As a PR professional, I am always pleased when industry, media, and the community come together to recognize professional achievement in any category.
One such event I love is the Idaho Business Review’s Accomplished Under 40 awards program. This amazing event brings together all levels of professionals to celebrate the contributions of the youngest among us. While my under 40 days passed many moons ago, as a professional, I feel obligated to support my younger peers, as do most professionals and organizations these days. Those under 40 whippersnappers are our future and they are making exciting, dynamic, important changes through their professional efforts throughout Idaho.
While hundreds of Idaho go-getters were nominated, what surprised me initially when reviewing the list and the follow up article posted here by The Constructivist, is that only 3 winners were from the A/E/C industry.
That’s 7.5% of the winners, for an industry that provides almost 20% of the state’s employment.
After thinking about it, I realized that I really should not be that surprised.
Architects, engineers and construction professionals are not great marketers. Of course, they can be, do not get me wrong – I have seen many examples of great marketing within the A/E/C industry – but as a generality, there is not an emphasis on self-promotion among A/E/C professionals. Yes, organizations often promote the projects, but getting Architects and Engineers to play the PR game is nearly impossible.
Much of it is personality, and again, speaking generally, many architects and engineers skew toward being introverted, analytical, and efficient – important characteristics that help them professionally, but are not often associated with flashy marketing.
I have worked in and around the A/E/C industry for two decades and I personally love working with engineers. By default, they require me, as a marketer, to be both efficient and subtle in my approach, which normally suits me just fine. I have found that as a group, they will be the first to laugh with me as we joke about how they shun the spotlight, especially for anything as fluffy as publicity.
But anyone who does this work knows that to be recognized as an expert in your field and a leader in your community – especially one as tight-knit as Idaho’s – you have to be visible. You have to put yourself, and your firm, and your projects out there, which can be really challenging for many A/E/C professionals.
Sadly, most firms handle this by hiring a marketing coordinator. You’ve seen her (yes, her!) – that one girl in the office doing all the marketing for the entire team (which often really just means putting together proposals and organizing RFP responses). Marketing in the A/E/C is often an entry level position or an add-on to an administrative position. A/E/C firms undervalue marketing from hiring, to promotion, to professional development, then later lament that marketing doesn’t really work or there is no ROI.
I have seen the other side. My employment with Stantec’s marketing division is a perfect example where marketing, client services, and publicity were seamlessly integrated into the fabric of the organization.
And I guess it is working.
Consistently rated as an ENR Top 150 Global Design Firm and recently Building Design + Construction (BD+C) magazine’s top architecture/engineering firm in the country, Stantec clearly knows how to use marketing to grow a professional services firm.
However, most firms do not take this approach. Probably some suffer from fear of being viewed as a social climbing ‘Starchitect’ wanna-be or a real dislike for promotion, but the vast majority just do not understand. I have seen time and time again A/E/C firms miss engagement opportunities, underfund marketing, and generally reduce efforts on promotion. Even The Idaho Business Review wrote that, “Idaho architects tend to keep a low profile.” Idaho A/E/C firms are struggling to even gain visibility for projects here in Idaho, but few seem prepared to make the marketing leap.
With industry associations, such as AIA Idaho leading the way, firms will soon have many new opportunities to shine. Awards ceremonies, such as Accomplished Under 40 is a good place to start.
But to really be successful at marketing, firms will have to start creating cultures of communication. It is not easy, but with the right people at the table driving marketing clients, constituents, and the general public will start to see that we do more than just build things. Our industry is leading economic growth and making exciting contributions to Idaho every day, in many ways.
Congratulations to all the winners, and especially our friends from the A/E/C world – I know it took a lot for you to step into the limelight.
I would love to hear your thoughts too. How do you like to market and where do you engage with your public?
Next time, let’s chat about how your A/E/C firm can learn how to begin to create a culture of communications and make marketing work.
Julia Angelen Joy
Z Group PR