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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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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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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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