Marketers, Principals Strategize for Recession

Event: SMPS-NY’s MARKETING IN A RECESSION: Lessons Learned and the Impact on the Future of the A/E/C Industry
Location: Center for Architecture, 11.05.09
Keynote Speakers: Mike Reilly — Reilly Communications; Connie Mugno — Mugno Consulting
Speakers: James Cooke — Chairman, James Cooke Consultants; Clifford Selbert — Partner, Selbert Perkins Design Collaborative; Nancy Ruddy — Principal, Cetra/Ruddy; Yeng Wu — Principal, ZGF Architects; Gary H. Pomerantz, PE, LEED AP — Executive Vice President, WSP Flack+Kurtz; Stephen DeSimone, PE, LEED AP — President/Chief Executive, DeSimone Consulting Engineers; Peter Marchetto — President, Construction Operations, Tishman Construction Corporation; Eric McGovern — President & CEO, Pavarini McGovern
Moderator: David Koren, CPSM, Assoc. AIA — Director of Marketing & Associate Principal, Perkins Eastman
Organizers: SMPS-NY in collaboration with AIANY Marketing & PR Committee
Sponsors: Handel Architects; Service Point

While both marketing professionals and firm principals struggle with conflicting expectations when it comes to marketing strategies, current economic conditions magnify the fact that marketing is a firm-wide responsibility. Michael Reilly of Reilly Communications believes that now is the time for firms to recast themselves. There are five steps for firms to reinvent themselves, according to Connie Mugno of Mugno Consulting: don’t go for everything that comes your way; reevaluate your firm’s vision and then identify its core strengths; avoid engaging in a long-term strategic planning process; instead, develop a brief, two-to-three page, action-oriented plan; and finally, communicate this plan to everyone in your firm by making it visible.

Mugno suggested that marketing professionals take a proactive approach by serving as strategists for their firms. Firm principals should use down time to update computing systems and train employees in BIM, which is no longer a competitive advantage but rather a service that clients expect. She also recommended that firms build cost-cutting options into proposals, and even help clients get construction loans.

Some firms have creatively adapted to the changing economic climate, Reilly said. One of his clients had specialized in theater and performance spaces, but now completes case studies for much-needed rehearsal spaces at colleges and universities. A geotechnical firm researched opportunities to work with stimulus money. Another firm switched its focus entirely to healthcare projects, a specialty that will always be in demand. In each case, he pointed out, the leadership came from the firms’ marketing directors. While many firms have cut their marketing budgets, Reilly said those that have focused on staying visible have been more successful at getting new work. He also emphasized that social media is an important tool to attract press and, more importantly, new clients.

In small discussion groups, attendees expressed that fear is the most common barrier to progress, with staff simply not knowing what to do to help market a firm. Some marketing professionals expressed difficultly communicating with firm principals. Others expressed frustration with staff members for not following up on proposals in a timely manner or providing the marketing department with the information they need. Reilly suggested that marketers should not only promote the firm, but also promote themselves and their contributions within the firm.

At the Principal’s Panel, it was agreed that marketing practices of previous years are no longer valid. Moderator David Koren, CPSM, Assoc. AIA, director of marketing and associate principal at Perkins Eastman, asked the panelists how they have prepared staff for this changing landscape. Many admitted to diversifying their portfolios, but Nancy Ruddy, principal of Cetra/Ruddy, said that even though it is challenging firms can examine their previous experience and core strengths and adapt accordingly. For example, if a firm specialized in housing pre-recession, then they might go for dormitory projects now.

The principals agreed that face-to-face interaction with existing and future clients is a must. “Cold calling and answering RFPs, that’s not business,” said Stephen DeSimone, PE, LEED AP, president of DeSimone Consulting Engineers. Sometimes previous clients don’t realize that firms are willing to do smaller-scale projects, and Ruddy believes that principals shouldn’t be afraid to ask. However, firms can still be selective in this economy, stated Yeng Wu, principal of ZGF Architects. Unless a project aligns with her firm’s core values, she is willing to pass it up.

Many RFPs elicit hundreds of responses, but this panel agreed it’s not worth getting caught up in the panic. Gary H. Pomerantz, PE, LEED AP, executive vice president of WSP Flack+Kurtz, suggested going for projects with better odds. Marketing departments are being asked to do more with fewer resources and are under tremendous pressure to bring in work. Similarly, principals are busy keeping current clients happy and working their own connections. “Don’t keep your ideas to yourself, think out of the box. PUSH,” Ruddy emphasized.