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Senior Member Profile: Donna Denio

October 20, 2010

In this month’s Senior Member Profile, meet Donna Denio, Principal of DiverseSpace.

How long have you been working in the marketing industry?
30 years

What has your involvement in SMPS been like? When were you president?
I was on the Board of Directors twice, once in the early 1980s and again in the late 1990s. The first time I served, I was club secretary for two years. I was encouraged to run for president and I did run against Marie Vinless. At the time, I was very nervous about public speaking. We had to give a speech on election night and I felt, even though I had a coach and rehearsed my speech, that it did not go very well. Marie won. 

I went on to become Marketing Vice President for Cannon Design, responsible for marketing and business development in all five offices, so became less active in SMPS and more active in the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) (I served on the North Atlantic Regional Council), Commercial Real Estate Development Association (NAIOP), and the Society of Healthcare Strategy & Marketing Development (SHSMD).

Later, when I left Cannon Design, I became a marketing consultant. Many in SMPS Boston did not know me because I had been away from active participation for almost 10 years so I joined the Board again and after chairing the Program Committee, ran for president. This time I won the election. I believe I was president 1998-1999. It was the year immediately before Chris Keeley, who served as my president-elect, was president.

How has the industry changed since you started? 
When I first started, almost all firm or team selection was based on qualifications. Only after you were selected did the client begin to negotiate price. Also, it seems to me that architects and engineers were much more highly respected in the community.

I remember when I was in business school (in the early 1980s), I did a research paper about pricing in professional services. At that time, there was a landmark court case. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had a case against the American Medical Association (AMA). Doctors, at the time, also never disclosed their pricing. I believe the AMA complained about a doctor who was advertising his prices. The Courts ruled that to keep prices hidden (not quote or advertise price) was prohibiting fair trade. I believe competitive pricing has changed our industry and not for the better. This and several other court decisions opened the doors to competitive pricing.

Price is always a factor, but it shouldn’t be the most important factor. To me, hiring the lowest-priced firm is the same as marrying someone for their money. To look ONLY at economics is very short sighted.

Now we are in a battle against each other to make our prices lower and lower and everything suffers… our creativity, our value, our salary structures, and also the culture of design and construction firm workplaces. Work used to be much more fun.

What is a lesson learned from your time in the industry as a marketing professional?
I learned to understand and value the design and construction process and appreciate the many talented professionals in our design and construction community.

What piece of advice would you tell a young marketer just starting out? 
I would tell a young marketer to value the relationships they are building, take time for their friends and family because our industry can be very fickle. Employers and co-workers may come and go, but your friends and family will always be there to support you. Your SMPS friends may be able to give you a lead to the next job or even hire you. Also, work hard and learn as much as you can every day.

The recession has made a large impact on the marketing profession and the marketer’s role in a firm. What would you advise marketing professionals to do in terms of “showing their value” to firm principals? 
Don’t be afraid to self promote. When you get a lead (or author a winning proposal), send it out over e-mail and make sure all the principals are copied. Keep a private list of all your accomplishments… the newsletters, develop a web site, open the door to new clients… all of it… and when your review comes, bring in your list and be ready to sell everyone on the value that you bring every day.

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