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Dec. '05 Build Business: Why Hire a Marketing Staff?

No longer considered unethical and tacky, marketing has morphed into an essential tool for savvy A/E/C firms.

by David Grant, President, LVM Group Inc.
December 1, 2005

Editor’s note: As a monthly contributor to, the Society for Marketing Professional Services is sponsoring Build Business. This series, written by industry experts, focuses on marketing and business development best practices to help you build business and advance your career.


Not too long ago, it was literally illegal. But even after the United States Supreme Court allowed professional service firms to market in the late 1970s, and architects were no longer subject to the penal system and the rack – well, I exaggerate a bit here – many still considered it unethical and tacky.


Now those days are gone, and marketing has morphed into an essential tool. Today, more and more law firms, accountants, contractors, engineers – and architects – use marketing to distinguish themselves from the competition. Indeed, marketers have become such an integral part of many architectural firms that, in some cases, they've even been made partners.


Some traditionalists still harrumph if they learn that an architect has taken an ad (even a modest one) or (gasp!) hired a public relations firm, but such people are becoming as extinct as designers who prefer pencils to computers.


According to a study conducted by the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS), in the past two years – years when many principals were drastically cutting expenses – firms growing 20% or more annually increased marketing budgets an average of 33%, and firms growing 1 to 19% annually grew their marketing budgets an average of 18.3%.


Not only has the use of marketing for architects radically expanded, but also the nature of that marketing has also changed substantially, says Ron Worth, chief operating officer of SMPS. “Continuity of work, finding profitable niches, and segmentation of clients are all mandatory for success in today's competitive market," Worth says. "More and more marketers are using the Internet to manage ongoing research for their firms – to keep them in the forefront of the industry, while guiding their organizations with strategic initiatives with the information they have regularly funneled into their computers. And now competitive intelligence-gathering is a given in order to monitor market trends, competitor activities, and client goals – all meant to ensure a constant foothold for their firm's position and perception in the industry."


"One of the first pieces of advice we received from our business advisor was to bring a marketing director on staff, even though it was a big-ticket overhead item at the time," recalls Joseph Lengeling, AIA, a principal in New York City-based Magnusson Architecture and Planning. "Before that, getting out a proposal was like a hurricane running through the office; few were left untouched. Our presentations were not well edited and did not speak well of how we really envisioned our work and ourselves."  An increasing number of architects are paying attention to the points raised by Lengeling, whose 20+ member firm hired not only a full-time marketing director, but also a public relations firm.


"The idea of having a marketing professional as an integral member of the firm's management team is gaining momentum," says Sally Handley, former president of the SMPS New York City chapter, and co-author of Charting Your Career Path: Opportunities for Professional Service Marketers in the 21st Century. "It's a race, and the firms that work with marketers, and include their entire staff in business development, are the ones that will come in first."


Of course, a major impetus to marketing for architects can be summed up in two words: it works. Kenneth Levien, AIA, whose New York City firm, Levien & Co., has eschewed design for project management, reports that after he was the subject of a lengthy profile in Crain's New York Business he received so much new business that he had to expand his staff by some 30%. "What's more," he points out, "being quoted so often in the media gives me a leg up in hiring and retaining. Good people want to work for firms that are favorably mentioned in the media."


Clearly, many (and probably most) design firms across the country concur with Levien about the value of marketing: SMPS's membership dropped from 3,000 to 1,500 in 1989-90 (in part because of the recession then), but now – despite the current recession – it has grown to over 5,600 members, according to Worth, who reports that SMPS is currently growing at a steady rate of 6% to 8% a year.


In short, the minimal marketing approach long used by architectural firms is quickly becoming a practice of the past. Even the old-timers have come to realize that developing a successful and growing business is directly related to aggressively embracing the marketing function. More and more, the most successful firms include designers and marketers who work together in understanding business development and the entire process of bringing in and retaining clients – not just producing quality work. 


David M. Grant is president of LVM Group Inc., a New York City public relations firm specializing in architecture, engineering, and construction.


The Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) was created in 1973 by a small group of professional services firm leaders who recognized the need to sharpen skills, pool resources, and work together to create business opportunities. Today, the association has 50 active chapters and a membership of 5,600 marketing and business development professionals representing design, building, and related firms.

(click on pictures to enlarge)


© 2005