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Expert Advice from David Easterbrooks

July 6, 2010

At the end of May, you asked a few questions. Now, Dave Easterbrooks, CPSM, has answered two of your burning questions: how to make the marketing meeting useful, and how to set yourself up for success as an A/E/C marketer!  Dave is the current SMPS Boston President, and has been a member for 25 years, so he’s well equipped to provide some insights into the challenging world of A/E/C marketing.

Any suggestions on how to steer the weekly marketing meeting away from a recitation of mundane status updates (however much a necessary evil) to something more strategic (and hopefully more useful, interesting, & energizing)?

This is a common lament at many firms – how do we keep the weekly marketing meeting from becoming a scene out of Groundhog Day with endless repetition of the same old status updates? Obviously the status updates are important, but there has to be a more useful and energizing way to conduct these meetings.

An approach I have used to minimize meeting time devoted to general updates is emailing my Weekly Marketing Report to all attendees one day prior to the marketing meeting. You can request that all participants review the report before the meeting and limit meeting discussion to items requiring input, feedback, and/or resources from others. We are all busy (many of us too busy!) and reciting everything we have on our schedules doesn’t help shorten the list or win us brownie points!

So, what to do with all the free time you have suddenly created? In this economy, you can never spend too much time thinking strategically. I suggest individual assignments be parceled out to meeting participants—assignments like analyzing new or existing markets, gathering in-depth client intelligence, performing competitor assessments, etc. Each week, a different individual can present their findings to the group, and the group will have the responsibility of brainstorming as many ways as possible to use or implement the new intelligence.

My firm also likes to conduct S.O.O.N. Exercises in our marketing/business development meetings. S.O.O.N. stands for Situation/Opportunity/Obstacle/Next Steps. An individual who is struggling to come up with the best approach to enter a new market or to win a specific client puts together a brief report of the Situation, how or why it is an Opportunity, and the Obstacles he or she (or the firm) faces. The rest of the group then brainstorms to create a list of Next Steps—concrete action items that can be used to overcome the obstacles. Sometimes the best outcome of a S.O.O.N. Exercise is the realization that the perceived opportunity is a poor fit for your company. With a finite amount of time and resources, we don’t want to be pursuing work that doesn’t fit the firm’s long-term goals.

I hope these suggestions spark some ideas. Good luck revitalizing your weekly marketing meetings!

You have a couple decades of experience – what “words of wisdom” would you like to impart to those relatively new to the profession?

Easily the best advice I can give anyone who is fairly new to the A/E/C marketing profession is to get involved in a professional organization like SMPS, use the educational offerings to build a general base of industry knowledge, volunteer on a committee (you cannot imagine the value of this!), and actively seek the friendship and advice of someone who has enjoyed working in the industry for a number of years (and who could possibly become a mentor).

If you have come to your A/E/C marketing position directly from college or from another industry, you may feel like you are surrounded by people speaking another language! However, if you want to be effective in your new position you will need to learn the special vocabulary of our trade and develop at least a basic understanding of the interrelated disciplines that comprise the planning, design, construction, and procurement aspects of our industry.

I was fortunate to work for my father’s civil engineering firm during my high school and college years, and that provided me with a good understanding of basic design and construction practices. I still had a lot to learn about the marketing and BD side of the business, but at least I understood what went on inside most A/E/C firms and the kinds of services they provide. If you didn’t happen to fall into an apprenticeship like me, there are some great seminars and workshops offered by SMPS, AIA, AGC and others that can help you learn the nuts and bolts of the A/E/C industry and get a better grasp of the process and terminology.

Another piece of advice – seek out a mentor from within your firm’s technical staff. As marketers, we actually have enviable access to some of the most experienced and knowledgeable members of our firms. It’s our job, in one way or another, to help them win work and to make them (and the firm) look good. So at most firms, you will have ample time to learn the business at the elbow of senior principals and project managers who need your help with the latest proposal or project interview, or help in deriving the best press or new collateral materials from a recently completed project. If you show a real desire to learn, I have found these individuals to be incredibly generous with their time and expertise.

Learn all the facets of the A/E/C marketing field and then find what you truly enjoy and at which you excel – be it writing (many marketers are actually the BEST writers at their firms, with the ability to transform technical jargon into seamless prose anyone can understand), graphic design, promotional activities, business development, or one of the other specialties that make up our particular world of marketing. You may be required by your firm to contribute in all of these areas, but there is usually an opportunity to specialize in the talent you love.

Develop a thick skin – we all want to win every project we pursue, but obviously that’s impossible and you can’t take the losses personally. Like baseball players, our firms are doing pretty well when we have a batting average over 300. But that means we are unsuccessful two-thirds of the time! Some of your very best work will not be rewarded. But everything comes around to those who continue to work hard. Each of us will get our share of celebrations if we continue to work at it.

And finally, have fun. The marketing and business development people of the A/E/C world are some of the friendliest and most outgoing people on the planet! Don’t hesitate to introduce yourself to other attendees at programs and networking events. Better yet, ask an SMPS member to make some introductions at the next event—you will be amazed at how easy it is to grow your network of industry contacts. Regardless of where your career leads you, I guarantee you will make many lifelong friends. And if you enjoy seeing the fruits of your labor spring up in the form of new buildings, schools, parks, highways, bridges, infrastructure or other countless project types, I think you may have found your calling!


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