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Shoring the Foundation: Knowing When Your AEC Firm Should Partner with an Agency

Being a marketer within the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry can feel like an uphill battle. Each day, you face the challenge of gaining buy-in from leadership within an industry that already tends to lag well behind others in professional services marketing.

And although they could dearly use the help, it’s understandable that some AEC marketing departments may be wary of third-party partners. They’re fearful, perhaps, that an agency will upstage, diminish, or make their role redundant. These fears, combined with lack of support from management, can make any attempt at partnering prohibitive, difficult or even adversarial.

The truth is, agencies can provide critical support that most marketing departments lack and enable them to more successfully accomplish their goals. The best of them know how to help AEC firms (and their marketers) help themselves. They handily play the role of coach and cheerleader in one neat—and empowering—package.

SEE ALSO: 7 New Rules in AEC Marketing

As in any relationship, the key for AEC marketers is to know what you (and your firm) need and communicate that need effectively. But how can you tell that you need outside help, and where do you go from there?Rethinking Referral Marketing

Teetering Too Close to the Edge—and Your Breaking Point

Let’s face it. Nearly everyone feels that they have too many priorities to juggle or that they regularly play the role of “jack of all trades, but master of none.” In AEC marketing, there are some dead giveaways that you need a lifeline:

  • Your “free time” (or evenings or weekends) are dedicated to your firm’s business developers, providing support through presentation development and creation, collateral and conference material preparation, and coaching.
  • You’re struggling to find time to complete dreaded annual awards submissions and last-minute requests, on top of everything else.
  • You desire to be more proactive and strategic in your role and suggestions, but can’t get through your seemingly endless list of day-to-day tasks.
  • You don’t have enough dedicated staff or resources to adequately fulfill your firm’s needs.
  • You feel like you’re not being heard.

Do one or more of these sound familiar? If so, count this as a sign to start exploring partnering options.

The Advantages of Hiring a Marketing Agency

The advantages of hiring a marketing agency extend well beyond the extra heads and hands. By offloading some of your tasks, you can increase your ability to be more productive – and strategic. With more time to focus on high-level strategy, you can save time and increase the efficiency of your department, allowing you to be more proactive and more helpful.

Better yet, partnering with an agency can help you raise your credibility within your organization. Sometimes, a lone voice may not carry much weight – but when your agency partner echoes your suggestions and insights, you can receive critical validation and support in conversations with leadership.

Speaking of Leadership…

While your leadership team may be comfortable with having business comprised chiefly of repeat clients, it’s foolhardy to assume that existing clients are infinitely renewable resources—particularly if the firm aims to grow.

Our recent research shows that nearly 52% of prospects will rule out your firm before even attempting to make contact. This can happen due to everything from a lack of perceived alignment in culture and values to a subpar website to marketing efforts that are all about your firm (and not about what you can do for clients).

If your clients don’t understand the value your firm can provide – and why it should matter to them – your marketing efforts are being wasted. Here are some points that are critical to explain to your leadership team:

  • There are more to referrals than those from your existing clients. Our recent study on referral marketing revealed a large and often untapped source of referrals: people who haven’t worked with your firm but who feel they know you and can speak to your expertise. Within AEC, 62% of buyers will turn to friends or colleagues for suggestions. And there’s no guarantee as to where those folks will have gotten their information.
     
  • Referrals alone aren’t enough. The fact is that referrals are just one component of a robust and effective marketing strategy. The most common source of information for today’s buyers is your website, with Internet searches and social media also ranking highly. In order to compete, you need a comprehensive online presence to supplement your offline business development strategies.
     
  • Research is critical. Research is a valuable and critical tool as you look to build a high growth, high value firm. Opinions and anecdotal evidence may be out of touch with the realities of the marketplace, but research can help you understand the real needs of your buyers and the opportunities emerging in the AEC industry.

Of course, once you’ve persuaded your leadership that you need a partner, you’ll need to find the right one.

Finding the Right Partner

Remember how we said that a majority of buyers will be checking out your website to assess your firm? Well, now you can get a taste of life on the other side. Explore potential marketing agencies’ sites thoroughly, understanding exactly what they provide in terms of services and expertise.

Request a proposal or walkthrough to better understand how a partner will approach your problems and think about solutions. And of course, make sure to follow up with your partners’ references to understand how they’ve tackled challenges like yours in the past.

Hiring a marketing agency shouldn’t be a painful experience (nor should the engagement itself, once you’ve taken that leap). A successful partnership can support you in myriad ways and can help your firm better understand the critical role that marketing plays within the AEC industry.

Additional Resources

  • Go beyond traditional client referrals and how to build a complete and powerful referral strategy, step-by-step, in our Rethinking Referral Marketing guide.
  • Download free copy of Hinge’s book Spiraling Up to learn how to create a high-growth, high-visibility firm.
  • Learn how other professional services firms are using internal and external resources to address their marketing initiatives in our 2015 Professional Services Marketing Priorities research report.

How Hinge Can Help

We partner with AEC firms and help them with everything from branding to websites and even have unique programs to increase the visibility of firms (and their experts). Learn more about our programs or reach out to chat. We’re happy to talk about how a partnership could benefit you.

Author: Kristin Keen In her more than 12 years in the A/E/C industry, she has held nearly every marketing and business development role imaginable and has helped her firms traverse tenuous acquisitions, build stalwart brands, and expand their market share. She honed her strategic marketing and client service skills at some of Engineering News Record’s top construction companies and eventually led firm-wide marketing and business development efforts at a top-ranked construction law boutique in Northern Virginia.

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