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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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UN-SUGARED TRUTH: THE C-“SWEET”?

Ah, the good life. Feet up on the desk watching my minions do all the hard work, drinking a scotch at my company paid lunch and I think I’ll take Friday off to golf. Yep, the C-suite is the sweet life, right?  WRONG!  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “I want to be boss” when someone is asked what their career goals are.  Of course they do. The boss-man makes the big bucks, has all the control AND has the little guys to do all the work.  So who wouldn’t want to be boss?  But is that really the truth about the C-suite?  Maybe it is at some of the big corporations, but not where I am, and I’m fairly certain that I am not alone in that truth.

Perhaps it’s time for some un-sugared truth about the c-“sweet.”  I have been told that I’m good for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. For the most part, I don’t sugar coat anything; I don’t run a candy store, so if you can’t handle the truth then I suggest you stop reading.

Here's my biggest truth about being the boss:  If the money isn’t there, I don’t get paid. This is the first year that I have been my own boss. I also have two partners and two employees. This year, I went without four paychecks.  On top of that fact, I took a 23% pay decrease (yes, I said “decrease”) just for the pleasure of being my own boss. But why would I do such a crazy thing? I like making my own rules and calling the shots in my own firm. I know that the harder I work the more income will be brought in and that eventually I’ll be able to make up that missed salary. Maybe not every year, but most years, and that is fine with me. It might be crazy, but I would do it all over again.  But only you can determine whether or not you can handle this truth for yourself. Is it worth taking a potential decrease in salary or fronting a large buy-in to become a partner in your firm? Will you lose sleep at night if you don’t have a guaranteed paycheck each pay period?  Think about it.

Here’s another truth that I truly did not fully understand until I become boss-lady:  I’m working harder now than I ever did as an employee.  Take for example the Friday after New Year’s Day. My employees took the day off; I didn’t. Why? Because we were busy and things needed to get done. They have ‘vacation time’ and I don’t; I will never again have vacation time.  When you are the boss, there is no such thing as going on vacation and not checking in to the office while you are away. You just cannot do it, especially if you are busy and own a small business like mine.  My dad owned his own company when I was a kid.  Every year he took us for a week-long vacation on a house boat in Tennessee, but every day he called in to his superintendent to get the crew started, get a general update on each project and get a list of missed calls. This is the reality of being the boss.  So before jumping on the C-"sweet" bandwagon, consider whether it is in your nature to lose that freedom.  Can you go on a vacation as the boss?  Yes.  But can you go on a vacation as the boss and “unplug” yourself from the happenings at the office?  No.

Lastly, here’s my third truth:  I wear so many ‘hats’ that I sometimes forget what isn’t in my job description, mainly because ALL OF IT IS MY JOB.  I worry about the following things:Do we have enough money for payroll?

  • How many of our clients have not paid their invoice?
  • Do we have enough Backlog to cover the next month’s bills? And are the bills paid?
  • Did I email that information to the client?
  • Did I design the elevations so that they can be rendered?
  • Do I need to draft anything today?
  • Are there any RFQs out that we need to respond to?
  • Are there any business development opportunities that I need to be attending?
  • Did I do my homework for my business class?


The list goes on and on, but you get the drift.  If you are a wife and mother like I am, pile the following on top of that:

  • Did the kids learn anything at school today?
  • Did the kids do their homework?
  • Do I need to provide a snack for school? And are the kid’s lunches made?
  • Does everyone have clean clothes for the week?
  • What are we having for dinner?
  • When was the last time the bathroom was cleaned?  
  • Are everyone’s shots current?

And so on and so forth.  Don’t feel bad for me; this is the reality that I choose; I want to be clear on that point.  I LOVE my career and I LOVE my family and I wouldn’t do this any other way. Well, except that I would love to have a maid; that would be glorious.   By the way, my birthday is in September, just as an FYI, ha-ha!  But seriously, as the boss every stress at the office is MY stress; all of it.  It does at times keep me awake at night.  And if you ever become boss, then it will keep you up nights too.

Now for the hard question:  Are YOU doing what you love and are you happy with where you are? Will making it to the C-suite really make everything better or just cause you more stress?  I definitely have more stress, but it’s a stress that I welcome because it affords me several freedoms that I did not have as an employee.  I sometimes joke that I have to ask my b*tchy boss if I can have a day off.  In reality, if I need a day out of the office, I can do that.  I just can’t do it all of the time and I certainly can’t take the day off if the proverbial sh*t is hitting the fan at the office. 

The truth is that being the boss isn’t always as glorious as it seems.  The next time someone asks you where you want your career to go, it is alright to say “You know what?  I love being in the position that I am in right now.  I want to work hard every day, do the best work possible and be the best team player possible for my company.”  You are the only person who is ultimately in charge of your career and you don’t have to be in the C-suite to be a success.  This is your path, your definition of success and your sleep at night.  Be sure that you choose the path that will make your life sweet.  I chose mine and it just happened to be in the C-suite.  And for the most part on most days my life is pretty darn sweet!

About the Blogger:  Nicole Posten-Thompson, RA, LEED-AP BD+C is a wife, mother to two beautiful little girls, avid crafter, Architect, small business owner and a generally sarcastic, un-sugared, straight-to-the point gal. She appreciates her dear friends, her hero of a mother and her equally zany father’s gentle reminders to slow down and smell the roses.  She also appreciates laughter; it is truly the best medicine in life.

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FRA-GEE-LAY…THAT MUST BE ITALIAN

Anyone who knows me well knows that if we sit down and chat long enough, something that we have talked about will lead the conversation back to marketing.  For me, all things lead back to marketing.  It isn’t that I’m super crazy about marketing (although I am); it’s just that it seems so unavoidable to me.  Even on my Christmas vacation two weeks ago – a time of year in which I strive to logoff from work for nine whole days – my marketing tunnel vision managed to take hold.  Interestingly, it was brought on by an unlikely trigger; one of my favorite holiday movies, A Christmas Story.

On Christmas Day, my hubby and I adhere to a strict morning tradition:  coffee first thing, of course, followed by eggs benedict for breakfast and then the unwrapping of presents while A Christmas Story plays on television (repeatedly on TNT).  Not that I watch A Christmas Story all day long; I tend to mix in SNL’s Christmas DVD followed by some classic Jingle Bell Rock.  And if I’m feeling especially nostalgic, a viewing of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (you know, the claymation movie narrated by Burl Ives that features the elf who wants to be a dentist).  So even if I’m not watching A Christmas Story all day long, I do manage to watch just enough of it to see my favorite scenes throughout the day (and usually entirely out of order).  

If you’re starting to wonder, as I detail my holiday tradition to you, what my point is and whether or not I’ve inadvertently deviated off course; if you’re pondering what any of this has to do with marketing right about now; then here it goes… stay with me…

As I sat on my couch watching the “lamp scene” for the second time that day, something occurred to me.  This scene, this movie, had somehow become a part of my family’s holiday ritual over the years.  I can’t tell you exactly when or how it happened, but I could see the influences all around our home, now so festively decorated for the season.  We had several A Christmas Story ornaments hanging on the tree (my personal favorite is the miniature of Ralphie dressed in a bunny suit) and a medium sized leg lamp on display near our pre-lit artificial Christmas tree (don’t worry, we had a pine scented candle burning nearby for authenticity).  It seemed to me that these trinkets alone might suggest categorical marketing success as far as general marketing and movie merchandizing might go.  

As I surveyed the movie’s sway on our home, I remembered a television special that I watched last season called The Untold Christmas Story; a documentary about the making of this Bob Clark film.  I was reminded that I was not alone in my love of this quirky flick after all.  The documentary itself was filled with lots of interesting tidbits - some about the actors, some about the evolution of the characters - but what I remember most was how it chronicled the film’s journey from “Hollywood sleeper” to “holiday mainstay.” I also remember being somewhat stupefied by the revelation that this film was once considered a “sleeper.”  I mean, I HAVE the leg lamp!  

For those of you similarly inclined, you might be surprised to find out that A Christmas Story enjoyed only modest viewings when it was first released around Thanksgiving of 1983; it was subsequently shelved by most theaters come Christmas that very same year.  Though it did end up grossing just over $19M through January of 1984, you movie buffs will recognize that this film was by no means considered a box office hit; actually, it was more of a marketing “fail.”  So how did it become part of Christmas “Americana,” especially after Hollywood, with all its glamour and considerable bankroll, had failed to successfully launch this award-winning picture (yes, it won two Genie Awards)?     

In short, the film got picked up by several television networks in the late 80’s and rapidly started gaining momentum throughout the 90’s as a predictable holiday TV staple and, dare I say, nostalgic cult classic (check out “Evolution of a Cult Classic”).  The culmination of all this momentum can now annually be enjoyed up to TWELVE TIMES in a row by anyone interested enough (or bored enough) to take on the 24 Hours of A Christmas Story marathon.  As comforting as a cup of hot cocoa on a cold winter’s day (or a 60-degree day, if you live in Arizona like I do), you can now count on this bit of cinema to be queued up at any point during Christmas Day when you finally decide you “need a fix.”    

Was all this just luck of the draw as the preceding article suggests?  Something that “just sort of happens…like tornadoes…and pop stars”?  Or was it the television networks themselves that rescued A Christmas Story from the dusty shelves of obscurity?  Perhaps both played an equal role in the movie’s now enduring popularity.  Although the film is chock-full of scenes that instinctively cry out “cult classic,” I have no doubt, despite all its charms and fervor, that the film would now be long forgotten if it hadn’t been aired so incessantly over the last several decades.  In fact, I have a hard time even imagining myself watching it on the big screen today and speculate whether I’d spend the money on it if I had been in a  position to do so back in 1983.

This brings me to my theory about the original launch of A Christmas Story as a classic example of a consumer-brand disconnect.  For whatever reason, Hollywood could not connect with their target audience on this one.  Maybe the trailer completely and utterly stunk, or maybe the date of release was all wrong and conflicted with shopping days leading up to Christmas that year or maybe...well, you get the point.  In any case, people weren’t able to see the value, despite what Hollywood probably through at it monetarily.  But that didn’t mean that the product itself wasn’t viable!  It just had to be marketed in the right way and to the right audience.  

Some thirty-plus years later, we have the advantage of retrospect.  We can all now clearly see the value of A Christmas Story thanks to the repackaging and re-launching of the film by the TV networks.  And why shouldn’t we?  Christmas Day is one of the only days of the year when not even the grocery stores stay open; entire cities shut down as people gather together with those nearest and dearest.  And although family reunions can be chaotic, it is on this quiet consumer day that we as an audience might be the most receptive to a quiet little film like this, filled with subtleties and subtext.  People from all walks of life are basically a captive audience with very few entertainment options.  Even if you aren’t a huge fan of the film, you might still get stuck watching it because someone that you’re with IS a fan and the movie just so happens to be on TV.  

It could be argued that the networks themselves created the market surrounding A Christmas Story that Time Warner (current owner to the rights for the film) now profits from, thanks to lucrative retailing in the form of home videos, movie memorabilia and the sale of merchandise that has slowly but surely permeated the interiors of homes and the fabric of family traditions all over the U.S.  After all, I am positive that mine is not the only home to have felt the effects of this affable motion picture.  And let’s not forget that the network’s staff has probably thanked them heartily for their effortless play-and-repeat Christmas Day assignment (probably just one guy whose turn it is to be on-call just in case something goes wrong).  As a general observation, this seems like a pretty savvy bit of marketing; a complete “180” from the 1983 release; a campaign in which a win-win-win has been created for all those involved.

As I grappled with putting these thoughts to rest this past Christmas Day, I came to a few simple conclusions:

  • Something CAN be inherently awesome, but as a marketer you MUST keep your target audience in mind.  If you fail to identify and connect with them, then the greatness of that something will cease to matter universally.
  • A large budget does not necessarily mean that campaign success will follow suit.  Conversely, a modest budget does not necessarily doom your campaign to fail.  Budgets ARE important, but they aren’t everything.  Inventive marketing can take you far.
  • Finally and perhaps most importantly, if something has been tried and failed in the past, don’t be afraid to rethink your strategy.  Repackaging or re-launching under a different light could yield far better results than previous efforts.

As I review my list, I accept that nothing in it is ground-breaking; these are all things that marketers already know, but can easily be forgotten in the midst of the daily grind.  Perhaps my resolutions for this year should include a few professional ones in addition to those more personal, like maybe I should keep the above in mind.  But will the lessons learned from A Christmas Story stay with me throughout the year?  Can I actually revolutionize my attitude?  How tailored will my messages really be to my intended target audiences when I’m knee deep in proposals and want nothing more than to throw in boilerplate and get them out the door?  Will I be able to grin and bear it AND stay nimble when I am inevitably told that items planned for in the annual budget must be eliminated in the name of monthly cash flow?  And what will my level of crankiness be when a marketing idea that I have launched falls flat on its proverbial face and I feel the need to scrap it?  Only time will tell, of course, but until then I remain hopeful that Ralphie and the leg lamp are enough to stoke the fires of my New Year’s marketing resolve.

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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