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Survive and Thrive

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting this year’s group of protégés for the SMPS AZ Mentoring Program. And, as it always happens when I meet those fresh, bright faces and minds, I am reminded of what it was like when you are trying to learn a new job AND navigate the unique obstacles these positions often have. I wish during these moments, I could literally open their brains and show them the various paths their careers may take and even more so, all the ways they can speed up their career path, mitigate the not-so-awesome parts of the job, and let them know – no matter what – it is all going to be ok. But, since I have yet to gain this super power, I put some thoughts to paper that may help.

Deirdre’s AEC Survive and Thrive Guide

The best lesson I was taught early on is: It is easier to ask forgiveness than permission. We are often surrounded by folks that may be hesitant to change, or do not have the same understanding of marketing principles as you do, and they just can’t help themselves but to get in your way. Sometimes you just need to move ahead and hope for the best. I am not saying go totally rogue every day, but it is okay to take an occasional risk!

Show them the money!  Find ways to truly affect the bottom line of your firm. Maybe you can find a great way to save printing costs, or a more efficient way to do proposals? Operations care about the money— show them that you care too.  Maybe you can apply your marketing skills to billable work? Bonus!

Be better than the you that you were yesterday. Outside of work, I love to run –since the day I started running, I had one goal, do better than the day before. I never set out to beat any records or even win any races; I just wanted to compete with myself and within my own limits. The same applies to work. Try and be better every day, in attitude, or aptitude. But, be kind to yourself and accept that some days you just “don’t have it” and tomorrow is a new day.

Work smarter (& harder). I am sure you have all heard the “arrive before your boss and leave after them” rule. It is TRUE! It shows that you care. But moreover, that extra time is when you find the good stuff. Put down the proposal and do something that is a stretch. Come in on a weekend and organize that database you have been ignoring. I promise you, no one over got ahead by working the standard eight hours a day.

Strategy is your friend – learn it and apply it to EVERYTHING. Develop a mini-marketing plan for every pursuit, collateral update, public relations campaign, or for yourself. I often hear comments from peers in the industry such as, “But my work doesn’t care, they don’t want one, so why should I bother?” It’s simple, do it for you. Developing a strategic mind is like any other skill, it takes time and practice. But I promise you, this is a skill that can, and will, take you so far in your career.

Make others look good. People that make other people look and feel good move ahead faster—period. As a boss, you are always on the firing line for everything. When you have a staff member that does something that makes you look good, you VALUE them. Also, if you are a boss, or just a teammate, make your team look like rock stars to their peers and the higher ups. If you spend your time making others look good, it will be paid back tenfold.

Learn the business of the business. As marketers in AEC, we are often removed from the business of the business; therefore, we are not looked at as equals. Learn how your business runs, what is your backlog, overhead, goals, and etc.? Once you understand that, and can speak the language, your operations team will LOVE you because they will know that you get them.

Bring NEW ideas that make the firm better. Brainstorm and offer new ideas that can improve the marketing, or even the firm culture. But, take your time and make sure your ideas are well thought out and strategic.  

Build relationships – inside and out. Have a mentor for every stage of your career, maybe even more than one. I have business owner mentors, management mentors, big idea mentors, and a team of SMPS psychotherapists! But to really move ahead in your current place of employment, develop internal advocates. Find someone in operations that values marketing and is willing to help you get your ideas across, or even more importantly, help you from stepping into a pile of doo.

Don’t be afraid to ruffle feathers. I know this is easier said than done for some, but it is important to learn to speak your mind in a direct and non-emotional way. Non-emotional being the key here. We’re marketers so we live in the emotional world most of the time; it is what makes us great at our jobs. However, when dealing in a work environment, it can be detrimental to our being heard. I once had a boss that informed me that I spoke in stories, not facts. Truly, he told me I needed to speak in bullets. I was SO offended. My job was to tell stories for goodness sake! But, in his eyes I was being too emotional and wasting his time with non-essential facts. Once I got over being mad, I looked at it from his point of view and realized this person just gave me some of the best career advice I would ever receive. Thank you, Dennis Tucker!

Lastly, keep score. Create a personal growth plan for yourself and track your progress. It will make you feel like a million bucks when you look back over all you have accomplished and those achievements may help you get the next raise, promotion, or new job!


Deirdre Booth-Gilmore, CPSM
President and Owner, Tank Girl Marketing 

Deirdre Booth-Gilmore is a Certified Professional Services Marketer who has spent the past 17 years focused on the AEC community. Deirdre started her own business, Tank Girl Marketing, five years ago and is the current SMPS, SFE Chair. In her free time, Deirdre loves to travel the world! 

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Building Your Own Team of Superheroes

My 15-year-old stepson really loves Marvel superheroes. He loves superheroes so much he even dresses up for Comicon. He knows the origins story of all the major characters and he knows the release date for every Marvel movie through 2019. Because he’s a fan, it goes without saying that he has seen every Marvel movie in theater; because he’s my son and I love him, that also means that I’ve seen a LOT of superhero movies myself.

Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America, Ant-Man – I’ve seen them all. But my favorite movies are the ones where heroes team up – like in Guardians of the Galaxy and the Avengers. There’s something about getting all of these uniquely skilled individuals working together that seems to make achieving their personal and team goals more rewarding (not to mention better fight scenes).


In life, business and my career, I find that creating my own team of exceptionally skilled individuals is just as beneficial. In Carla Harris’ book, “Expect to Win”, She talks about three relationships every career-focused individual needs to have:

  1. Adviser - Someone who can answer discrete career questions about challenges, issues and opportunities.
  1. Mentor - Someone who can provide good, tailored developmental career advice, support your professional development and provide you with tools to help you improve your skills.
  1. Sponsor - Someone with authority and influence that is internal to your company and will advocate for you behind closed doors.

Many of us intuitively know that we need a team to achieve our career goals, but sometimes we need a little nudge to move us in that direction. Here are six times you should start building your own team of superheroes.

  1. Anytime you get a new job or enter a new field
  2. Anytime you get a promotion that requires additional skills
  3. Immediately after you get quality feedback from your direct manager about opportunities for improvement
  4. Once you have established your own or been given new performance goals
  5. Anytime there is a change in management or leadership
  6. Now

SMPS’ Mentorship Program is a smart step in building a network of exceptionally skilled marketers and business developers who will advise, support and encourage you to achieve your personal career goals. Register here, today and join us for our kick-off session on March 14th. No capes, power-packs or fighting skills required.

Maisha Christian Hagan
Marketing Director, Jokake Construction 

Maisha is the Marketing Director at Jokake Construction and has been with the company for five years. Not only has Maisha been in A/E/C industry for 18 years, she ha also been a member of SMPS for 10 years. Maisha is the Mentorship Program Chair and a true advocate for SMPS. When she’s not at work, Maisha is actively involved with her church’s leadership team. She sings, loves to garden and has a big obsession with tiny homes. 

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SOS Mode

Having worked as an interview prep and communication skills consultant in the design and construction industry for almost 14 years, I have a love/hate relationship with this industry.  I love the people I get to work with.  I love the contribution that we make to our world.  But, I hate— I deeply hate how our industry treats the salaried professionals in it.

On one hand, industry champions promote safety and quality, eating fruit and counting your steps.  However, on the other hand, the industry constantly demands that we do more and sacrifice our health and well-being.  

People do better work with vitality. 

Who would you rather have doing your surgery: the surgeon who’s been working 10-hour shifts six days a week, or the doctor who works reasonable hours, gets sufficient sleep and feels refreshed and clear without needing coffee all day? Given the same life styles –Who would you rather have in charge of quality control or managing safety?

Studies show that working more hours does not equate to greater productivity or effectiveness.  We don’t really get more done.  It just takes longer to get things done when you are living and working in overdrive; another words, SOS mode.

What is SOS mode?

            S:  Sacrificing self-care and restoration

            O:  Overwork and Overwhelm

            S:  Stress, Anxiety and Depression (SAD)

In the fall, I read an article citing a Centers for Disease Control study which identified the industries with the highest incidents of recorded suicides:  #2 Construction, #4 Architecture and Engineering, #9 Management.  Peoples’ lives are at risk – figuratively and literally.

How are we figuratively killing ourselves? By constantly operating in SOS mode without reprieve.

Not only have I observed this in the many companies that I have worked with over the past fourteen years, I have experienced it myself as a solopreneur.

For many years, the below was not true for me:

I take care of my self.

I trust my self.

I value my self.

I know me.  I really, know me.

You marketers are likely screaming TYPO!!!!  Why did she use “my self” instead of “myself”? By using my self I have found that I treat and relate to me as I would someone I truly care about: my father, my mother, my spouse, my child. 

I was disconnected from my self.   Overworking.  Always connected to technology.  I had become a doing machine, suppressing self-care as a badge of honor. 

My self, got in the way of what I “needed” to do.

So I was abusive to my self, constantly pushing myself to get more done.  Mind over matter.  Human will over any limitations to my doing.

Yet in doing so, I continuously demonstrated that what mattered to me was not me, but accomplishment, business and doing.Doing such a horrible job of taking care of my self, yet carrying my self with me always led me to not trust me or my self.

This went on for years until my body started indicated that I could no longer keep going this way:  digestive issues, elevated cortisol levels, thyroid issues and Epstein Barr Virus.

Don’t let things get to that point.

If you have been experiencing any element of SOS or all of them, please attend my session for SMPS Arizona on March 16, 2017, at the Phoenix Country Club. Click here to sign up!

I will share some of the simple tools I have learned to get me out of SOS mode and keep me out.

Invite your non-SMPS colleagues, co-workers, managers and human resource team as well since this topic is one that will resonate with many in our industry.

Whether you can attend or not, please click here to and take two minutes to complete a survey that will help give us a sense of the scope of this issue in our industry. Share it with various people representing different job types within your company as well as your SMPS friends outside of Arizona.


Hilari Weinstein
President, High Impact Communication 

Hilari is the President of High Impact Communication and has worked as an interview prep and communication skills consultant in the design and construction industry for almost 14 years. Hilari is an advocate for SMPS and enjoys attending local SMPS events when her schedule allows it. Hilari holds an annual membership for Butterfly Wonderland - her Zen spot, she enjoys reading, writing and very grateful that Amazon Prime exists.

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Branding and Animating a Story

Author and entrepreneur, Seth Godin, rightfully stated “Marketing is no longer just about the stuff you make… it’s about the story you tell.” For marketers this statement hits home as our roles trend further from “coordinators” and closer to “story tellers." The onus is on us to visually combine our firms’ brand with the character and anticipated needs of our clients. While we may not produce the technical details of a given project’s architectural narrative, we can shape how the story is presented and received in marketing pursuits. Case in point: brand.

A strong and consistent proposal brand reflects your team’s preparedness, informing the client you are a partner worthy of their trust. Similarly, pursuits grounded in experience humanize your firm, confirming with the client on a physical and emotional level that you have their best interest in mind.

Below, SmithGroupJJR marketing team members Michelle Harrison and Effie Nicholaou outline two successful case studies of utilizing brand strategies in marketing pursuits; Communication Design and Engagement Design.






For a recent proposal on a new large headquarters with a Fortune 500 company, we utilized project intel to influence the pursuit’s graphic and written brand. From insight that was gathered beforehand, we knew what type of individuals would be reviewing the proposal, allowing us to tailor our message and promote the firm as a trusted advisor and clear choice for the project. For example:

  • Intel: The client prefers no-frills. Approach: Keep the layout clean and simple.

    • White space: Less content on the pages meant our statements needed to be concise, transparent, and conformational.

    • Attention grabbers: Bold call-out boxes housed differentiators such as statistics and quotes.

    • Colors and Fonts: client’s colors were appropriately utilized in graphics and fonts but were kept subtle, more of a nod to their standards rather than blatant copy and paste.

  • Intel: The project was a game-changer for the client. Approach: Confirm we understand the weight of this project.

    • Human touch: Personal commitment statements and photos from the team conveyed our team was invested far beyond the typical expectations of a design partner.

    • Proven research: A photo of the prospective site taken by one of our team members told the client we have done our due diligence in researching this project.



The interview, much like the proposal, is an opportunity to communicate your excitement about the client and their work. It is an opportunity to reiterate how you are the trusted advisor and clear choice.

Recently, our firm has explored how Augmented and Virtual Reality (VR) presents a new way of engaging and connecting, in conjunction with the presentation slides and pinned up print outs. Ultimately, through this virtual experience, clients experience a more authentic, unscripted presentation that fosters human relationship.

At a recent interview, our firm presented three design concepts with VR. The technology was an opportunity to break down the ‘fourth wall’ of the interview, engage the client through immersion, and hint at the design process.

Through the very act of handing the client an object - the VR glasses - you remove yourself from center stage and place the client, or rather the audience, into the performance. Their participation in wearing the VR – their human touch - is as critical to the interview as the content you have prepared.

With the client’s participation in the interview, VR presents an opportunity for full immersion into potential design ideas. The user steps into a virtual reality, one that necessitates their movement so to explore. The experience takes them from a posture of receptivity to a position of activity. This immersive experience increases engagement and exploration for the client.

By giving autonomy to the client, you showcase, both literally and symbolically, their critical role in the design process. They literally have control over what they see, when they see it, and how they see it. Symbolically, this control nods to the need for designers to listen to the client and work with them towards the right solution.

All in all, relating your brand, whether through communication or engagement design methodologies, is an essential element in framing the first impression with a client. As collateral gate keepers, we hold the power to color the perception of our firm and drive project pursuits with proven processes. When opportunity knocks, be encouraged! Your input as a marketing thought leader can have great effect on your team and client.

How have you utilized branding strategies in marketing pursuits? We would love to hear your feedback! 


Michelle Harrison
Senior Marketing Coordinator, SmithGroupJJR 

By way of St. Louis, Missouri, Michelle has been a Valley resident for five years and a marketing professional in the A/E/C industry for three. A publicist by trade, Michelle seeks new and thoughtful ways to effectively communicate with potential clients via written content and graphic presentation.

Effie Nicholaou 
Marketing Coordinator, SmithGroupJJR 

Effie is a creative marketing and design professional. Her passion for design first led to studying architecture and architectural history, which then translated into a passion for branding and strategy. Originally from Virginia, Effie moved to Phoenix after a short stint in Berlin and a couple years in Boston.


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Five Tools You Should be Using

Have you ever been diligently working away and thought to yourself: I wish there was an easier way to do that. Sometimes finding the right tool for the task can take as much time as simply doing the task at hand, the long way.

I’m going to come right out and say that I’m “cheating” and taking information found in the Marketer and turning it into a blog post. Why? Well, how many of you actually took the time in the busy month of December and read the Marketer? Or, how many of you read the article “8 Essential Marketing Tools You Need to Start Using Today,” written by Tim Klabunde,CPSM and tested them out? I am taking my favorite FIVE Marketing Tools from the article and diving a bit deeper. This way, you can learn additional information on the tools and then make the decision if you want to try these tools out for yourself!

1. Mention – Media tracking and monitoring is a media tracking and monitoring website, similar to Google Alerts, but offers additional options and tracks social media as well. This caught my eye immediately because, like most of us, it is necessary to know right away when our firm’s name is mentioned online. (See what I did there?) Tim explained that if you search the website long enough, you can find a basic version of the service that is free. However, I’m an impatient person and this whole tool thing is to save time, right? So, after searching for a few minutes and only finding a 14-day free trial, I decided to do an old-school thing and call the company. It took all of one minute until I was connected with someone who explained that the 14-day trial period turns into a free subscription that allows you to track one name/company and will send you up to 250 hits per month for free. AWESOME!

2. Canva – Graphic design

This tool is incredible for those firms that do not have a graphic designer, if you are ever in a pinch, or if you are in a funk and need some creative assistance. In addition, you can save your final creation in various formats. Although it is a nifty tool, I wouldn’t recommend replacing InDesign or Photoshop with this software because it is free software that has limitations and you’re not increasing your graphic-creating capabilities when utilizing this tool. Also, be cautious – some of the templates sneak in elements that you have to pay for.

3. Visualping – Website page monitoring

As Tim said, if you have ever had to check a website every day for weeks waiting for an RFP, then this is the tool for you. Recently, our firm was working on a RFQ and it was mentioned at the Pre-Bid meeting that addendum notices would not be sent out via email. This meant I would have to continuously check the website to see if any addendums had been made. Instead, I signed up for a free visualping plan and set it to check every 24 hours for slight changes on the website. This gave me great peace of mind knowing I wouldn’t forget to include the very important addendums in our response. The free plan includes 62 free “checks” and you can check two pages once a day, one page twice a day, or 62 pages once a month.

4. Google PageSpeed – Fix your slow running website

Have you ever been on a website that is taking forever to load but your colleagues’ internet seems to be working just fine? There is a website for that! You need to utilize PageSpeed Insights – a tool that analyzes and optimizes your site, following web best practices. This is the perfect tool to help speed up those slow websites! I highly recommend this free tool because it gives you step-by-step instructions on how to fix the issue and analyzes mobile versions of websites too!

5. Title Capitalization – Perfectly format titles

You finally came up with a perfect title for that article or header in your proposal, but can’t remember the AP Style or Chicago Style guides for those titles. Again, there’s a tool for that! No more worrying whether the short words in the title should be capitalized or not – simply copy and paste into the title cap website and it’ll automatically capitalize your title for you! This is a quick way to make sure you are capitalizing appropriately!

I hope that you find these tools as efficient as I did! What are some of the tools that you utilize and suggest for Marketers and Business Developers?

Ashley Black
Marketing Administrator, 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 hot yoga, basketball, cooking and spending time with her newborn niece, Halle. 

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CPSM: How Four Letters Can be a Game Changer for Your Career

Do those four letters really matter? The answer is yes and Sara Libby, CPSM, explains why!

Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sara Libby about her role as the Corporate Marketing Manager at SWCA Environmental Consultants (SWCA) and SMPS Arizona CPSM Chair. Besides picking her brain about the benefits of the Certified Professional Services Marketer (CPSM) certification and the CPSM boot camp, I learned some interesting facts about Sara!

A brief background on Sara Libby – Sara graduated from ASU with a bachelor’s degree in Marketing. During the first part of college, she took several Environmental Engineering classes, which has helped her succeed in her job at SWCA.

Sara has been in the A/E/C marketing industry for 11 years and 4 ½ of it has been with SWCA Environmental Consultants, where she serves as the corporate Marketing Manager for the company’s 31 offices and 850 employees. She enjoys the “nerdy” side of marketing – this includes the sharing of marketing information and resources throughout her company for marketing and business development support.

Now, back to why those four letters matter – Q&A time!

What do you consider to be the “nuts and bolts” of obtaining the CPSM certification?

Sara explained the requirements of the CPSM –being eligible to test based on experience (Bachelor’s degree + 4 years of experience, Associate’s degree + 6 years of experience, or 8 years of experience), passing the CPSM exam and then maintaining the 50 Certified Education Units (CEUs) every three years after passing the exam.

In addition, she explained that the CPSM exam consists of six domains of practice that cover the Marketing and Business Development gamut. It supplies a wide bank of knowledge in the marketing and business development profession that you might not be exposed to in your actual job. Study groups and study “boot camps” help members prepare for the exam. There is currently a boot camp taking place from January 20, 2017  to May 02, 2017. 

How has obtaining your CPSM impacted your career?

Sara attributes her CPSM certificate for getting her current job at SWCA. Her boss saw that she had the CPSM credentials and Sara feels it was the tipping point that got her the job offer.

What would your advice be to someone that is interested in participating in the boot camp?

She said, “Just do it! We’ve got a great lineup of SMPS Arizona CPSMs and Domain experts that will be presenting the study materials. On top of that, you’ll be in good company. There are 10 others signed up for the boot camp with whom you can study and who will hold you accountable to sit for the exam and take the next big step in your career.”

What information can you provide a marketer that is seeking approval from their boss to enroll in the boot camp?

“At only $80 for a 16 week course, this the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to getting a comprehensive education in marketing and Business Development for the A/E/C industry. Also, being surrounded by others who have the same goal as you – to pass the CPSM exam! – can be extremely motivating and can hold you accountable in reaching that goal.”

What are some interesting facts about you, outside of work?

Sara has a very exciting life outside of her marketing and CRM data. Sara sings Big Band and Latin Jazz music in two bands and participates in swing and salsa dancing. Recently she sang the National Anthem for the Goodman’s Office Chair Hockey tournament!

Sara is the CPSM chair for SMPS Arizona and she would be happy to talk to any interested SMPS members about pursuing CPSM credentials – she can also tell you the best places to go dancing!

Click here for CPSM FAQ sheet from the CPSM Info Session held November 2016, which featured Kevin Doyle, SMPS HQ Certification and IT Manager. For more information on the CPSM program or on the CPSM Boot Camp, contact:

Sara Libby, CPSM
SWCA Environmental Consultants|
2016-2017 SMPS Arizona CPSM Chair
[email protected]

Are you a CPSM? How has it benefited your career? Please share! 

Interviewer/Blog Writer: Debbie Parkins
Business Development, Western Technologies

Debbie Parkins, Business Developer with Western Technologies, has been a SMPS member for a year and a half. She enjoys the hosting duties of the hospitality committee and getting to meet other SMPS Members. Debbie enjoys her communication role within her job and loves to ski during winter! 

Interviewee: Sara Libby
Marketing Manager, SWCA Environmental Consultants 

Sara is a marketing professional specializing in branding, communications, graphics, public relations, copywriting and proposal creation. She has been a SMPS member for 11 years and is currently the CPSM Chair. Sara loves to sign and dance in her free time!  

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All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go

For Pete’s sake, a late proposal is like a woman “all dressed up with nowhere to go.” Voilà – two clichés in one sentence.

It’s 2:58! Whew, you made it! Another one signed, sealed, delivered! Two minutes to spare until the 3:00 pm deadline passes – high fives all around. Although you made the deadline, just-in-time (JIT), delivery should not be condoned.

Waiting until the last minute to turn in a proposal has proven to be detrimental. What can go wrong on the way to deliver a proposal that you have spent weeks preparing? I’m sure you have your own stories, but here are a few scenarios I have encountered: heavy traffic, snarly auto accidents, everyone’s favorite car problems, torrential monsoons, blinding haboobs, fierce flooding and of course there’s also running out of time. Super Bowls, concerts, large gatherings, police actions, sporting events, Spring Training – and the list goes on.

Since the beginning of my career, proposal delivery has been forethought and planned out in the beginning of the pursuit. I’ve been in the practice of being over prepared.

Here are a few examples from throughout my career, where my team and I have taken extreme measures to ensure a smooth and timely delivery.

Our Phoenix team members co-located with a designer in Albuquerque for a large design-build pursuit. The proposal team worked long hours and had many components of the price and proposal to prepare. Management did not want to burden the team with the stress of driving the large submittal package two hours away to Santa Fe to turn in. Instead, we had two team members drive the proposal to Santa Fe, in separate cars, just in case one broke down. They called to check in a few times along the way and it was delivered four hours early. 

Take away: Be over prepared, failure to deliver is not acceptable.

I made a deal with a new, young colleague that if they turned in a proposal to the City of Kingman using the company car, they could stay over in Laughlin and use the company car over the weekend. I asked her to call me when she left and to check in along the way for peace of mind. We discussed what time she was to leave so she could turn the proposal in hours early but she never called to tell me she was on her way. I called her company cell phone and personal phone numerous times over several hours and was not able to get ahold of her. As the proposal team assessed the situation, we decided to reprint the proposal and travel the opposite way in case there was an issue on the highway. Both drivers got to the City of Kingman at roughly the same time. The new employee was so shocked to learn that we reprinted the proposal and traveled using an alternate route. She had no idea how important communication and timely delivery of a proposal was.

Take away: Communication is KEY!

My favorite and most embarrassing story – While living in Hawaii, my plan was to fly to Honolulu, spend the night and turn in the proposal in the morning. I decided not to go over the night before and canceled my flight, hotel and rental car. Getting last minute accommodations is usually not a problem, except for that week. It was approaching ProBowl weekend and every flight, hotel and rental car was booked. A coworker, who scheduled travel, noticed that I had canceled and she figured I wasn’t aware of the busy weekend and limited resources. She was able to get me a flight due to her family connection at the airlines. I took the proposal in a medium-sized box and placed it under the seat in front of me as the overhead bins were already full. The flight attendant told me I would have to put the box below board as it was oversized and not within regulations to be under the seat. I explained to her how important this box was and that I couldn’t take the chance that it might get lost or damaged. She wasn’t having any of my argument. My eyes welled up with tears, I placed a label on the box with contact information. When she saw my label she said, “oh, my Aunty works there, we can put that box in the juice closet right here.” Thank goodness for Ohana (family). When I got to Honolulu every car was rented. Back in the day, not all cabs took credit, so I had to wait for one that took a credit card. The proposal was turned in two hours before the deadline. I dodged a bullet on that one.

Take away: Stick to the plan and learn from your mistakes.

Every day is a school day! Although we are out of school, we never stop learning. Learning from your mistakes is some of the best medicine we can take. Here’s a list to help you get your proposal delivered smoothly:

  • Start with the end in mind. What do you want your delivery to look like? Build your schedule to reflect it
  • Have a plan B & C
  • Be over-prepared and assign someone to deliver the proposal
  • Set a ‘pencils down’ date for authors/content. Give marketing time to take over and prepare the proposal for delivery
  • Get all the last minute stuff done first - labels, tabs, forms and find the delivery route
  • Be finished a day ahead of time. You have 70% of the proposal material in your knowledge database
  • Always be prepared. Bring supplies (tape, envelopes, scissors, cash, extra labels) so you can be nimble in the field

Your team is only as strong as the weakest link – don’t be the weak link. Get that winning proposal in. All dressed up and nowhere to go – a late proposal doesn’t win the work, period.

Oh, by the way, never use clichés in your proposals! Never! That will be my next blog post. Keep it Simple Silly (KISS)… oh gosh, I can’t help myself with these clichés.

What are some instances where you can relate to our writer's personal stories? We would love to hear other lessons learned when it comes to delivering a proposal you worked so hard to complete! 


Guest Blogger 

A special thank you to our guest blogger who wrote this great blog post while participating in the 2016 SMPS Mentor-Protégé Program. We appreciate Maisha Hagan's support of the chapter blog and encourage more mentors and protégés to guest write for our blog. Please reach out to Ashley Black if you have the desire to write freely and creatively! 


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What I have gained – and lost (so far) by taking a risk.

About a year ago, I did something really brave -or some would say really stupid. Two days after graduating college with a Bachelor Degree in Marketing Communications, I bought a one-way flight to Phoenix, leaving behind my family, friends, my favorite winter coat and everything I’ve known for the past 21 years. Why? Well, since we are being brutally honest, I left my life behind to be with my (then) boyfriend of five years. We had been together since our senior year of high school and he had recently transferred to Arizona State University, which postponed his graduation to the fall of 2016. At the time, I had the perfect plan; I had it all figured out (at the age of 21, LOL, laugh with me please): I would kick-start my career in Phoenix, he would finish off his last year at ASU, we would settle down, buy a house, get married, own a dog, have kids and live happily ever after— so I’d thought.

A month after moving to Arizona, reality hit me and I found myself very unhappy in my relationship. I decided to put an end to it – I packed my bags and moved out of his apartment. I drove to my cousin’s house in Chandler and sat outside crying on the phone to my parents. My mom was on the other end of the line frantically looking for the next flight back to Washington D.C. As much as I wanted to go back home, I told my mom no. I told my parents that I was going to stick it out and see what this new state had to offer. During this time, I had barely any money saved; I was currently employed but looking for a better job and had no place to live. Luckily, my cousin insisted that I stay with her while until I got back on my feet. I crashed on her couch for three weeks until I had saved enough money for my own apartment. During that time, I struggled finding job opportunities that didn’t include a call center or door-to-door sales. I was interviewing left and right for all the wrong positions. I was beginning to feel discouraged and I was completely regretting not taking my parent’s offer to move back home.

After a month without any luck, I received a phone call from Danielle Feroleto at Small Giants. We chatted for a bit and scheduled a day and time to meet in person. We hit it off and had a great interview, but she said that they were looking for someone with more marketing experience. However, she explained that she knew of a company that I would be a great fit for –  Willmeng. She showed me their marketing advertisements, their proposals and what I would be doing as a Marketing Coordinator if offered the position. At first, I was a little hesitant. I knew nothing about construction –absolutely nothing about the industry. How was I supposed to market something that I had no prior knowledge of? The night before my interview, I looked over every tab, hyperlink and picture from the Willmeng website. I took notes, LOTS of notes. I studied their mission statement, their staff members and their projects trying to figure out what I would be getting myself into.

I felt pretty confident after leaving the interview and I received a call from Krystal Book, Marketing Manager/Executive Assistant at Willmeng, a couple days later, offering the position as their Marketing Coordinator. I think I said yes before I even let her finish asking.

I’ve been working for Willmeng for almost a year now and I have nothing but excellent things to say about the company, the culture of the company and everyone I work with. We truly are one big family. I’ve learned so much about construction and the industry itself working for Willmeng. I was also given the opportunity to join a great mentorship program with SMPS. I’ve met inspiring women and mentors who remind me constantly what I’m working toward. I may not be where I want to be yet, but I know I’m heading in the right direction and it all started from taking a chance at love, watching it fail and later transforming itself into a blessing. There have been so many times where I have asked myself, why am I here? Why did I ever leave home?  But, then I look around and see all the friends I’ve made, how much independence I’ve gained, the great job I have and I remind myself – Oh, that’s why.

As Albert Einstein once said, “The person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”   I couldn’t agree with him more. Life is all about trial and error. Take a chance, make some mistakes and watch all the things you will gain and lose (for the better) because of it.


Lizette Naranjo
Marketing Coordinator,
 Willmeng Construction, Inc.

An inspiring marketing guru in the making, Lizette Naranjo is an East coast girl living the post-grad life in the West. Being just a baby in the A/E/C industry, she enjoys being outdoors, doing yoga, playing and watching sports (football and college basketball, especially) and spending time with friends. 

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Five Internal Customer Service Tips to Incorporate at Work

Customer service is something every company strives to provide in any external interaction. It’s what solidifies a company’s reputation and brings them the opportunity for more business. But, in an industry where retention of employees can at times be a struggle, how can these same principles be applied to internal communications with employees, making them feel more valued through marketing efforts?

1. Celebrate Employee Achievements
This one seems obvious, but take time to celebrate the little achievements as much as the big ones, like extended years of service or awards. If you have an internal weekly email, intranet site, or especially a weekly newsletter that actually goes out to customers, mention small accomplishments of all employee levels. From passing inspections and OSHA certifications, all the way to going above and beyond in the field, little recognitions let other employees know they are valued and their hard work does not go unnoticed. Improved morale is infectious and it can go a long way to promote a strong team environment.


2. Each Request is Worth Your Time
Everyone has deadlines and what seems like a never-ending mountain of tasks in a given day, but when another department or employee reaches out to you for an unusual request or something that seems unrelated to your department, take the time to use your resources and point them in the right direction. Going the extra mile to find a solution, or even just responding with, “I don’t think I have the means to help you, but I think this person might have some information you’re looking for,” can mean a world of difference. A company culture of helping hands may sound cheesy, but ultimately is what sustains a successful work environment. 

3. Support, Support, Support
When possible, go out of your way to support other departments in ways that you normally wouldn’t. This could mean attending a tradeshow with the sales team or a meeting that doesn’t necessarily pertain to your department, but introduces you to functions of different departments; opening the doors to greater communication, understanding and collaboration between different sectors of the company.

4. Survey Employees Like You Would Customers
Surveys are often ignored, pushed aside to collect dust, deemed unworthy of our time. Consider for a second the limitless amounts of information waiting to be discovered about how the company can better serve and utilize its employees in a manner that begets the most efficient work, but yet leaves employees feeling satisfied and appreciated. Imagine the number of undiscovered ideas that could be waiting for an opportunity to be discussed. All of this information is at our finger tips, we simply need to seek it out and put it to good use.

 5. When in Doubt, Get Back
If you have any doubts about an idea or request brought to you by another employee or department, do not hesitate to simply get back to them with an answer when you have reached a certain conclusion. While, it may seem like the best approach to have answers instantly on hand, providing information or solutions that you may not be able to follow through with could create resentment and tension between employees or departments. Take the time to be certain you are able to help or have the correct information before giving that data to someone else. It is the best courtesy you can offer.


Internal customer service is often overlooked but, if executed properly, has an immense impact on employee satisfaction. This type of customer service requires cooperation combined with communication, resulting in departments working cohesively. What are some of the ways you attempt to be internally customer centric?  Or, are there specific colleagues that come to mind while reading this that you might feel particularly thankful for? 

Chelsey Lutteke 
Marketing Coordinator, Sunland Asphalt

Chelsey Lutteke recently reached her one year mark at Sunland, which also marks her first year in the A/E/C Industry! She has been involved with SMPS for about a year as well and enjoyed participating in the SMPS Mentorship Program. Before entering the A/E/C world, Chelsey was a Marketer in several other industries, including: Higher Education, Healthcare and Law.

Chelsey is very interested in intercultural communications and the influence of culture on communication! This urge to learn about other cultures has fueled her passion for traveling, which most recently brought herto Peru for two weeks in June to climb Machu Picchu. 

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The Pursuit...To Happiness

Do you remember that time when an RFP was almost literally “thrown in your lap” and you had less than a week to do it?  Your first question is “who is available to assist with the technical pieces?” and the response is “haven’t we already written something like this?” Right then and there you realize they are not invested in this project, so you ask “why should I spend my nights and weekend putting this together?”  Oh, did I forget to mention it was issued two weeks ago?  I know you’ve all been there, don’t lie.  But things are about to change….

Michelle Martin, SmithGroupJJR’s former Marketing Manager for the San Francisco office, and current Higher Education Corporate Practice Manager, alongside her marketing team and office leadership decided to make a change. The team created a transparent process, one that all parties are enthusiastic, and acquiescent, to pursue work.  Here’s how you can improve the process, but remember it takes buy-in from leadership:

STEP 1: Identify what is going wrong and why.  The quality of responses are only as good as the thought put into them. A poor proposal response results in a loss 99% of the time, dropping your firm’s win rate and revenue. This approach creates unsatisfied internal clients, and thus unhappy marketing personnel. Most likely, the result of this unsuccessful process can be attributed to one or more of the following reasons: a lack of understanding of what it takes to win work or where involvement is critical, assuming others will do the work or that “we already have this write up” approach, and lastly— avoidance. So, change this mindset of your team and take the steps to create a transparent process. During this first step of developing an improved process, you should gather statistics including how many hours (or dollars) are spent on any given pursuit, hit rates (wins vs. losses), and possibly even marketing turnover rates to help sell why a processis critical. 

STEP 2: Develop a transparent process for the environment you work in, and gain buy-in before launching. The ideal process is a holistic one where we have gained insight about the project opportunity through business development. We have an idea of when the RFP/Q is coming out and why the firm is uniquely qualified to win the project.  The RFP/Q hits the street and you have a team of business development, technical leadership and marketing to dedicate the time and effort necessary for a winning, tailored response. The two key players are the Pursuit Champion and the Marketing Lead. A  Pursuit Champion is identified off the bat— this person is a technical staff member who understands the expectations and is invested in the project. Ideally, the Pursuit Champion is a decent writer, has capacity, adheres to deadlines, and is an efficient communicator and leader. The Marketing Lead also adheres to the deadlines they set forth, leads the pursuit kick off, creates a story board and creative graphic representation, and of course, effectively communicates. Depending on your firm, a Business Developer or other technical staff are critical to the success of your projects.  Identify who should be involved and at what stages to ensure a smooth process for all.  Once you have done this, try a soft launch with those you can identify as “brand ambassadors” who are invested in your new process. Ask for buy-in and adjust as needed.

STEP 3: Execute the process.  Try it out, follow through and alter as you see fit or as suggestions arise.  Train those individuals who are, or may become “Pursuit Champions”. While an ideal Pursuit Champion embodies all the skills and characteristics listed above, ideal is hard to find. Lead training sessions to help Pursuit Champions realize their potential. Remind everyone that we are all in it for the same goal— to win awesome work! Remember, if you don’t execute, then the process stays broken.

Reevaluate your process by looking at your shortlist and win rates. Ask the staff if they are happier and just as important, ask yourself if you are happier.

Check out the pursuit booklet here for a step by step process developed by the SmithGroupJJR California team.  We would love to hear how you have implemented a new process, or if you have any feedback!

Rachel Minzey
Associate| Marketing Manager, SmithGroupJJR

Rachel Minzey began her career in the AEC industry in 2007.  She lived in New York City for four years and then came back to the Valley in 2012, where she has grown her career within SmithGroupJJR. She has been a member of SMPS since 2014 and has truly enjoyed the opportunity to meet individuals with similar roles, sharing best practices and lessons learned.

Before having her two young sons, Rachel was an avid synchronized swimmer since the age of 8. When she’s not playing with her children, Rachel enjoys being crafty - she enjoys making jewelry, as well as crafts to spruce up her home. 


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