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Leave Your Comfort Zone - Why Career Change is Healthy and Necessary

People often say that change is hard, but that it’s a good thing. Others like to say how change can be great for growth. I once read–pretty sure on a fortune cookie in fact– that “Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone”. Most of these sayings are clichés to highlight the fact you are doing something unfamiliar and new. For me, it’s highlighting the fact that I was choosing to leave the side of the AEC industry that I had known the longest and where I got my start. And I was doing it in the middle of my career.

This no doubt has created a lot of questions amongst my peers ranging from “Why would you want to switch?” to “Do you know what you’re doing?” to “Don’t business development people just golf all day? Because you’re terrible at golf.” That latter part is true of course, but I’d like to think I am like most people who find themselves in a business development or marketing role in the AEC industry. Namely, how did I get here? The AEC industry wasn’t a career path that many were exposed to during undergrad in the marketing, communications, or business schools. And this was before social media or the internet were things. At 22, I was a prelaw major planning to become an attorney and work for a sports franchise. My career plan B was to become a meteorologist. So clearly, the engineering industry, let alone construction, wasn’t on my list of options.

After I relocated to Arizona, I was lucky that my first real job out of college was for a large engineering firm based in the Midwest. Fast forward several years and after taking a range of twist and turns, riding out the recession, chasing my professional sports marketing career for a minute, I found myself at 39 at a position and company that I liked. But I also felt I needed and wanted to do something different professionally. I just didn’t have a clue what it was. I knew I liked aspects of the engineering industry, but I was gravitating towards a relationship-based, sales-based role. I didn’t dislike the company I worked for (it’s still annually listed on Fortunes’ 100 Best Companies to Work For List) and I still have many friends, mentors, and now clients there. But it simply wasn’t for me anymore. I wanted something new.

A friend of mine last year was laid off from his firm after downsizing and yet just a few months later found himself in an entirely new career but in the same industry. I asked him how he landed where he was and he said he reached out to a mentor of his who gave him the task of creating 10 things he would want in a job, regardless of industry or pay. And once he could determine what that was, his search became easy because he could quickly determine his options. It’s an interesting question to answer when you are free from any constraints and can draft a job description of your choosing. But finding a role that I thought would be challenging and rewarding while also allowing me to do what I felt I was good at was going to be fruitless without a plan. I recently attended a Fiesta Bowl event and heard Coach Herm Edwards say “A goal without a plan is a wish”. And that has stuck with me since.

Since I made the move, I’ve been asked what I would have done differently, if anything. And what is the most challenging thing about switching industries. The easier of these two questions is the latter. Mainly the hardest thing is learning the entire company history and project resume to sell it. This is by no means unique to me but it has been my biggest challenge. Well that and figuring out how to do my timesheet. But I’ve realized that’s a “Kirk thing” as I’m consistently bad about it no matter where I work. As for what I would have done differently. Honestly the answer to that is nothing. The path, direction, and way my career path has progressed and evolved, I think, is exactly how it was supposed to go. I’m grateful for the time, mentors, and relationships I was able to make while on the engineering side of the industry. My time on that side has given me an advantage that is unique in the industry. There are however questions or brainstorming activities I wish I would have known to ask myself when I started this process. 

Brainstorming Activities for Career Change

  1. What do you think you are good at?
  2. What is most important to you in a career? (Rank your answers accordingly.)
  3. Would you be able to take a pay cut to make a career change?
  4. Who are your mentors that will give you honest feedback?

What I learned through this process was that I liked the development aspect of the industry the most. And I enjoyed connecting and helping people. It’s now been five months since I decided to leave my comfort zone and join The Weitz Company as their Senior Business Development Manager. The change has been exceptionally fast-paced and I’m learning an entirely new side of the AEC industry. You may have read a blogpost on this same site that referenced learning what you don’t know. That more than anything was one of the primary drivers for me to switch. For me to grow professionally, I needed a new challenge, see new ways of doing business, and learn from new people. And as a creature of habit, trying something new not only fulfilled a professional goal but a personal one as well.

Kirk Fonfara
Senior Business Development Manager, The Weitz Company
Kirk has been in the AEC industry for 15 years and with his current firm for 6 months. He is actively involved with 9 committees through out the commercial real estate industry including NAIOP, ULI and the Fiesta Bowl.  When not on the golf course in his BD role, Kirk enjoys watching golf and football.  He is proud to have been at Wrigley Field when the Chicago Cubs won a World Series Game.


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From Marketer to CEO – Focus on the Big Picture for a Big Career

A lot of people think I had a well-executed plan to get to the CEO position, but the truth is, I didn’t really. Don’t get me wrong, I knew where I wanted to go in my career, but if I had to map out an actual plan, well, I probably would have failed harder than I actually have in the past. Here is the reality – I love my job, I love every part of it, the good and the bad, the fun and the boring. When I’m working, I’m not really working. When someone tells me to shut off and go on vacation, I really just go to a different place and have fun, while working along the way. I’m not saying you have to constantly be working to get to CEO, but in my personal experience, you always need to be thinking about what is next and act on those thoughts. I have always had well thought out goals to get to where I wanted to go. I’ve been learning as I go but thinking back, there are a few big picture items that have helped get me to where I am today.

7 Actionable Ideas for Thinking Big

1. You don’t know what you don’t know – learn what you don’t know.
Every single person knows something you don’t know and the only way you will learn what you don’t know is to listen, listen more, and listen often. You will never know everything.

2. Embrace your weaknesses, emphasize your strengths.
Sometimes I think I know my weaknesses better than my strengths. I know when I’m not suited to a specific task and will surround myself with people that will do said task much better. On the flip side, I know what I’m good at and will insert myself where I think my ideas will be well-received.

3. Set time aside to sit and think.
The general rule of thumb is you have to be “producing” if you want to be a leader, but in fact the opposite is true. Think about the challenges facing your firm, the big picture, making your leadership team stronger, etc. The key to thinking is that you have you do it uninterrupted – so walk your dog, sit on your patio, or find a park bench and start the wheels turning.

4. Say you’re going to do something and then do it.
Novel concept; but it turns out that following through is one of the simplest ways to be a leader. Say what you are going to do. Do it. Follow-up. Simple. The amount of credibility you gain by following through is huge, as is the amount you lose when you don’t do what you say you will do.

5. Have a plan, not excuses.
I fully admit I stole this line from a billboard, but it’s so true in this thing we call our careers. I’ve created plenty of plans only to have them fail, then I would make an excuse. About five years ago, I stopped making excuses and instead started adjusting and continuing to move forward. Turns out if you don’t throw your hands in the air and admit defeat, people accept changes to a plan to get back on track.

6. Take care of yourself.
If you would have told me five years ago that I would be waking up to go to a 5:00 AM workout, I would have laughed and called you crazy. Yet, here I am, waking up in the early morning hours to get a workout in, knowing that if I wait until the afternoon I would slowly lose control of my day and miss boxing or yoga. Exercise gives me energy and an hour to myself where I am completely disconnected. I plan every day around my workout.

7. Be present.
It took me six years of lying on a yoga mat to grasp this concept. Our jobs can get overwhelming at times. As my firm goes through this Leadership transition, I’m often finding myself taking part in leadership decisions for the firm, having lunch with a client, and reviewing a proposal all in one day. It got overwhelming at one point, until I took a tip from my yoga instructor and just focused on the task at hand, took a deep breath, and moved onto the next moment.

Grenee Celuch
Vice President, Concord General Contracting
Grenee is currently Vice President of Concord General Contracting and will be transitioning to CEO January 2020.  She has been with Concord for 12 years and part of the AEC industry for 15. Grenee is obsessed with the podcast “How I Built This” and listens whenever she is in her car. She finds the stories of people who built wildly successful companies from nothing fascinating!  When not car bound, she loves to travel anywhere and everywhere.

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Pop Up Best Practices Inspired by Beyonce

Employing pop ups on your company’s website is a great way to grow your email list, engage website visitors, and drive people to connect with your brand. While these list-growing gems have the potential to add value to your website and to your business, when done wrong, pop ups have the potential to annoy your website visitors and drive them away from your site.  In order to create pop ups that add value to your website visitors, you’ll have to be strategic and think of the opt-ins as a relationship building tool. Beyonce Knowles, affectionately known by her fans as Queen B, is a singer, dancer, actress and businesswoman whose success is largely driven by her ability to make a connection with her fans through her art.  Beyonce’s lyrics illuminate different aspects of relationship building that can be applied to companies looking to create a connection with their customers through opt-ins.

Here’s a look at pop up best practices inspired by Queen B herself.

  1. “I Don’t Know Much About Fighting, But I Will Fight For You”  - 1 + 1 Application: You’re Fighting For Your Users Time and Attention. Fight Wisely.

In a society inundated with social media and a constant flow of information, companies must compete for consumers attention. Getting someone to your website is a victory. But, you have to fight to keep them on your website. It’s important to create engaging, irresistible pop up offers that demonstrate why the consumer should take action. Fight wisely for your consumers attention by utilizing exit intent popups to grab their attention as they move to leave your website. It’s also a great idea to use visuals and keep your opt-in messaging short and sweet to immediately communicate the value to your customer.

  1. “I’ll be There For You If Somebody Hurts You” - ’03 Bonnie & Clyde Application: Communicate Why Consumers Should “Trust” You

Since pop ups are relationship building tools to connect with your customer, it’s important to communicate the value your company brings to “the relationship.” Just like Beyonce’s iconic Bonnie & Clyde lyrics, you can use your pop up’s message to communicate your company’s willingness to “pick up the pieces” of any negative past experiences your potential customer may have had. You can do this by communicating that people can opt-out of any unwanted email communication from your company and, by highlighting what makes you stand out from your competitors.

  1. Don’t Bore Me, Just Show Me - “Check On It” Application: No Boring Pop ups Allowed

The visual appearance of your pop up matters. You can create a wonderful offer, but if your pop up looks plain, boring or otherwise unexciting, people are less likely to pay attention to what you’re offering. Instead, leverage color, images, fonts, and other aspects of visual design to create a pop up that’s visually appealing.

  1. Some Call It Arrogant, I Call It Confident - “Ego” Application: You Have Something Great to Offer. So, Offer It!

Have you ever questioned whether to use pop ups on your site for fear of being spammy or annoying? The truth is, pop ups that offer no value to customers and that appeal consistently throughout someone’s website experience can be annoying. But, that doesn’t have to be the case. Pop ups that offer visitors something valuable, from a discount, to regular updates on your company’s newest products, can enhance website visitor’s experience and get them excited about continuing to connect with your brand. So go for it! Be confident in what you have to offer, and let people know how they can get involved. Pop ups with valuable offers will help you grow your email list and can be the starting point for a “long term relationship” with your customers.

Saundra Wilson 
Digital Marketing Director, Markitors
Saundra is a digital marketing director at Markitors, a Scottsdale-based digital marketing agency that specializes in small and medium businesses. She recently spent several days at MailChimp HQ in Atlanta as part of an exclusive Partner Program. She’s passionate about living her best life, self-care, writing, and empowering others. When she’s not busy helping clients connect with customers, you can find her watching Say Yes to the Dress and practicing her best hip hop moves. 

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Rise Up!

Welcome to the 2018-2019 SMPS Year Arizona! Here we are at the start of the New Year. Over the past three years, our Chapter has been working to find the right balance of events, and created the foundation for continued advancement, growth and opportunities to our profession, our firms and our industry. Today is an exciting time for SMPS; we have a new society brand with a belief in Business Transformed through Marketing Leadership. Similar to headquarters, it is time for our Chapter to “flip the script”. (cue Taylor Swift - …Ready For It?)

We are at a turning point of settling on complacency or digging deep and rising up. I don’t know about you, but I choose the rising up. So what, what does this mean?

A combination of last and this year’s boards have been going through strategic planning and we have some aggressive overarching goals:

  • Be the Go-To Resource in Education, Creating Connections, and Developing Leaders in the Industry
  • Leadership Development for you within your firm and our SMPS Chapter
  • Elevate the SMPS Experience

One of our commitments is to transparency. We will be adding a page on our website laying out our goals and highlighting accomplishments and completions. Stay tuned for more details as we are finalizing our 3 Year Strategic Plan over the next 2 weeks.

We have some new and fresh Programs and Education opportunities  in the works that we are excited to share with you. Then there is Leverage your Beverage; our membership team is hard at work. We also have the Phelix Awards, CPSM, Mentoring, and a couple special events in development. Of course, do not forget the Secretary and Publicity branches will be implementing the new society brand to our chapter oh-my!

To be honest, I know what you are thinking….this sounds like a lot. It is scary. I don’t disagree. So to take a scene from one of my favorite shows Scandal (Gladiator in a Suit):

“You really want to ask me who I work for? Ok, so who do you work for? The SMPS Arizona Chapter. The SMPS Arizona Chapter? You did apply for a job. How do I know? I have your resume on my iPad, the way I know you’d kill puppies to have this job because you stopped breathing when I said SMPS Arizona Chapter. I’m gonna offer you a crap salary, but we all get crap salaries. But don’t feel bad. We’re the good guys, I’m a good guy. Best job you’ll ever have. You’ll change lives, slay dragons, because the SMPS Arizona Chapter is as amazing as they say.”

So much will be taking shape over the year, it is a marketer’s Disneyland (can you sense my excitement). When you find yourself in that place that all marketers do…overwhelmed, proposal deadlines swooshing by, amongst many other things - just know, the Chapter is here for you. We are each other’s greatest strengths, rocks and resources in this crazy world of A/E/C marketing. However, if you need a further push, take a cue from:

Eminem - Lose Yourself

The Weeknd, Kendrick Lamar - Pray For Me

Taylor Swift - Look What You Made Me Do

Beyoncé - Run the World

Black Eyed Peas - I Gotta Feeling

Hamilton: My Shot

Christina Aguilera – Fighter

DJ Kahlid – All I do is Win

Imagine Dragons - Believer

Kendrick Lamar, SZA - All The Stars

Queen - We Are the Champions

What are you looking forward to for the upcoming SMPS year? Or what is your secret motivator? Leave a comment below!

Brandi Barr
SMPS Arizona Chapter President
Associate Vice President, West Region Manager for T.Y. Lin International

Brandi holds a BA in Communication from Arizona State University and has nearly 20 years of AEC marketing professional services experience. For the past 10 years, she has worked for T.Y. Lin International. She has also been recognized by the SMPS, Arizona Chapter as the recipient of 3 Marketing Communications Awards - Best Proposal (2014), Marketer of the Year (2015) and most recently Best Project Pursuit (2016). Her favorite thing to do hang out with her husband, three kiddos and French bulldog. To find her outside of work, check her daughter’s dance studio, son’s soccer or baseball practices or watching sports (probably checking on her fantasy football teams this time of year).


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SMPSBB18 Conference Takeaways

Build Business – a conference full of great insight from A/E/C experts, networking, excitement and a great way to recharge your battery. This year’s 45th Annual Build Business Conference had a record-level attendance rate, revealed the new SMPS brand and had impressive guest speakers from all over the world providing great insight.

Here are just a few of my takeaways from the conference:

Get Known Everywhere: Using Publicity to Market your Services  
Jill Lublin, NSA, CEO, - Jill Lublin provided great insight about the publicity and how to get known everywhere. A few key concepts include:

  • Use everything you’ve got! Don’t fall down the same, boring path of submitting information about what your firm DOES to every media outlet in hopes of getting press. Instead, look at all your firm’s traits and characteristics. Does your company have a stand-out culture? Use that to your advantage! Gather the data and submit information about your company for awards and publications that will care about how great your company is!
  • Get mentioned! Your company should be mentioned in your local business journal publication every 60 days
  • People on the Move! You can utilize the people on the move section in business journal publications for more than just new hires. For example, congratulate a coworker on milestone anniversary
  • Craft the right message! Translate your message appropriately and get rid of the jargon!
  • Be a problem solver in the market place. Tell your client what the problem is and then give them three solutions that are interesting, dynamic and relatable

The problem today is that 4/5 businesses will go out of business because of lack of publicity. Here are three gorilla publicity tips to keep you in business
1. Create your “ooh ahh” factor
2. “I’ve heard of you” syndrome
3. Networking 2x a month at minimum

Creativity Myth Busters
Craig Atkinson, VP of Communications & Strategic Services, Walsh Construction

Craig Atkinson takes iPhone photos as a creative outlet and he’s found it is a great mind-escape when he flies – one of his biggest fears. Craig explained the importance of being intentional with all you do – even with taking iPhone photos. You can see some of his incredible iPhone photos on his Instagram.

  • Being creative is not a trait, it is a muscle and you’ve got to strengthen it!
  • You can and DO shape your brain with your thoughts – suffering is a choice, so is happiness
  • Be intentional with all that you do – notice what you notice
  • Don’t feel like you have time to be creative in a proposal? Adjust your cropping on an image and make it unique – take the small chances to show some creativity, even when you’re up against a deadline
  • 80% of our wandering thoughts are negative and 90% of those are repetitive – get out of your own way!

Beyond proposals: Adding Value with Project-Specific Marketing Plans
Jennifer Lacey, CM-Lean, CPSM – Division Marketing Director, Robins & Morton
Bill Stevens, Senior Superintendent, Robins & Morton

It’s important to build relationships with your team members and the Jennifer-Bill duo were a great example of why this can be so beneficial. Not only do you build team comradery, but you will be more successful!

  • Get to know your team members and get the right people involved with project marketing from the beginning. This means your Division Manager, Project Manager, Project Engineer and Superintendent.
  • Creating that bond with the field team will open so many opportunities. A few examples include:
    • Play the love vs. loathe game with your coworkers – really get to know them
    • Working on a hospital? Create a poster with inspirational imagery and verbiage that relates to each floor on the hospital to get your subs dedicated to the project
    • Create campaigns with your teammates’ input – the example the presenters used was a “small wins” campaign. We always celebrate the large milestone achievements but what about the small wins?
    • Jennifer got to know her field team so well that she met a laborer their company hired that was previously incarcerated – they created a touching video to show the strength of their culture at Robins & Morton.

Facilitation Meets Play  
Jennifer Newman, CPSM, CEO, Ignite Coaching & Consulting, LLC
Donna Corlew, FSMPS, CPSM, Chief WIT* Officer, C*Connect

Lego Serious Play is method to produce a deeper understanding of a topic through this hands-on, learning tool. We learned the following:

  • How to facilitate meetings more effectively with better results that foster creative thinking and unique solutions
  • Understanding of different modes of communication
  • How to encourage curiosity by establishing thinking with the hands and listening with the eyes

This facilitation method would be great for improving group solving or even interview preparation for people that are not used to answer in on-the-spot environments. We were even told that one company that was shortlisted for a construction job showed up to the interview and had to participate in Lego serious play to win the job! The following pieces are important to the overall puzzle of Lego serious play: 

  • Goal setting
  • Team building
  • Idea generation
  • Values and behaviors
  • Shared vision
  • Avoiding meeting agony

Marketing Communications Awards
Wow! There were some brilliant ideas that came out of the MCA’s this year. If you haven’t had a chance to see the finalists and award winners, click here. You’re sure to walk away with a few dozen ideas for your firm. In case you haven’t seen it yet, the new SMPS Brand video can be accessed here! Did you attend Build Business? Do you have additional takeaways you’d like to share with the chapter? Please, comment below and share your knowledge!

Ashley Black
Marketing Coordinator, Ryan Companies US, Inc.
Ashley joined the AEC industry in January 2015 and became a member of SMPS shortly after. She is the current Blog Chair and a member on the hospitality committee. Ashley loves traveling, basketball, cooking and spending time with her niece, Halle.

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Closing a Great Chapter

“Experiences become a part of our identity. We are not our possessions, but we are the accumulation of everything we’ve seen, the things we’ve done, and the places we’ve been.” This quote, from one of my favorite Forbes articles, “Why You Should Spend Your Money On Experiences, Not Things” along with the people I have met throughout the year rings true of my experience as Chapter President. Being Chapter President has been a highlight of my career and one that has played an important role in who I am at this moment.

In this closing message as President, I want to share my top three chapter and personal highlights. As I do, I want to remind those who read this that, none of these have been possible without a dedicated, committed team of volunteers – nine Board of Directors, 28 committee chairs, and numerous committee members – all who have contributed to make SMPS Arizona be successful. Thank you to all who have served this year!

Aside from our great programming, networking, and award events that we all had the chance to experience, what else happened to support our organization today and for tomorrow? Here are three areas that took the pulse on our Chapter this year.

Strategic planning: This year was our third year in our three-year strategic plan. We asked ourselves, “what’s next?” and dedicated three sessions to discover the answer. The current and incoming Board of Directors has spent significant time (12+ hours in visioning and planning sessions) defining strategic goals for the next three years in order to take the Chapter to new heights that will enhance your experience and elevate our programming.

Financial strength: As a non-profit, we are not in the business to make money; however, we are in the business to be responsible stewards of our resources. We’re fortunate to have been able to give back more to our membership this year through three conference scholarships, contribution to the SMPS Foundation and a sponsors-only event.

Strong Membership: Our chapter membership is currently at 158 members, welcoming 34 new members over the past year. We’ve been hovering around this membership number for the past couple of years, which means we’re challenged with retention. While we may have lost some to other industries, we are aware of our continued need to bring value to all levels of membership.

From a personal perspective, the greatest benefit I appreciated as President was the perspective and ability to experience every function of our chapter at once. To see all our activities and tasks work together and come together gave me a deeper and more complete understanding and appreciation for what we do. Additionally, my top three highlights as President are:

Increased network and opportunities to learn from others. A SMPS President’s experience truly begins at the Presidential Leadership Symposium, which not only prepared me with leadership skills and Society policies, but also introduced me to 60 other Chapter Presidents. The strength and support in these resources were invaluable throughout the year and will remain as such in my career for years to come.

Deepened appreciation of SMPS and what it offers our industry professionals. Being able to see and experience SMPS from this position gave me a deeper respect and appreciation for what it offers us as professionals and firms. To have an association dedicated to success of marketing and business development leadership and the amount of resources dedicated to this is impressive.


Expanded network and relationships among my local industry peers. Working with the committees this year, and observing the results of collaborative teamwork, have left me in awe. I’ve been impressed with the degree of respect that is shared with one another, the creativity and talent that surrounds me, and the energy and enthusiasm that exudes from our membership. I’ve learned so much from each member whom I’ve met and become more acquainted with. For that, my life is richer and fuller. This, perhaps, was the most impactful – to know, be aware and to participate with so many unique and talented professionals.

In closing, I’m beyond grateful and humbled to have had this experience and am excited for what’s next in our Chapter. Each SMPS year builds on the last and we took that concept very seriously. Everything that we’ve done this year has been with not just the present, but with the future in mind. I’ve worked closely with the Directors and incoming President, Brandi Barr, to make certain our decisions and actions lead to a self-sustaining business. Our year’s decisions and actions were meant for a lasting impact. I’m excited to see this year’s activities continue and evolve to be better each year.

What’s coming up next year? Well, you’ll have to wait and see. I can assure you there are good things and better things, in store! Now is as good as a time as any to be part of it so I invite you to join a committee this year. You won’t regret it!

My deepest gratitude, again, to all who have been part of this experience with me. I hope to see all of you at a future event! Until then, as my late Grandfather would say when departing with friends, “I’ll see you along the trail.” 


Emy Burback, MBA, CPSM
Lead Strategist, Marketing Engine, LLC.

Emy has been working in the A/E/C industry for the past 18 years and has been an active SMPS member for the past 10 years. She has enjoyed working for a variety of firms in the AEC industry. Most recently, Emy has started her own Marketing and CRM consulting firm, Marketing Engine. Her favorite thing to do in her free time is hang out with her husband and dogs on the beach in Rocky Point. Emy is passionate about traveling and loves an adventure! She enjoys hiking, going to new restaurants or buying a plane ticket to somewhere she's never been! 


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Five Tips to Obtain Content from Technical Staff

How many times have you heard, “Don’t we already have that information in a different proposal?” or how about “Can’t we just dust off a response from another pursuit?” If you oversee gathering, creating and finalizing details of a proposal then you are much too familiar with these skin-crawling questions. But, have you ever thought of it from your technical staff’s perspective? For example, a Project Manager is likely right in the middle of managing several projects and juggling deadlines – now all of a sudden they need to stop what they are doing to provide you content they think they’ve given you a hundred times. Of course, he or she is going to respond with the suggestion of re-utilizing what they have given you before. On the other hand, a marketer’s job is to tailor the proposal for the client, come up with new and creative ways to deliver the right content and pull the most interesting information from the technical team as possible. So, how can you find some common ground? Here are five tips to leverage your technical staff for content creation.

1. Give them something to start with.
Let’s say you need content for how your team is going to approach the project. Pull a few pieces of standard information that you’ve used in the past to get them started. Then, take what you know from the RFP/RFQ and ask your team specific questions that will tie in to the approach. Here are a few example questions:

  • This project is going to be in an occupied building, how will our team handle noise, safety and delivery schedules? (Remind them to help come up with response that are unique to your company’s process)
  • How will we phase this project and why is that the best method?
  • How will we uniquely meet this project schedule?
  • Do we have anything that we offer for this specific pursuit that other companies won’t?
  • What’s the advantage to hiring our company given how we will approach the project?

Basically, get your technical staff thinking. Now that they’ve seen you do some legwork and are reading your prepped questions, they are thinking about the response on a deeper level. 

2. Interview your technical staff.
More than likely, your technical staff does not enjoy writing and it might take them a lot of effort to get their thoughts organized cohesively on paper. Offer to set up an hour meeting where you can record, type and listen to everything they say about the pursuit. Then, take that information and organize it how you see fit.

3. Offer to help.
Do they not have time to walk the site? Offer to go take photos of the site and report back. Are they slammed and keep missing deadlines? Offer to order lunch so they can have a productive, working lunch. Do early mornings work better for them? Come in early one day so you can meet before the day is lost. I’m not saying completely adjust your work-day for your technical staff but I am suggesting you help make the process easier. This will go a long way and only build a better relationship with your team.

4. Be in the know.
Take the opportunity to learn more about the technical pieces within your industry. Attend conferences and read articles to stay up-to-date with current trends. Ask your technical staff for book suggestions that might help you better understand their world a bit. Take your technical staff out to lunch and pick their brain a bit about what they do daily and how certain situations are handled. If your schedule allows for it, ask if you can shadow for a few hours one day and dive deep into their world. You’ll gain invaluable insight from your colleagues through these methods and earn a ton of respect along the way.

5. Befriend your technical staff!
The stronger relationship you have with your technical colleagues, the better. Also, the more you implement the above tips, the smoother the pursuit process will become and the easier it will get to engage your team. Don’t only go to lunch with them to learn, go to lunch to build rapport and team comradery. Set up a happy hour! Have fun together and get to know each other to gain respect for one another. It is always a good idea to engage with people in times when you are not just needing something from them.

These tips should help you gather the best information possible from your technical team, build relationships within your workplace and thus increase your hit ratio. Pursuing work is a team effort and everyone should pull together and do everything they can to submit a winning proposal. Are there any additional strategies you have found successful to gather great content from your team?  

Ashley Black
Marketing Coordinator, Ryan Companies US, Inc.
Ashley joined the AEC industry in January 2015 and became a member of SMPS shortly after. She is the current Blog Chair and a member on the hospitality committee. Ashley loves traveling, basketball, cooking and spending time with her niece, Halle.

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Quality Photography Importance & Insider Tips

We live in a photography era.  Every single day nearly two billion digital images are uploaded to the internet and that number is increasing by the minute. Number of monthly Instagram users as of June 2018?  Over one BILLION. Chances are today you've already viewed dozens of images. For many of you, that happened before you even left your house for work. Everyone is viewing and taking and posting photos. Are the marketing photos you are posting as good as they should be?

What great (or not so great) photos can say about your company's image:
Regardless of type of photos (architectural photos, corporate headshots or product photos), the quality of photography a business utilizes may reveal a lot about their values. Compare a company that uses poor quality photographs vs. another that uses high quality professional photographs. Could it be assumed that one is more likely to cut corners to save money, while another understands the value of quality and professionalism? Which firm would you choose to collaborate with?








Phoenix Zoo. Photo by David Schacher Photography LLC

The use of high quality professional photography in marketing has never been more important.  It could mean the difference between landing that big project and/or client, or not, and this should be taken into serious consideration when planning your photography budget. Do you really want to skimp on this?

Why hire a professional photographer?
The experience and knowledge that a professional can bring to a project is absolutely crucial. Most of this knowledge can only be learned from experience and lots of trial and error which a seasoned pro should have. Some important qualities a professional should possess are:

  • Correct/creative lighting techniques including knowledge of ambient and/or natural light. For example, on any exterior shoot before I arrive I've already mapped the location on my computer and know exactly where the sun will be at the optimal time of shooting.

  • Equipment Knowledge (especially important when equipment failure occurs). I could write an entire article on equipment failure, the importance of backup equipment and how experiences that I have had have saved entire location shoots.

  • Post Production (Processing) Experience is an absolute must have requirement when hiring a photographer. Take a look at their portfolio. How extensive is their body of work? Have they digitally removed clutter such as light switches, electric sockets and exit signs? Unfortunately, many photographers don't understand how to process a photo once it has been taken and the difference in the end product is night and day.

3900 Camelback Center. Photo by David Schacher Photography LLC

How to distinguish an amature from a professional and questions you can ask: 
What exactly is a "professional" photographer?  Generally speaking a "professional" photographer is someone who makes a living taking photos full time. Although there isn't a standard qualification which defines "professional" photographer, there are several key questions you can ask which will almost immediately separate the pros from the non pros:

  • Do you have a (current) business license? If the answer is no, beware. I'll bet your company has a business license.

  • Do you carry insurance? Can you provide a COI? Again, if the answer is no its time to find someone else. Photographers should carry both liability and equipment insurance coverage to protect not only themselves but their clients as well. Why risk it?

  • Do you charge/pay sales tax? If the answer is no, you are not dealing with a professional. Any photographer (or client) that is under the belief that sales tax isn't necessary, regardless of type of photography expertise/delivered media, is not only mistaken but can be in for a very expensive surprise.

  • Ask about their copyright policy. While this can vary, if a photographer doesn't provide a clearly written copyright contract, chances are you are probably dealing with an amateur.

  • What type of equipment do you use? This is a question I am seldom asked, but when I am it is usually because the client has specific requirements such as camera speed/resolution. You should be asking about the resolution your photographer will be able to deliver. With the rapid changes in technology today I am constantly updating my equipment. With that being said, simply having good equipment does not automatically equate to being a professional photographer.

Phoenix Children's Hospital. Photo by David Schacher Photography LLC

In the ever-increasing photography era that we live in, quality images have never been more important for driving potential customers to your brand. It is of paramount importance that your company stands out from the others. Quality photography will speak volumes about your identity whereas substandard photography can negatively affect a company's image.

David Schacher
Photographer - David Schacher Photography, LLC

David Schacher is a Phoenix, Arizona based commercial photographer and specializes in architectural/drone photography, corporate headshots, and product and event photography. Additionally David photographs the testing of military vehicles and weapons testing. His photos have been featured in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal and and can be seen at and on instagram

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Recognizing Important Moments Throughout Your Personal Development Journey

There are so many tips and tricks and books to help you become a better you. Where do you start? I don't know about you, but when I start to think of how I can better myself in all areas of my life, I just become overwhelmed. It's confusing. It's hard. Plus, how can anyone else know how I can better myself? The author of that famous book doesn’t know me and they certainly do not understand my problems. So at this point you might be thinking, "Why on earth should I listen to you?" How is what she has to say different than all the information already out there? I will let you in on my secret now rather than save it for the end; the only person who knows how to be a better you, is YOU.

For years I tried to figure out which golden nugget of information was given to me that would enhance areas in my life. I finally came to the realization that it was not a piece of advice that was given but rather it has been moments in time that changed my outlook and pushed me up. After coming to this understanding, I have taken on a new passion and interest in bettering myself in all aspects of my life by recognizing these important moments and capitalizing on them. 

Some moments take a very windy road but they can lead up if you let them. These moments do not have to be large life changing experiences. Small moments in time can change your journey in positive direction as well. For example, six months ago, I received an email from our Human Resources Director saying I was selected to be a part of a mentorship program at Ryan. Looking back on the day I received that email, I had no idea that the contents of that email would change my life in such a positive way. I’m grateful for this small moment that was interjected into my life and thankful for my mentor.

This experience has reminded me how important it is to actively seek out feedback from others. If you do not have a mentor, find one. Pick someone who you can talk to about the big picture. They do not have to completely understand your role and your day-to-day business, but they should be able to help you figure out how to handle certain situations, navigate difficult conversations and ultimately help you become a better you. This will only work if you let yourself be vulnerable though. Do not be afraid to let your guard down and really open-up about the areas you want to improve upon in addition to being honest about yourself and with yourself. 

I can’t just tell you to be vulnerable and then not be vulnerable myself. So, here’s another example of another life-changing moment that has led to personal development for me.

I have a child with a rare disease. For more than two years, we dealt with symptoms and illness with countless doctors, each diagnosing him with something different. Nothing made sense and nothing was working. One of our doctors had told me once, "Momma, you know your kid best so let's start with that." With her sweet voice in my head, I did just that. I dove into every medical resource I could come across. “Dr.” Google became my best friend. I was determined to find the answers I needed and I did. I found the diagnosis that fit every single symptom and moment in time for our journey. Our doctors were the experts but I was the missing piece to the puzzle. This changed our lives for the obvious reason of curing my son but also changed my life by giving me a very big reminder that it is imperative to take your destiny into your own hands. Yes, it was the doctors who should be diagnosing and finding the answers but that did not mean I wasn't a part of the process. People are there to help and guide you along the way but no one is going to make you more of a priority than you will yourself.

The moral of the story is, own all aspects of your life – big or small. Don't sit around waiting for that project manager to come by your desk and give you the information you need for a proposal; go get it from him. Don't expect your boss to include you in that important strategic planning meeting that should already involve marketing. Tell your boss how you can add value. You know you are sitting there annoyed that your colleague has ignored your emails for too long or annoyed you were not included in the meeting. That thought turns into thinking these people do not respect your time, they do not understand the value you bring, the importance of your role is misunderstood and it snowballs from there. Not only will you see better results from owning your own destiny; you will find that you are a happier person because of it. 

Here is the catch with these life-changing moments in my journey. I didn't realize that they were “moments” when they were happening. I didn't know how many ways my life would be changed because of them. There are plenty of areas I want to continue to change and improve. One day there will be a moment that will get me to the next phase in my life, but until then I will take the long and twisty path up until I recognize the straight road ahead. I wake up each day with only one goal in mind: Be the best you that you can be! How hard can that be when you are the only you? 

Colleen Kucera, CPSM
Director of Marketing, Ryan Companies US, Inc. 

Colleen grew up with her Dad being in the industry so she began learning from him at a young age; however, she made the conscious decision to join him in the construction world in 2007. Colleen has worked at Ryan Companies for the past seven years and she's been an active SMPS member for more than ten years. Colleen has held several leadership roles within SMPS such as President from 2011-2012. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family and watching her kids experience the world from their young eyes. Colleen also sells makeup and jewelry but admittedly she's her number one customer! 


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Recapping Malcom Gladwell: Choice, Happiness, and Spaghetti Sauce

Ted Talks are great but sometimes you don’t have 15-30 minutes to listen to them. Here’s a recap of a popular ted talk that anyone interested or involved in marketing should hear about.

Malcom Gladwell presented told story of a man named Howard Moskowitz. Moskowitz was a consultant in the 1970’s and 80’s who made a revolutionary discovery in the subject of marketing and product development.

This Ted Talk discusses his story and what he discovered throughout his career.

I became so engrossed in the story of Howard Moskowitz that I almost forgot that I was listening to a Ted Talk based on marketing. Gladwell is a journalist, author and speaker; his professional occupation makes this speech become an engaging story while still packed with important marketing strategies and lessons.

The story of Howard Moskowitz began when he was approached by Pepsi with the request to create the perfect beverage, a beverage that wasn’t too sweet but also not too bland. The goal? They wanted him to find out what everyone preferred so that they could offer a beverage that everyone wanted. Imagine yourself in his shoes, how would you figure out what every person preferred in their Pepsi? If it were me, I would make a wide variety of Pepsi options all with different levels of sweetness, I would gather a large group of people to have them taste the different varieties and give me their thoughts on each one. Howard did exactly that— he gathered thousands of people, conducted the tests, gathered the data, and plotted the results on a curve to further analyze. In a perfect world, the data would come back, it would be a flawless bell curve and he would be able to effortlessly see what most individuals preferred.

The problem here is that Marketing is not a black and white subject, so when the data came back the results were all over the place and it didn’t make a lot of sense.

Turns out, the mistake that Howard made happened before the survey even began. The mistake was thinking that everyone, or at least a strong majority, would agree on one particular Pepsi flavor.So what went wrong? The test follows the typical research process so the data should have easily given Howard the answer that he was looking for on a golden platter. Right?

It may seem like a simple solution but it took Howard years to figure out that they were looking for one perfect Pepsi when they should have been looking for the multiple, perfect Pepsis. When Howard made this discovery, he felt that he had hit the jackpot. He went from conference to conference and gave speech after speech letting everyone know that they were thinking about this all wrong; the perfect product does not exist. Well his audience wasn’t exactly sold on this idea; everyone wanted to believe that with enough time and research that they could create one perfect product.

Finally, Howard caught the break that he had been waiting for. He was approached by Vlasic Pickles with a request all too familiar; help us create the perfect product. Despite the negative feedback that Howard received from his numerous attempts to share his discovery Howard said, “There is no perfect pickle; there are only perfect pickles.”

He explained that it is not enough to improve your regular flavor of pickles; you need to create zesty pickles and other varieties to cater to a broader market.

Campbell’s Soup was the next company to contact Howard. Campbell’s Soup had the brand of pasta sauces called Prego. Well Prego was in direct competition with Ragu and they were desperate to create the “perfect” pasta sauce so that they would become the preferred pasta sauce brand over Ragu and other competitors.

Can you guess what Howard did to help?

Howard worked with Prego and created a grand total of 45 pasta sauce varieties. These pasta sauces varied in flavor, texture, ingredients, even the way they were produced. They took these 45 varieties and traveled all over the country and gathered thousands and thousands of people in different places and gave them ten bowls of pasta with different varieties of pasta sauces. After each bowl they simply asked them to rate the pasta sauce on a scale from zero to 100. They did this for months and months and at the end, Howard was left with a massive amount of data that he then had to analyze. But how did this data differ from the data received from the Pepsi trails?

Well, the answer is that it really didn’t, what changed is the way that Howard analyzed the data. He was no longer looking for the perfect product; he was looking for the most popular elements of the pasta sauces. So, he looked at the data with the goal of grouping the sauces to figure out the common denominators of the most popular sauces. By doing this, he was able to come to the conclusion that everyone seemed to fall into three major categories. Some people prefer a plain pasta sauce, some wanted a pasta sauce that was spicy, and there were some that enjoyed their sauce to be extra-chunky.

Imagine their surprise when Howard showed them the data which revealed that one-third of Americans craved extra-chunky tomato sauce. As of that time, no other company had extra-chunky tomato sauce so this was a heavily desired product that no one was offering. With this data, Prego came out with an entire line of extra-chunky pasta sauces and within the next ten years they made $600 million just off of that line.

Here is what everyone should take-away after listening to this Ted Talk:

  1. This world is full of different tastes, preferences and opinions; there is never going to be one perfect product. This variety in strategy means you must understand the service(s) you are selling, who you are selling to and what the client/customer needs/wants.
  2. It is not enough to ask people what it is they want to see in a product or service. It takes a lot of time and research to truly understand what consumers are looking for. Develop relationships with your clients and start asking the important questions! Get to the bottom of their needs in order to determine how your company can serve them better.
  3. As a Marketing professional it is essential that we trust the data that we are given; the data isn’t wrong, we may just be looking at it the wrong way.

Carly Bonar 
Marketing Coordinator, Logan Simpson

Carly entered the A/E/C industry right out of college and has been working as a Marketing Coordinator for Logan Simpson for the past year and a half. She’s an active SMPS member, blog contributor and vegetarian since she was eight years old. In her free time she loves to spend time with her family and three dogs; Cookie, Cotton and Bella.

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