aec social media – myth vs. reality.

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the one constant.

Change is the one constant we can count on. Whether revolutionary or evolutionary, the dynamic of progress leads to transition. It sometimes seems that these transitions are often the hardest aspects of business to comprehend and resolve. As a wise friend once told me, recognizing that change happens “for” us, not “to” us, can help frame the challenge into an opportunity for growth.

In professional services, the vagaries of global economics means no market is “certain.” Staying the course is too often a recipe for disaster. In this era of big data and predictive analytics, there are many tools and resources that can be leveraged to identify both trends in current markets and opportunities in new markets. The savvy marketer will make it a priority to pay as much or more attention to the horizon as to the present moment. Finding the balance between now and “when” is critical to navigating the waters of change that will impact the future of the practice.

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resolution v. resolve.

It’s that time of year when we look back and find those aspects of our personal and professional lives that we know we could change—should change—to enable improved outcomes in our life and our work. And like most, developing a laundry list of resolutions is easy: spend less, eat less, and drink less and exercise more to improve health; network more, learn more, focus more and spend less to improve business. And like most, realizing the path from could to should to will is too often littered with a loss of resolve.

So this year, what will be different? In my case ‘all of the above’ top the list. However, that ‘do it all’ attitude is tempered by a new insight into the what, why, how and when I will achieve those resolutions.

For most professional service firms, it’s a little different. In most companies, the strategic goals that define the resolutions for improvement are not universally clear. Everyone in the firm has a set that most often are defined by personal need (or want) that may or may not align with the goals for the practice. If leadership has a clear vision—and communicates not only the impact and effort needed to reach a far horizon objective, but the anticipated results as well—then alignment of personal goals that support the larger effort is possible; maybe even highly probable.

I approach 2015 with a new perspective on the planning process that I believe can lead to a more effective plan. I had the opportunity to work with a client who introduced me to the concept of appreciative inquiry and a foundational structure based on identifying positive attributes of goals, strengths, opportunities, aspirations, and results. Different than more traditional planning formats that emphasize overcoming weaknesses or threats, which can stratify and stultify an organization, appreciative planning focuses on five simple yet important questions:

1. What’s Important? Define goals as an outcome. Frame the outcome as benefit to your clients, your people, and the larger community in which you serve. This can be one or a series of core objectives that define the vision and mission of the practice.

2. What’s Working? Define the structures, processes, focus, markets, people, expertise, value, etc.—the strengths—that are bringing the highest value to your clients, the organization, and the industry where you practice, today.

3. What’s Could Be? This is the chance to dream, and dream big! If all things were possible (no restrictions) what would we do differently? What else could we do? This is a real opportunity for blue sky thinking can create a sense of adventure and excitement and reignite passions for the practice that may have waned with the daily rigors of too much work too little time.

4. What Should Be? What are our core aspirations? What would be the ideal? This is where dream meets design. How can you take your expertise, experience, and excellent proofs of concept, and apply them to the opportunities identified for growth? This stage identifies strategies needed to achieve the aspirations, and aligns them with the people who will be responsible for leading the effort to see them to fruition.

5. What Will Be? For the leadership, these are the results-oriented and agreed upon set of strategies and tactics for the given measure of time where resources will be focused to achieve the goals. This iterative roadmap sets the direction and identifies the highest and best opportunities for positive change.

Note that iterative and change are important aspects of the fifth phase of the planning process. We live/work in an ever more rapidly changing world, so that no matter how detailed the plan becomes, there need to be built in regular reviews and revisions to adjust to changing markets and take advantage of new opportunities as the present themselves.

Equally important is developing how the plan is communicated. For most organizations, not everyone is engaged in the planning process, so that informing your staff of the strengths, opportunities, aspirations and desired results is critical. Similarly, engaging your clients, client’s clients, and your community can have the added benefit on extending the value of your services.

Marketing is the communication arm of any practice that is best positioned to help translate the plans vision, mission, and objectives into tactical messages, with a view toward those strategic initiatives that will differentiate the practice and provide the highest customer value. Engaging the marketing staff from the outset of the planning process ensures that message aligns with core values.

With a focus on clarity and measurable result expectations—tied to realistic budget and schedule—communicating strategy should be the first resolution for each year. It sets the stage for firm-wide and personal resolutions that we each resolve to meet—and better—exceed.

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the architecture of image.

I am happy to announce that my new book, The Architecture of Image: Branding Your Professional Service is now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Bookwire. The book will also be available at the bookstore at SMPS’ Build Business Conference in Orlando, FL, July 31-August 2.

The premise: The brand of the professional service firm is one of the most misunderstood and often under-utilized tools used to build market share and increase business. Your brand is critical to establishing and sustaining your firm’s image in the market, and critical to the creation of a successful and enduring professional practice.

In the book, I explore how culture, collaboration, and communication create, develop, and sustain an enduring brand. Beginning with a fundamental discovery process, building on collaborative values, and becoming finite, definable and reportable results, this book will help you establish a culture that values the power of your brand. Sharing insights, best practices, and examples from some of the leading brands and marketing thought leaders in the AEC industry, The Architecture of Image provides your firm with the understanding and tools to establish an enduring brand in the professional service marketplace.

I’ve been very pleased with the initial response to the publication, and am happy to share some of the first reviews:

“Park has captured for all of us in the AEC industry the essence of what it takes to be successful developers and marketers of our brand–a heretofore little understood concept in the industry. His book should be required reading for every client-facing member of our firms from new grad to CEO.”

Director of Corporate Marketing
Burns & McDonnell

“As a nationally recognized master of marketing A/E services, Park takes a fresh and fascinating look at the whole concept of branding. His book guides you to a highly effective approach to evaluate and implement a brand strategy. A must read!”

Patrick C. Bell & Company

“Dispelling the myths of what branding isn’t, Park provides a laser focus on what many have found to be an elusive and mysterious concept for professional service firms and gets to the heart of the matter of effectivebranding. Drawn on real-world experiences from his exemplary career and those of other marketing legends, the examples provided, advice cited, and recommendations made can make an immediate and lasting difference.”

Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer
Gannett Fleming

You can also order an autographed copy from my website, I also provide a presentation on the subjects covered by the book, including profiles of some of the AEC industry’s leading brands. Contact me for more information.

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consistently inconsistent.

One of the key performance indicators of effective leadership is consistency. This does not mean blind adherence to dogma. It does mean that you demonstrate behaviors that your clients, your staff and your supporters can count on. Consistency is a foundation for authenticity and integrity.

Inconsistency undermines trust and is often indicative of deeper seated issues of self esteem and ego-driven disdain and contempt for others—not characteristics of a true and effective leader. While intelligence and personality are often enough to mask these negative traits, and allow individuals to rise to a high level of leadership, it is rarely enough to allow them to sustain that position. Ultimately, that inconsistency results in isolation and vainglorious denial, and the realization of those around them that that there is need for change.

By consistently speaking your truth you build confidence in your staff and your clients. By living with intention, you manifest that truth in the quality and innovation of the services you provide. By acting with humility, you recognize the value of the position and feelings of others. Through consistent effort and mindfulness, you practice the practice of leadership. With discipline and focus, you deliver on the promise of leadership—inspiration and promise, grounded in the present moment. Through retrospection and reflection, you share wisdom and develop the next generation of leaders.

Consistently being consistent is the core competency of building lasting relationships.

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collaborative intelligence.

Each year, the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) stages a major event, their Build Business conference. This building industry-focused conference, features speakers covering topics of advanced marketing and business development techniques, market-sector focused panels, and keynotes from noted thought leaders and authors. Examples of some of the best “award winning” ideas for collateral, communication, and client appreciation are featured at the conference’s black-tie Awards Gala. Details of the programs and speakers can be found at

I’ve been attending these annual gatherings of professional service marketing’s leaders and thought leaders since 1989. In over 20 years, I’ve had the pleasure of hearing such business greats as Tom Peters and Dan Pink, and meeting thousands of my peers from across the country and from every sector of the building industry. What distinguishes this convention over many other industry events is the quality of the programming and the emphasis on networking, combined with the exuberant enthusiasm and optimism that you will only find in the company of dedicated marketing professionals. “Work hard, play hard” could easily be the subtext of the conference.

At the end of the three days, stimulated by new ideas, invigorated by the collaborative intelligence gained from interacting with professionals focused on growing their business, expanding their market share, and delivering increasingly differentiated service, I return to my firm prepared to “hit the ground running” motivated by new ideas and new connections.

If you’re in the professional service industry, especially if you work in a building-industry related firm, SMPS’ Build Business conference is not to be missed. Attend, learn and share!

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unconventional wisdom.

“It’s the way we’ve always done it!” “If it ain’t broke, don’t break it!” “But, everyone else is doing it!” So goes the litany of why we follow the path of least resistance or go with the “herd,” and continue to market “the way we always have” (even with a few “new” outlets for the “same old story”) regardless of the radical changes in market conditions that permeate the professional service industry today.

There is no discounting of the growing impact of social media. However, most clients of professional service firms don’t rely on reading your “tweet” or your “blog” or how much they “like” your Facebook page, when finding, or especially when choosing your firm for their business. There is no doubt that social media is connecting new customers to new products and services, but, to date, that has been almost exclusively in the retail world.

So why do we have a blog, and tweet, and keep our Facebook pages up to date? Because, in addition to the more traditional marketing efforts of outward-facing communication (eg, brochures, websites, advertising, sponsorship, events, public relations, publications and conference presentations, etc.) and the business development efforts of relationship building (eg, telephone calls, face-to-face meetings, bonding over meals or golf, networking mixers, etc.), these new outlets are an important part of continuing to build your network and validate your brand.

Still many firms build a website, assign someone to blog and/or tweet, monitor and update “status” on Facebook, and expect the work will roll in the door. “Are you kidding me!,” as one friend said. Closing new business is not a function of rehashing your “years in business” or how great you are (according to you) or even your latest project pictures, regardless of venue. If you continue to tell the same old same old, you will, however gradually, see market share erode. Clients looking for professional services have a very hard time distinguishing one firm from another (ask them to name another architect, engineer, accountant, or even attorney; and then ask them what they see as the differences between them and you). It is up to you to help them differentiate.

Today, especially in this economic climate (18 months of “recovery” notwithstanding), defining “benefit” and “value” in terms the client (and potential clients) can actually measure is critical. Providing accurate and “real-time” benchmarked data on project experience (eg, cost v. budget, time v. schedule, satisfaction v. expectation, performance v. specification, etc.) helps give confidence that you can actually deliver on that lofty “brand promise.” Providing pre-project planning tools and business models (for “free” — what a concept!), will draw potential clients to your website (and maybe even to your office), and really give you something to tweet about.

It is critical when budgets are tight that those responsible don’t make a mistake in a capital investment (of any magnitude). Helping your clients navigate major investments with an accurate history and insight is the hallmark of the valuable professional service firm. Create valued resources, and then go tweet about that!

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While “green” is the buzzword in virtually every industry, the green of the sales and marketing effort (that would be $$$) is more closely allied to the other definition for sustainability: the ability to keep up or keep going, as an action or process. That is the nature of the proven senior marketing professional: the ability to keep up. When times are good, keeping up is easy. The wind is at your back, the project opportunities are plentiful. But it seems those times are now but a distant memory.

Now is the time where the senior marketer must step up. This is not just a call to action, but a call to leadership. Not only as the responsible party for lead generation, pursuit strategy and presentation creation, the marketer must be the economic forecaster, project viability analyst, and full-time cheerleader for the firm.

Nothing depresses the professional service provider more than a dearth of work. Unfortunately, few will, at their own volition or motivation, kick up the pace of business development that is necessary when the economy delivers the double whammy of too few projects and too many hungry (often ‘hungrier’) competitors. That’s where the marketer steps in and leads.

So what can you do? Hold a strategy meeting every two weeks with key technical leaders who have some level of seller/doer responsibility. Review every previous client relationship that made a profit within the past 3-5 years that they have. Assign them each with the responsibility to visit those clients within the next two weeks* (that’s face-to-face, not voice(mail) or email). Give them a script (“How is the economy impacting your business?”; “What kind of challenges are you facing to get your projects moving again?”; “How can we help?”; etc.)

Set definitive sales goals (oh, how they hate the “S” word). Track their progress at each meeting. Celebrate those who are identifying new opportunities and celebrate loudly those that meet their goals. Peer pressure will take its due course.

But you’re in this boat too. Set equally challenging goals for yourself. Do you know your market share (today)? How current is your competitive analysis? When was the last time you looked hard at your proposal and presentation templates? And what have you done to maximize public relations and event sponsorship activity?

And, now is the time to be highly visible. Make sure senior firm leadership is aware of your strategies and your actions. Unless you have specific business development goals, you should be focusing on the message and communication of that message to your target audience.

These are tough times for all professional service firms regardless of industry. But it absolutely the right time to refocus your energy on sustainability, for you, your peers and your company.

* Why two weeks? Two weeks give them time to actually accomplish a task, and enough time not to have any excuses for not.

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the right role for the cmo.

There seems to be some confusion regarding the position of chief marketing officer. The enlightened enterprise values a strategic thinker who complements the vision of the chief executive officer, and who can work hand-in-hand with the other technical, operational, and financial leadership to develop overarching marketing and business development goals and objectives. The role is best suited to a free-thinker, who is unafraid to challenge conventional wisdom, but who can work in collaboration and concert with organizational goals, and is willing to be patient to see ideas become outcomes. Unfortunately, too often the CMO role is only valued for increasing ‘sales’ (now!), and that is the position’s inherent weakness.

Sales are driven by individual efforts, more often than not, several tiers (and reporting levels) below the CMO. Those responsible for sales may take big-picture direction for vertical or geographic market coverage from the CMO, but their efforts at the local level for research, planning, and execution typically fall under the guidance and supervision of their direct report. If that manager is not strong in sales (or in sales management) themself, no matter how the good the CMO’s plan, the execution falls to less-trained, less capable, and/or less motivated staff. It is the Peter Principle in action: strong technical skills do not inherently make a good seller, but that is who is too often responsible.

In product oriented* companies, sales and marketing are distinctly separated, with sales management acting in the form of watchdog over sales performance, and marketing delivering new product concepts and promotional programs. However, that sales management role is equally challenged if the measure of success is viewed from a rear view mirror. Unless sales data is current, there is no way to catch up to events already too far gone to recover.

In professional service firms, with much longer sales cycles, the completion of a specific contract is the result of a continuum of roles. From finder, to persuader, to closer, there is a team involved. That does not ensure the sale is a given, but does provide multiple touch-points with the client, and multiple perspectives on strategy. However, if any one fails, they all fail. And there is very little, if anything, the CMO can do to change that reality.

For the CMO to be successful, they must find a way to build strong brand recognition so that client’s are inherently aware of the company’s value proposition. They must strengthen brand message through consistency and quality of message delivery (in print and in person). They must establish orientation, training and performance expectations of those individuals responsible for sales in an equally consistent manner. And they must develop metrics that are ROI-based— because “marketing” is easy in the eyes of everyone who doesn’t have to do it—they see it as amorphous in concept and as only ‘overhead’ (with not intrinsic benefit) in cost.

As I advise companies in developing strong and effective marketing programs, I am an advocate of the CMO role. But I am also a realist. Strong sales starts at the foundation of the brand (the quality with which the service is delivered), and the CMO is too often excluded from input on “client perceptions” because the truth regarding that perspective is often hard for technical operations to stomach. No one likes to hear that their service was less than satisfactory or worse, to be handed a summons to litigious acrimony where no one wins.

The CMO can help companies succeed. In challenging economic times there is no ‘quick fix.’ The entire C-Suite should be taking the long view, positioning the company financially and operationally to weather unseen storms and uncharted waters. At best, the CMO is equipped with a crystal ball and a compass; used to predict the future and sense the direction to take to reach that outcome. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.

* Defined as “the direction you are facing.” There is no word “orientated” but it is heard too often from those who are truly lost.

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the daily show.

At the end of the day, “it’s just business.” However, sometimes just business seems more like just madness. As the economy tries it’s best to turn around, the “new normal” can’t come fast enough for some. Strained by “profit as goal,” management too often forgets that profit is always just a result. As Branch Rickey, referring the outcome of hard work and discipline, once said, “Luck is the residue of design.” Unfortunately, we all don’t see the inherent aesthetics of good “design” the same way.

For the senior professional service marketer, developing effective strategies during recessionary times generally means “back to basics.” The fundamentals of marketing, business development, public relations, and sales remain absolute. There have been too many words written about “innovation,” “creative,” and “social media” solutions (today’s fix all, end all), to even bother reminding the more seasoned of us that it starts and ends with a list, a phone call, a meeting, a presentation, a proposal, a negotiation, and a sale (and then go tell that story to others). Period. End of story.

No simple fix. No magic pill. No web-based, social media, interactive, multi-lingual, video testimonial hoo haa. Those who understand, do. Those who don’t, struggle. Those willing to mentor and teach the struggling, help. Those willing to only measure, too often miss the big idea. Strategy is lost on those who only count. Tactics to execute take time, management, and fortitude.

There are also too many other aphorisms that relate to change and growth to share here, but as Robert Green Ingersoll simply said, “A believer is a bird in a cage; a freethinker is an eagle parting the clouds with tireless wing.” The eagle knows the distant view is a daily show put there by the universe for them to enjoy. Enjoy the day.

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