than its technological predecessors. In fact, when used effectively, social media can serve as a platform for sharing information, creating awareness and optimizing a company’s marketing plan. As audiences increasingly look to social media for information about firms, it grows increasingly vital that A/E/C firms adopt various platforms and integrate their usage closely into online marketing efforts. And at the rate these virtual mediums are evolving, you won’t want to be left behind!

 

About the Bloggers:  Kimberly Mickelson is a former lead blogger for SMPS Arizona, is a marketer and social media extraordinaire, lover of God, mother to a Shih Tzu (Bella), workaholic and reality television nut. She is looking forward to moving to Denver with Small Giants and getting to know more SMPS members and other industry peeps! She thought she was going to be the sole author of this post, but eventually learned that Amy Villasana-Moore, CPSM (current BeatBlogger for SMPS Arizona) shares her passion for social media and ended up adding WAY more than “two cents” during the editing process LOL!  

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Think before you shuffle...

These days, I see SOOOO many talented A/E/C marketers switching jobs. I call it “the shuffle.” We all “shuffle” for different reasons: some of us are chasing promotions or higher salaries; some are just looking for new roles and responsibilities; and others are just seeking out that mystical company that will value a marketer’s expertise in the “new normal.” But what so many of us have learned along the way is that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. And because of this, so many of us quickly end up seeking out greener pastures and painfully repeating the “shuffle,” many times without examining the real reasons behind why.

I’ve never considered myself much of a shuffler. In my twenty-nine years on this earth, I can count the number of jobs I’ve had on one hand. Just the thought of searching for a new position is exhausting! You’ve got the sprucing up of the resume, the phone calls and lunch meetings, the interview process, not to mention the meeting of new people. I need a nap just reading the list! That’s why every time I have made a move, it has been very strategic. I was sure to examine every aspect of the move, starting with one simple question: WHY?

If you are considering a move, be sure to ask yourself whether or not you are leaving your current positions for theright reasons (and I say “right” because everyone’s will be different). For instance:

  • WHY are you considering a new position? – Are you burned out from a heavy workload? Have you hit the glass ceiling in your organization? Are there clashing personalities in your office?   The story behind my most recent move was the humble realization that I had hit the glass ceiling. What I am is quirky, creative and committed to pushing the envelope when it comes to design, strategy and execution. I had wanted to expand my role and take on new responsibilities. Unfortunately, the firm that I had been with was not able to accommodate the ambitious monster that I was becoming.
  • Are these things fixable? – If you’re burned out, might you ask for additional resources or outsource a few projects? If you’re seeking a promotion or more responsibilities, have you made it known to your manager(s) and have you demonstrated your abilities in that area? If there are not opportunities at your local office, is relocating an option? If there are clashing personalities, have you attempted to work things out with your in-office nemesis via an epic Hunger Games inspired battle in the parking lot?  

Think about it! Before you shuffle, take the time to evaluate what you really want for your position and what you reallywant from an employer. Because there’s no point in shuffling from place to place when you have absolutely no idea what it is that you are after. With a few real-world experiences under my belt, I now like to make a list of my top five “must haves.” This allows me to examine what’s most important. For example, before my last move, I asked myself what my perfect position would look like in a perfect world, and as a result I ended up writing down the following:

  • Professional Role – My goal has always been that I want to be a Marketing Manager by the time I’m 30; Marketing Director by the time I’m 35. It is just that simple. And because I have a clear vision of my ideal role and when I want those goals to become reality, I have always known that I am not willing to make a lateral move or settle for anything less than what will get me closer to my defined benchmarks.
  • Growth Opportunities – Growth is also extremely important to me, both personally and professionally. A firm that supports my thirst for knowledge, allows me to obtain my CPSM certification and participate in industry organizations, and is vested in me becoming a leader/mentor is the type of company that I want to be a part of.
  • Flexibility – As a single mom, I am constantly planning in advance for work. Working late for me doesn’t necessarily mean that I stay late at the office; sometimes it means that I fire up my laptop immediately after my daughter goes to sleep and work well into the wee hours of the night at my house. And if I actually need to be in the office? I have an amazing support system filled people that love my daughter and are able to watch her when I cannot. An organization that accommodates for this type of work flexibility is non-negotiable.  
  • Culture, Values and People – I only want to work for companies with an employee-centric culture who are willing to acknowledge jobs well done, and a leadership team who recognizes that everyone on the team plays an equally important role in contributing to the success of their firm. An organization that supports a healthy work/life balance is also essential.
  • Salary and Benefits – Like Cuba Gooding Jr. said in Jerry Maguire, “Show me the Money!!!” I will be crunching the numbers, factoring in insurance, ESOP, 401k, gas and travel expenses, etc. And like Marlin Brando in The Godfather, the company had better “make me an offer I can’t refuse.” (No, not a horse’s head…a serious offer!)  

From then on out, when I was approached by potential employers or when I found out about an opportunity to work for another company, I would refer to my top five “must-haves.” If the employer or the opportunity didn’t meet my list of criteria, then I didn’t even consider applying.  

So let’s say that you’ve done the same: you’re equipped with your wish list of “must-haves”, you’ve made the decision to get your “shuffle” on, polished up your resume, and are now headed to the interview. Here’s a little food for thought:

  • The Job - Even if it’s a great organization, you will be unhappy if you dislike the day-to-day.
    • What will your role be?
    • Who will you work with? Who will you report to?
    • Where is the job located? What will be the length of your commute?
    • What will the hours be? Will there be a lot of overtime?
    • Does the work match your interests and make good use of your skills?
    • Is there constant turn-over? If so, then turn-around and run in the opposite direction! Trust me; I speak from experience on this one.
  • The Organization - Background information on an organization can help you decide whether it’s a good fit or whether you should pass.
    • Does the organization have a good reputation in the industry with clients and employees? This is huge, so ask around! If word on the street describes the owner as an evil micro-manager who throws daggers when they don’t get their way, then chances are that you aren’t going to be the one to stop him.  
    • Do you prefer working for a large organization or a small one?
    • Is the organization relatively new or one that is well established?
  • Opportunities – A good job allows you to learn new skills and grow professionally.
    • Does the company allow you to participate in educational/training/networking opportunities via industry organizations (especially SMPS)? And will they compensate you for memberships, events, time on committees, etc.?
    • Do they have a tuition reimbursement program for continuing education?
    • Do they encourage you to learn about other aspects of the business?
  • Salary and Benefits – “Show me the Money!”
    • Make sure you fully understand the benefits package. That includes a discussion on the ins and outs of their health insurance program, tuition reimbursement, professional development courses, vacation time, personal/sick days, performance reviews and raises, bonus plans, stock options, 401K options and vesting schedule, etc.
    • Afterward, consider whether or not the combined salary and benefits package of the potential position is comparable to your current package. If not, are you actually willing to take the cut?
  • Culture – All companies can “talk the talk” when it comes to their culture and values. And most of them think that they are “walking the walk.” But it’s up to you to read between the lines.
    • What is the organization’s philosophy?
    • How does leadership show appreciation for their employees?
    • Where do they stand on work/life balance?
    • For all the questions above, ask them to provide a few concrete examples. Better yet, have them put you in touch with someone who can directly comment on how their stated values actually align with their day-to-day practices. Because we all know that phrases like a “healthy work/life balance” can sometimes be nothing more than hot air used by companies and recruiters to lure in much needed new recruits.

The ugly truth is that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Many of us leave our positions thinking that the next job will somehow be far superior to the last. We shuffle, often times blinded by dollar signs, without evaluating what WE TRULY WANT. So before you take another turn, take some time to find out WHY you want to leave your current position and WHAT your ideal position/company would look like. Do your homework; ask questions. Once you have a clear and concise idea of what you’re truly looking for, it will be that much easier to spot an opportunity that best suits you.

 

About the Blogger:  After seven years of blood, sweat and tears, the stars have aligned and Kristan Partel is now a Marketing Manager for Sunland Asphalt. She manages strategic marketing initiatives for regional locations in Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tempe, Tucson, as well as National Accounts… and loves every minute of it. In her spare time, she can be found pirouetting around with her soon-to-be seven year old daughter, spending time with her friends and family, and neglecting yard work.

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The Power of Pavlov

Dogs…I absolutely love my two dogs. When someone comments that I have dog hair on my clothes, I tell them that it’s an accessory to my outfit. I once had a friend come over to my house, sit on the couch, and immediately complain that she was covered in dog hair. My response? “Yeah, you’re in Mitch’s seat.” Of course, every dog has a very specific combination of characteristics that makes him/her a unique companion; overall demeanor, breed-specific traits, mannerisms….hair. But as varied as all dogs are from one another, the one consistency between them all (other than that they are all dogs) is that they DROOL!

My little Chi drools when he is exploring the backyard; my Shepard drools in the car on his way to doggie day camp. Yes, my dog goes to day camp…go ahead and judge me. But how exactly do dogs relate to this industry? Technically, they don’t…but since I love dogs and like to talk about them whenever I get the chance, I figured I could work in a good dog analogy to make my A/E/C point. So get comfortable and break out your psychology books! It’s time for a lesson…

The Psychology of Signals

It all started in the 1800’s with a guy named Ivan Pavlov, a loyal dog enthusiast just like me. Both a scientist and physiologist, Pavlov was amazed by his observation that dogs would instantly drool when food was about to be served to them. He was so fascinated in fact, that he conducted a study on drool. Now that’s a good dog owner! The study was simple; Pavlov connected test tubes to a dog’s mouth just below the salivary gland (no dogs were harmed in this study…I googled it). After a series of repetitions, the food response was paired with a signal (often attributed to a bell). He would ring the bell, present a plate of food and then wait for the dog to start drooling. After a short period of time, Pavlov would ring the bell and the dog would automatically begin to drool regardless of whether food was being served or not. Salivating had become an involuntary response to hearing the signal.  Colloquially known as “Pavlov’s Law” (or “conditional reflex” in scientific circles), this was Pavlov’s most famous work.

Involuntary Wagging

“Your company was chosen for the project!” Ahhh…these words are music to a marketer’s ears. When you hear these words, does your heart begin to pound? Are you overwhelmed by a sense of pride? Does a permanent grin become irrevocably plastered across your face?   Do you start involuntarily wagging your tail? It’s a high, right? And the high that marketers get from a win is the very reason that we work long hours, countless weekends, and sacrifice fun for the satisfaction of winning. If you said no, then you can stop reading right now. But if you said yes, then you may have a lot more in common with Pavlov’s dogs than you think!

Now, before you get bent out of shape for being compared to a dog, please hear me out. Just as the bell was the signal for Pavlov’s dogs to start drooling with the anticipation of food, “you won” is the signal for marketers to start bustin’ their tails (pun intended). As marketers, we thrive on the anticipation of a win. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to get out of bed every morning. Dog hears bell, he thinks food; marketer hears “go,” we think WIN! Even if there isn’t food at the end of the bell or a win at the end of the RFQ process, we will work tirelessly on a proposal or interview/ presentation just for the thrill of it.  

“Click - chicken liver - good boy!”

So how might a marketer apply Pavlov’s Law in A/E/C? In essence, you can start training your technical staff using “conditional reflex” techniques…just like you would with your dog! Seriously, we could learn a thing or two from Pavlov. Let’s say that you are prepping your team for a project interview, but you have a project manager on the team who holds a deep disdain for interviewing, absolutely refuses to prepare, and gets overly discouraged when he can’t “find” his words. What do you do as the quintessential marketer? Get out your clicker and start giving treats!Really…

I taught my dog everything he knows with a clicker, chicken livers and a high-pitched “good boy.” The same can go for your project manager and project team members (to a certain extent). Because both dogs AND humans can be trained to react to signals and positive reinforcement, here are a few tips on training your project manager to tread the scary waters of interview prep.

  • Click (= Cues): Start by giving your team members non-verbal cues when they do or say something fabulousduring interview prep. It doesn’t have to be anything too crazy; you don’t want to distract them. Giving a simple thumbs-up or a head shake can accomplish quite a bit in terms of morale and encouragement. Much like the feeling that you get when you find out “you’ve won,” so too will your project manager feel with the reinforcement of your positive visual cues. This is your “clicker.”
  • Chicken Liver (= Rewards): Let’s be honest; it’s hard for anyone to listen to the same presentation over and over again. As the team lead, you need to recognize when your team is just And if you know what to look for, you’ll find that you team will actually give you signals. I learned that my Shepard’s limit was when he started to whine after sit number 735 during a 60-minute class. He was bored and from what I could tell, he was pretty confident that he had mastered sitting on his butt. The same principal goes for your team! So never schedule an entire afternoon of interview preparation. I recommend two hours TOPS with at least two run-throughs. After that, your team should get “homework” on items they need to focus on. Give the homework with the promise that if they practice on their own, then they can get out of “class” early the next day. When you reconvene, 99% of the time they will nail it! Why? Because you’ve recognized their limits and you know what they need to work on...and THEY know that if they do their homework, that they will be rewarded with only an hour of prep the next day. Make them work for that “chicken liver!”
  • “Good Boy” (= Positive Energy): There was a time not too long ago when I was running really late for a dog training class. I just got lost. But by the time we made it to class, I was totally on edge and Mitch refused to work for me. My trainer kicked us out of class and told me that Mitch wasn’t going to learn anything that day. Essentially, he was feeding off my negative energy. What a “pet mom” fail!

The same thing can happen with your team; they will feed off of your energy, whether good or bad. So if you are distracted (like if you are working on your computer or checking your phone as they run through their presentation), then they won’t have any good energy to keep going. Don’t be surprised when your team stares blankly back at you towards the end of presentation training when you try to give them feedback. They won’t have retained a dang thing! So put your phone down, make some eye contact, and sit up in your chair. BAM!!! Your good energy will provide instant energy for all. “Click - chicken liver - good boy!”

Even if you don’t drool on yourself when you win (hey, if you do then I won’t tell) and your project manager doesn’t like being trained like one of Pavlov’s pooches, I’m pretty sure that you can see the correlation between signals and positive reinforcement, regardless of whether you’re a human or one of our furry friends. Now, if only there was a way to train our bosses to give us a raise every time s/he heard “you won.” I’ll tap into my inner Pavlov and let you know how that works out. Now go home and appreciate your dog’s drool!

 

About the Blogger:  When not serving as President of SMPS Arizona or developing a strategy to win the next project for Concord, Grenee Celuch, CPSM can usually be found having her patience and her stubbornness put to the test by her German Shepherd. After countless years and hours of instruction, she finally realized 5% of dog training is for the dog and 95% is for the human. She credits her two dogs with teaching her how to jump for joy when excited, that snuggling and wet kisses can cancel out bad days, and that we should all learn to stop and smell the roses from time to time.

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Commoditization: It's Simple Supply & Demand

Commodity. It’s a simple yet elusive word. We all have an image in our mind of what a commodity is, but we rarely stop to think about what the word really means. Before you continue reading this post, I want you to stop and think of something that you consider a commodity. What is it that comes to the forefront of you mind? An orange? A household object of some type?  Or maybe you think of a commodity as something more complex…something that might come off an assembly line…

The first thing that comes to MY mind is the 1908 Ford Model T. I instantly envision hundreds of them coming off an endless assembly line; one after another after another. Each one is exactly like the last. They all have the same features and options; they all do the same thing. And they all cost exactly the same amount, which at the time happened to be substantially LESS than the vehicles that came before them. More than anything, though, I think it’s the image of uniformity that makes me associate the ‘T’ with a commodity.

But here’s the thing…that image is entirely wrong. In fact, the Model T wasn’t a commodity at all. It was the world’s FIRST mass-produced automobile. And as such, it was tangibly different than every other vehicle that came before it. It used completely interchangeable parts. It came in one color with one set of features and options. And it sold at a price point that made a personal automobile accessible to the middle class for the very first time in history. 

So, did the Model T commoditize a small luxury automobile industry? Or was it actually a new and far superior product, unlike anything that came before it that created an entirely new market?

As it turns out, each and every one of the Model T’s that rolled off the assembly line was a vastly unique and differentiated product relative to every other available transportation option in the market at the turn of the twentieth century. The Model T single-handedly eliminated hundreds of small automakers and virtually wiped out the American street car not because it was a commodity, but because it was simply BETTER.

When we think about commoditization of the design industry, we tend to approach it solely as a marketing or business development problem. We look for answers in the things we do every day. We tell ourselves that there is something wrong with our proposals; the graphics, the content, or our personnel bios. Or we assume there is something wrong with our website, our messaging, or that we need better storytelling. Sometimes we’ll even point to our business development decisions (like maybe we just need a better go/no go process). 

While all these things may be true, usually the issue runs much deeper than that.  When we start with the “day-to-day” things, we’re often trying to solve a structural problem with a cosmetic solution. To say it more clearly, the foundation’s cracking and we’re busy painting it. In order to deal with the issue of our commoditization, we have to be willing to acknowledge a few readily accessible facts:

Architects (and to a lesser extent, Engineers) are increasingly LESS rare.

If our Model T example shows us anything, it’s that something isn’t a commodity simply because it looks the same. Something is a commodity when there is a ready and ample supply of substitutes for it. Anything that is increasingly available tends to be less valued.

If an architect is an architect is an architect (not really true, but clients often behave this way), then it is important to note that there are more Architects now (relative to the general population) than in the entire history of the profession. “In fact, in 2010 there were as many architects in the USA as there were ushers, lobby attendants or drywall installers.” (Source: Architectural Blatherations, The Economics and Demography of American Architects)

While upcoming population shifts (for instance, retiring baby boomers) may affect this fact slightly, chances are good that these macro economics won't change the actual issue substantially. Whether we like it or not, being an architect or an engineer will continue to be increasingly less rare and less special than it once was. It's much easier for a client to find a substitute for your services than it used to be...that is, unless we change the nature of the service in some way.

The Great Recession was abnormally deep.

The construction activity that occurred prior to the recession was artificially high. As a result, it broke the historic and naturally cyclical pattern of the industry, which inevitably created a much deeper and more pronounced trough. At its bottom, total U.S. construction spending was probably at least 40% off of its pre-recession peak. (Source:  Rusty Sherwood, Senior Consultant at FMI Center for Strategic Leadership in 2014 during the 2014 ENR Webinar,Perfecting the Pivot)

What this tells us is that the challenge of differentiation goes much deeper than marketing. It drives down to the very heart of the firm. It cuts into everything we do; from the markets we choose to serve, to the services we provide, the nature by which we provide them, how we choose to present ourselves to the market, and the very approach we take to attracting clients and projects.

If we as an industry are really going to differentiate ourselves in 2015 and beyond, we have to build something that is tangibly UNIQUE from every other option currently in the market. In essence, we have to invent our very own Model T. Impossible, you say? Not really. There is a model (pardon the pun) called the “4P’s” that virtually any A/E firm can use to accomplish this goal. And I’ll be presenting and talking about it (utilizing examples of over 30 well differentiated firms) at the upcoming SMPS Southwest Regional Conference. To learn more, check out the Session Overview. Or better yet, attend in person and we can chat face to face!

About the Blogger:  Jason Mlicki is a Principal at Rattleback, a marketing agency for professional services firms. He has been advising architecture and engineering firms for over 15 years and has been building interesting LEGO structures for almost 40. He is an NPR “Car Talk” junkie, a serious fan of BBQ and an aspiring author of children’s books.

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It's a Journey... Not a Destination.

I absolutely love ALL things marketing, and I love marketing our industry (A/E/C) just as much. Believe it or not, I’m even one of those crazy marketers who loves proposals; I always have and I honestly believe a part of me always will. In fact, the vast majority of my career has been spent doing proposals. But as it turns out, it was my deep passion for proposals that had branded me a Marketing Coordinator for so many years, effectively stalling out my career progression. It wasn’t until about two years ago that I started doing some serious soul searching and came to the decision that my career was in need of a long overdue kick-start! The result? My journey from Marketing Coordinator to Marketing Director began to unfold…

Like so many of us, I fell into professional services marketing by accident, but I was instantly hooked.  I have always worked best with deadlines, so I was extremely comfortable working in a proposal environment. I liked the challenges of developing proposal strategies, answering questions that helped my firm stand out, and adding graphics to make the proposal “look pretty.” There was just something about getting the RFP/Q and knowing exactly what I needed to do and exactly when I needed to do it by. Not only did I like proposals, I knew I was good at them. Actually, I knew I was GREAT at proposals and in that respect, I let my ego get the best of me. Instead of taking risks and gaining additional experience, I stayed in my comfort zone. Sure, I knew that many of my peers were sharpening the tools in their marketing toolboxes…nevertheless I had become fixated on proposals.

But did I really only want to do proposals for the rest of my life? Or did I want to do other things, too? There were a number of other industry marketing professionals who had less experience than I did, that were advancing faster than I was, and that were becoming Marketing Managers and Marketing Directors. Wait just one second! WTF? What did I have to show for working my as$ off on proposals? At the time: fifteen years of experience, a CPSM certification, and a Marketing Coordinator title. Yeah, that just wasn’t going to cut it anymore. What can I say? The competitive nature in me started kicking in.

I knew I wasn’t happy where I was in my career – in the companies that I had worked for, in the roles that I had held, in the lack of growth opportunities and challenges available, etc. My involvement in SMPS – both at the local and national level – had opened some doors and had started me down a path of developing other marketing skills. And I had made jumps before (just for the sake of jumping), but look where that had gotten me. In order for me to make a move that would land me in an upwardly mobile position, I would have to answer the question of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I needed to decide what was really important to me and what my “dream job” really looked like.

I knew that architecture wasn’t for me; that I had to get back to commercial construction. That’s where my passion was; that’s what still got me excited. That’s where I had felt most at home with co-workers and where I had done my best marketing work. And I knew that I wanted to be more than a Marketing Coordinator; that I wanted a Marketing Manager or Director’s position. Don’t get me wrong…there’s NOTHING wrong being a Marketing Coordinator, but I was ready to BE and DO more; I had put in my time. And for whatever reason, titles were and still are important to me…I knew that I would be taken more seriously amongst my peers with a title that better signified my status as I was advancing in both my professional and SMPS career paths.

After several months of introspection and countless hours of discussions with industry mentors, friends and family, I made a life-changing decision. Not only did I WANT to do more than just proposals, but I knew that I was capable and talented enough to make stronger marketing contributions to any company that I was going to work for. So for those of you who knew me and where I was in my journey at that time, you might have then been wondering WHY, after making this decision, my next move was to a Senior Marketing Coordinator position. To put it simply, journeys with purpose often include several deviations before one can reach their intended destination.

First and foremost, the position as Senior MC got me back into commercial construction. It also got my foot in the door at a firm that I had ranked as one of my top three firms to work for. It was a great opportunity because although the position was technically for “Senior Marketing Coordinator” in title, the responsibilities read like a Marketing Manager. Not only would I get to do things to help build my resume and prepare me for an advancing title (and position), but I would also get to work with a Marketing Director who recognized my talent and potential. He was going to put me on tasks that directly supported him and that were intended to position me as a future manager in the company. Things were getting good.

Little did I know that the bottom was about to fall out from under me, though…and only seven months in, no less. I really loved the company, loved the new challenges at work, and loved the support of the team. I honestly saw a long and prosperous marketing career ahead of me AT THAT FIRM. Then one day last May I walked into the office first thing in the morning (as usual) and was walking out the door before lunch…WITHOUT A JOB. The economy was still pretty lackluster and I was part of a sizeable layoff. Talk about being blindsided! It appeared as though MY journey was going to suffer more than a deviation; it looked as though my train might be derailed!

So here is where the rubber was really going to meet the road. I had three choices: 1) I could leave the industry altogether, but I had left once before and hated it, 2) I could undo all of my hard work over the past year and go back to being a Marketing Coordinator, OR 3) I could leverage all of that work and stay TRUE to myself and the decision that I had made. I knew that I had to follow my heart, and after a critical discussion with one of my industry mentors, I recommitted to my original plan. I would only apply for positions as Marketing Manager and above. Now was the time for me to shine as a top-notch marketing professional! And that’s exactly what I did…

There were some great companies looking for Marketing Coordinators, but I wasn’t’ going to sell myself short anymore. I met with a few other companies, but knew right away that the positions offered were NOT the right positions for me. But when I found out about a position at Corbins Electric, that’s when things got interesting. After reading their posted job description, it was apparent that they were looking for more of an entry-level person. For some strange reason, though, I went ahead and sent in my resume; I was sure to explain that I was a senior marketing professional and was interested IF they were willing to negotiate on the position. A bold move, I know, but I figured I had nothing to lose.

I walked out of my first interview with Corbins thinking that they were dead-set on looking for someone more junior; I figured that was the end of that. But three weeks later, they reached out again…and after a couple extra interviews, what was originally advertised as a Marketing Specialist position transformed into that of a Marketing Director! As it turns out, they were at a point in their growth strategy where they saw the advantages of bringing in someone more senior. And I was able to leverage my love for construction, my overall marketing experience, my history working with general contractors, and my network both locally and nationally. But perhaps more importantly, I was able to leverage this experience with honesty on my current skill sets. I had not been in a management position previously, but I had the skills, drive and desire to grow.

So there you have it! I have finally arrived at what I thought was my intended destination; a place where I can develop my skills for and over the “long-haul”; a place where I enjoy high-level responsibilities and a supportive environment; a place where growth and upward mobility are an actual part of my career. So is my journey complete? NOOOO!!! While it’s true that I’ve accomplished a lot over the last few years and am now in a great position, I’m not done yet. I don’t want to stop here. I want to continue to grow and become an even better marketing professional. I want to make my role of Marketing Director at Corbins Electric more than either they or I would have dared to dream of just six months ago. That’s why I have come to call this whole process a “journey.” And although mine has been a long and arduous one, if there’s one thing that I’ve learned from my journey thus far, it’s this: if you’re not moving FORWARD, you’re moving BACKWARD. Here’s to another 17 years of marketing A/E/C professional services!

 

About the Blogger:  Cricket Robertson, CPSM not only loves all things marketing, but also loves all things purple. She started her own house-and pet-sitting business a couple of years ago, appropriately named The Purple Cricket. When not working or “SMPSing,” you can usually find her at a concert where she likes to get her “rebellious rocker” on.

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On Being a Consultant

Here’s a little bit about me. I am blunt, bossy and often brutally honest. I offer endless unsolicited advice and generally think that I am right.  Not that I don’t value people and relationships, because I absolutely DO.  But I tend to focus more on winning and being successful in ALL situations.  And even though I typically operate under a general plan, I have a tendency to jump off cliffs with glee.  What does any of this have to do with being a consultant?  As it turns out, these are the attributes that make my personality type a perfect fit for the role.  Let’s check out the definition…

Consultant:  A consultant (from Latin: consultare "to discuss") is a professional who provides professional or expert advice in a particular area such as security (electronic or physical), management, accountancy, law, human resources, marketing (and public relations), finance, engineering, science or any of many other specialized fields.

The comment I get most often when I tell people that I am a consultant is “Oh, it must be great to work for yourself from home and in your pajamas.” And in response I say “Yes, it is great!  Especially when I am working at 5am and 8pm AND on the weekends.” Essentially, I’m ALWAYS working.  I believe Nicole Posten-Thompson dispelled a great many of the myths regarding being “the Boss” in her post Un-Sugared Truth:  The C-“Sweet,” so today I am going to spotlight a few things about the business of being a Professional Services Marketing Consultant.

 

The Awesome Column:

  • Falling on swords no more. When I was marketing for AEC firms, I was often seen as a necessary evil whose opinion never held as much merit as the opinions of the technical staff. And no matter what my credentials, my boss was always right. I could never understand why the firms that I worked for didn’t see that my education and marketing experience had positioned me to make more sound marketing decisions, thus leading to more wins. I clearly remember having arguments with technical staff on how my research proved that marketing “Tactic A” would outsell marketing “Tactic Z,” or the metrics substantiating why a proposal should be a “no-go”, and the reasons why you NEVER EVER use two spaces after a period (go ahead and google it). I felt like I was falling on the marketing sword daily and it was exhausting, humiliating, and heartbreaking.  Conversely, when firms call on a consultant for marketing services, they have already recognized that there is a need, that they require assistance with that need, and that the need is something best left to a professional. As a consultant, the initial battle of credibility has already been won.
  • Getting paid for my opinion. After several years working “in-house,” I learned to dial the bossiness and bluntness back…WAY BACK. Why? Because a bossy marketer isn’t always appreciated. I learned to defer to those “above me” because they were technical or because they were the boss (see Falling on Swords); basically, I drank their Kool-Aid. So when I first started consulting, I took the same position…giving my opinion and then letting folks do what they wanted. Then one day, a client called to my attention that they were paying me for my professional opinion and that I had better step up to the plate and start directing the conversation. What an eye opener!  The change in my approach actually sharpened their marketing tactics and they started winning. Bossy and blunt is back…HALLELUJAH!
  • Choosing the people I work with. I’m not going to lie; working with the people that I WANT to work with makes all the difference. Let’s face it; we can do this job for any company.  It is the people that we work for and with that can make or break us.  As a small business owner and consultant, I get to choose both my clients and my staff. This doesn’t mean that I love every client that I work with, but it does give me the mental freedom to know that working with them was my choice (if I am struggling). And my team? I could write a whole separate blog post on how amazing my team is.
  • Making a difference for others. The thing I love the most about consulting is that I truly get to help people. Whether it is assisting a firm in developing their strategic direction, working on a winning project pursuit, or coaching an individual on their presentation skills, I feel like what I do now matters. There is a recognizable impact when the day is done. But it isn’t just about the work that I do; it is also about the people that I do the work with. Being able to help three other marketing professionals grow their careers in an environment fit for a marketer is immensely satisfying.
  • Staying on top of my game. Consultants compete fiercely for business, which means that my team and I have to stay on top of our game. There is no down time. We are constantly reading articles, researching methods, gazing at artwork and skimming through ads, trying to figuring out how we can be better, smarter…different. I have a love of learning, and the business need to stay competitive feeds my curious nature. Daily.
  • Jumping off of a cliff. Remember jumping off the high dive as a kid? Scary, right? But when you landed in the water, how awesome was that? This sums up the way I felt and sometimes still feel about being a consultant. On some days I experience the terrifying freefall, and on others I experience the absolute fun and satisfaction of landing in the water.  It is the latter and not the former that makes it all totally worth it.

 

The Not-So-Awesome Column:

  • Learning the hard way. Yes, I am the kid that had to touch the hot stove TWICE to learn my lesson. I HAVE to learn things my own way and in my own time. That seems to be the only way that things “stick” for me. That’s no big deal when the stakes are relatively small, but this can be a slightly painful process when the stakes are your business and reputation (two biggies).
  • Getting down to business. Not only do I have to be a “creative” on my team, but now I also have to find time to actually run a business. And the business side of any business includes contracts, invoicing, 1099’s and IT problems. Hey, I’m an English major turned marketer turned consultant; not a professional bookkeeper, not an IT person, and certainly not an entire HR Department. Being all things for all parts of my business is really TOUGH!  I’m having to educate myself as I go.
  • Doing no harm. I am not always right. There, I said it. Marketing is a series of best guesses based on research. Sometimes our guesses are wrong. The possibility of advising a client to invest in what turns out to be the wrong campaign, or the possibility of getting a client disqualified on a proposal (probably a marketer’s worst nightmare), is very real. Luckily, my aversion to being wrong makes me do DOUBLE the homework and employ quality control processes to prevent this. But it still manages to occupy my mind.
  • Fearing the worst. There are a great many of us in this profession that, because of the nature of the job, suffer from Imposter Syndrome. I am no exception. I worry that there won’t be a next client, that I am being a horrible teammate or leader, that I won’t make payroll, and on and on and on. But when you are a consultant, fear can shut you down! Projects can fall behind because you are afraid to present your ideas, or you might skip a business development meeting because you think the client won’t like you or will think that you don’t really know what you are doing.  Or the worst, you can’t write a proposal/contact because you fear that they won’t think you are worth it.

 

So there you have it; my brutally honest, blunt opinion on being a consultant. But since I can’t help myself, I figured I would leave you with some unsolicited advice. 

  • Surround yourself with remarkable people. People that are smarter than you, that have different skill sets, that make you better, that will tell you the truth, and most importantly, people that won’t tell anyone else when you confide in him or her that you are scared. 
  • Trust in yourself, your abilities, your education, and your experience. Have confidence in the fact that you are a Professional Services Marketer; know that to be one of us demands a very specialized set of skills…skills that are extremely valuable. Don’t be afraid to one day take a chance and jump off that proverbial cliff! 
  • And lastly, HAVE FUN. Life is short and you work hard; what is the point of any of it if you are not having a good time as well? These jobs can feel like real killers some days, so take time to fill your soul with things that bring you joy.

 

About the Blogger:  Deirdre “Sargent Strategy” Gilmore, CPSM is the owner and president of TankGirl Marketing. She specializes in creating winning strategies and marching her troops through the battlefield. In her spare time she bosses around her pets, has traded in jumping of cliffs for skiing down mountains, and everyday competes against herself to be better than the person she was the day before.

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The Bathroom Diaries

Most everyone I know outside AEC thinks that marketing for this industry is your standard eight-to-fiver; the good ol’ 40-then-your-done job; the hang-up-your-hat-at-the-end-of-the-day-before-you-go-home-and-forget-about-it job.  Those who actually do AEC marketing know that it’s more of a run-around-like-a-chicken-with-its-head-cut-off type of a job, or a wrap-it-up-on-Friday-afternoon-only-to-worry-about-it-all-weekend sort of a gig.  Either way, any AEC marketer can tell you that 40 hours is a pipe dream.  Most of us will probably log no less than 50 hours average on any given week, and many of us log a great deal more than that.  But that really only takes into account the hours spent in the office or at work related functions and other industry events.  It doesn’t take into account the other 10-15 hours spent in the bathroom.  That’s right; you heard me… ‘the John,’ ‘the Loo,’ ‘the Crapper,’ ‘the Bog,’ ‘the Head,’ ‘the Dunny,’ ‘El Baño.’  We aren’t the only industry guilty of this, and if you aren’t quite ready to admit it out loud, don’t worry.  I’m not asking you to.  But there’s a reason why skits like SNL’s Bathroom Businessman make us laugh in a BIG way.

Now I can tell that some of you are already on the brink of dismissing me outright because this post isn’t SERIOUS enough.  But this isn’t just a post about bathroom humor.  Believe me; I’m talking about serious sh*t here…yeah, pun intended.  Let’s examine the evidence. 

Public Restrooms and the Workaholic: 

Here’s a scenario for you.  You’re out with a few friends trying to “unplug from work” at your favorite restaurant.  It isn’t long before you realize that your decision to the break the seal earlier that evening is starting to catch up with you.  You discretely make your way to ‘the powder room.’  Once inside the tiny odiferous chamber, you carefully select the ideal stall in which to do your business, swing the stall door open and grimace slightly.  You reach for the awkward toilet seat cover and do your best to wrap the dreaded public seat in its entirety.  You assume the position. 

About a second later, someone else joins you in the restroom.  They end up selecting the stall adjacent to yours and it isn’t long before you realize that they are typing an extremely lengthy email.  Let’s face it; there is just no mistaking the tell-tale sound of a clicking smart phone screen.  Or worse yet, they are dictating a message using talk-to-text.  I distinctly remember this happening to me about a year ago.  Apparently, the other person thought they were alone.  To avoid our mutual embarrassment, I gave the courtesy clearing-of-the-throat followed by the unwrapping of an unused TP roll as a clear signal that she in fact DID have company.  She went quiet, which made me extremely uncomfortable.  And just as I starting thinking about breaking the silence with an Austin Power’s “Who does number two work for” reference, she started laughing.  So I did too.        

I’m always really amused by bathroom e-mailers, especially since the email (or dictation in some cases) is almost always work-related.  Honestly, who cares enough about their personal emails to respond from a public restroom anyway?  You know who you are. You know that shamefully, this has been you from time to time; you’ve been that person in the adjacent stall emailing co-workers from ‘the can.’  Typical.  There you are, trying to get away from work by kickin’ back a few with some friends at a local watering hole, but instead you end up letting work follow you right into ‘the bean-jacks.’  But hey!  In defense of the Bathroom Businessman in all of us, some of this crap just can’t wait. 

Networking Events & the Unexpected Bathroom Buddy:

Here’s another scenario for you.  You’re at an industry event, slowly slinking through the crowds looking desperately to saddle up to someone cool so that you aren’t the only loser in the room without someone to talk to.  And then, out of the corner of your eye, you spot that big-wig that you’ve been trying to get in touch with for months.  You start making your way that direction.  And although just a second ago you were struggling to find a networking buddy, now that you actually have a potential client targeted, you are suddenly thwarted at every turn.  You’re pulled aside by an industry cohort for a quick hello…then you run into an old colleague who REALLY wants to reminisce about the old days...and now your drink is empty, damn it, and you have to track down a server (heaven forbid you approach this big-wig without adequate armor).  By the time you reach your destination, the big-wig is LONG GONE.  Perfect.  Guess it’s time to visit ‘the biffy.’

And then it happens.  You fortuitously run into your big-wig in (you guessed it) 'the poop stoop.’  You decide that this is your moment to be bold and strike up a conversation.  And big-wig is surprisingly receptive to your introduction!  Maybe because it seems more like happenstance than intention, but it has been my experience that people are actually very amenable (although unwittingly so) to this type of introduction.  Before you know it, you’ve made a new bathroom buddy; your card is in their hand and you are well on your way to a lunch meeting next week.  Go figure.  “Yes, Mr. Vice President, that networking event was WELL worth it, thanks PURELY to my charming personality, wit and charisma and, of course, my talents as a BD professional.”  No need to mention my bladder’s contribution as wing man…

Master Baths & Creative Epiphanies:

Final scenario.  You’ve had a long work week already and it’s only Tuesday…Tuesday morning, to be exact…10:00 AM.  It isn’t even Tuesday afternoon yet and you are already wishing for Friday.  Is it really going to be one of those weeks AGAIN?!?!  Tasks are flying at you at unprecedented speeds, but somehow the day still seems to drag.  This is an exhausting combination to be sure, but with enough caffeine you somehow muddle your way through to 7:30 PM when you finally pull into your driveway.  So what now?  After a day when being busy did not equal productivity – a day when your best efforts at solving what seems like an unsolvable problem have yet to yield any meaningful results - what might you do to unwind?  For me, there’s really only one answer to this question.  The master bath.

There seems to be nothing better sometimes than treating myself to a nice long soak after a lousy day.  And the water has to be hot, really hot, almost to the point of scalding me; if it’s done right, the dew point should transform my bathroom into a sauna.  At first glance, it might appear as though I’m doing nothing, like I’m just relaxing chin-deep in a sea of suds and bubbles.  But just as I’m about to doze off, my cocktail on the verge of becoming one with the water, an epiphany!  I come up with the perfect solution to that pesky problem that had plagued me so relentlessly all day.  Apparently, my subconscious was hard at work while the rest of me was checking out.  And although this post’s first few paragraphs might have suggested otherwise, I’m not full of bull'.  There is real neuroscience behind this. 

Marketing people are creative people.  And according to The Science of Creativity, being creative is the result of several key changes in brain activity; a decrease in the frontal lobe (the part of your brain responsible for logic) coupled with an increase in the “medial pre-frontal cortex” (your improvisation and emotions center).  This combined with the dopamine release from something relaxing, like a hot bath, and the simple act of distracting yourself can kick-start your creative juices.  Makes sense.  Allegedly, Archimedes came up with the principles of density and buoyancy while sitting in his tub.  Interesting.  I’ve come up with a few gems myself whilst soaking in my master bath.  Take for instance, THIS BLOG POST.   Actually, I consider it to be some of my best bathroom work.  I knew I wasn’t the only one.  But it doesn’t have to be the tub.  My husband once told me that he gets some of his best ideas when brushing his teeth.  Low and behold, more time spent in ‘the chamber pot.’ 

So if you can’t seem to solve that one persistent problem, don’t lock yourself in the office; it might just be time you GAVE it ‘the office.’  Take a breather, brush your teeth, take a bath…or better yet, take a dump!  Hey, Freud said it, not me.  Who knows?  You might just have the mother moment of pure creative genius while unleashing the mother-load.   LOL!  But seriously…

The Bottom Line:

For those of you who thought about quitting this read early on, congratulations on making it to this point.  And for those of you who thought my initial estimate of 10-15 hours was a stretch, I’m not going to argue.  My calculation of actual time invested in ‘le toilette’ isn’t exactly scientific.  But either way, I think it’s safe to say that a lot more work actually takes place in ‘the commode’ than you might have originally thought.  Whether you’re ignoring the rules of etiquette in public restrooms all around town, rubbing elbows with big-wigs in the ‘biffy,’ or pulling epiphanies out of you’re as$ at the homestead, it’s easy to see that these little moments can quickly add up to multiple hours in your work week.   And I didn’t even delve into the time one might spend on ‘the throne’ thanks to the sheer stress of the profession that is AEC marketing and business development.  Check out Dumb and Dumber; enough said.  Last but certainly not least, for those of you who instantly understood my musings, you may have once dared to ask “are employee bathroom breaks subsidized?”  The answer, sadly, is no.  But if they WERE, and you added them all up, what might your bathroom billings be?

 

About the Blogger:  Amy Villasana-Moore, CPSM is SMPS Arizona's 2015 Blog Chair, is a marketer and business developer, art and music enthusiast, fan of all animals, darkroom-trained photographer, recovering “workaholic” and movie buff.  She can meet you at the intersection of “strange” and “brew” and if the need arises, can have an entire conversation with you using only movie quotes.

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The Ripple Effect: Where Do You Fit In?

Fifteen months.  That’s one year and three months. Four hundred and fifty days to be exact.  Yes… I am referring to the extent of my ‘newbie-ness’ to the AEC industry.  If you want me to be completely honest, it was only about a year ago that I was googling the term ‘AEC’ because I was told that it was the industry that I was now a part of.  What?!?!  I’m part of an industry now?  Totally rad.

As a first year Marketing Coordinator, I find that there is one concept in this industry that has continued to blow my mind over the last fifteen months.  Now, don’t get me wrong; every single day, I come home with a newfound bit of knowledge and respect for this industry.  But for me, the one truly jaw-dropping concept is what I like to call ‘The Ripple Effect.’  Before I go any further though, I would like to indulge in a quick deviation. 

Two days ago, I took a left at a stoplight on my way to work, just as I always do.  Usually, I take exactly six lefts on my transit from home to work.  But this morning was different.  One of the intersections that I typically take a left at (my second left, in case you were curious) was closed.  Therefore, I was forced to take an alternate route.  Now, I know this may seem a bit silly to most, but to me (a creature of habit), I was thrown for a bit of a loop.  Because of this construction, I was 17 minutes late to work! 

I habitually use those 17-ish minutes to layout and schedule my time (task by task) for the remainder of the day.  Don't judge…I just happen to enjoy lists and schedules…nothing wrong with being organized, right?  On this particular morning, my tardiness caused some challenges that expanded across my day incrementally, thus producing ‘The Ripple Effect.’

The following morning, having planned ahead for the traffic obstacle course - and after my 17 minutes of pre-work planning was completed and my caffeine requirements for proper brain function were consumed - I asked myself a question that I expected would have had a simple answer.  Why did something as minor as some roadwork affect my morning so drastically?  Uh-oh…not such a simple answer.

Thoughts of cause and effect began to flood my mind.  I mean, ultimately every decision or action we make has the potential to affect someone or something around us.  Think about that trip to Starbucks you made last week.  Your decision to grab a quick cup-of-joe could impact the people that were driving behind you in line, the employee that took your drink order, and the barista that handcrafted your beverage.  Likewise for the grocery shopping you did over the weekend.  How about the co-worker that you did a favor for or the boss that you gave a compliment to?  The possibilities are endless.

As I get back on track and reflect on my first year as a Marketing Coordinator (my first “big girl” job as I like to refer to it), I realize that ‘The Ripple Effect’ has an impact on more than I had originally recognized.  And it wasn’t until my first pre-submittal meeting that I even grasped that ‘The Ripple Effect’ was what I truly admired about the AEC industry.  That day, as I listened intently to the presentation and speakers at the pre-submittal, I came to a realization that would later come to epitomize this concept:  the proposal that I was about to embark on was only one small part of a larger project that we were all there to discuss.  The ripple potential was huge. 

Yes, I was at the pre-submittal to gather information so that my company could propose to the best of its ability.  However, the man sitting to my left (with the tie-dye pen) was there to learn more about the site so that he could understand the civil engineering needs that the construction would require.  The gentleman sitting three rows in front of him (wearing a vibrant blue tie) was there to find out about the electrical engineering requirements.  About three seats to the right of him was a woman (with a delightfully bold red laptop bag) who was inquiring on behalf of her architectural firm’s submittal.  All of whose questions and correlating responses would affect the content that I would later use in our proposal.

Just like my drive to work the previous morning, all of these aforementioned people would in some way affect the outcome of the pursuit and the project.  Mr. Tie-Dye would make decisions that would ultimately affect Mr. Blue Tie’s plan for construction, thereby making an impression on Ms. Red Laptop Bag’s design plan.  This would all in turn lay the groundwork for what the general contractor would send out to their sub-contractors to complete the actual construction of the building.   Try saying THAT out loud three times fast!

As I am only four hundred and fifty days into my career, I can’t help but feel like ‘The Ripple Effect’ helps me to answer the many queries that I have as a ‘newbie.’  What queries, you might ask?  Well, the “big one” mostly.  Where do I fit in?  Sitting in my chair at the pre-submittal meeting, listening to Tie-Dye and Blue Tie and Red Bags, I couldn’t help but wonder what MY impact would be on the pursuit and the project.  Obviously, all of their jobs had to be done in order for the development to be accomplished.  But did mine?  At what point on the ripple did I exist? 

My conclusion was simple.  Just like a ripple emanates outward in all directions, disrupting the surface tension to varying degrees along its journey, so too does my role as Marketing Coordinator affect the AEC industry to varying degrees.  I AM a part of the ripple in its entirety.  We all are.  It would be absurd to think that marketing has little or no impact on the AEC industry.  How else would the architects, engineers and contractors continue to get the word out about the projects that they are proud to be a part of, or propose on new projects to fill their backlog with?  To put it in terms of the trip you might have taken to Starbucks last week:  if the employee who took your order or the barista who handcrafted your beverage were not at attention, then you might not have had an enjoyable coffee experience, thereby hampering your tendency to stop at that particular Starbucks going forward and incrementally diminishing that store’s overall sales.  The importance and the impact of each individual taking part in ‘The Ripple Effect’ in undeniable.

As I review these observations, I feel certain that my admiration of ‘The Ripple Effect’ in this industry is not misplaced.  The ‘Ripple Effect’ doesn’t overlook anyone; it doesn’t disregard the roles or jobs of any group or any individuals caught within its path.  It is completely indiscriminate.  To all you readers who are new to this industry, relish in you ‘newbie-ness” and try to remember your significance.  For those of you that are seasoned marketing professionals, ‘The Ripple Effect’ may be a good reminder of the impact we are all capable of making.

About the Blogger:  Danielle Palbykin is a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed beginner, striving to be an experienced marketing professional, endeavoring in “Pinterest Wins” and recently determined in all things pertaining to snowboarding.  Some may say she could be caught chatting to the wall and getting it to talk back.

 

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