With less than 10 weeks left in the year, business planning is well underway for many firms. The strategic marketing process can look slightly different for each firm in the A/E/C marketplace. However, at the end of the day the goal is to:

  • Reflect on what’s worked and not worked in the past
  • Determine how to generate new business
  • Grow the firm

Recently, I attended the Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference for the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS). One of the many benefits of participating in an SMPS conference is that you get to mingle with both industry novices and seasoned marketers. There's a great deal of discussion about what is and isn’t working for A/E/C firms and how to best encourage an organization to change and adopt new marketing approaches.

The keynote address was presented by Mark Zweig, Founder and CEO of ZweigWhite and a leading management expert for the architecture, engineering, planning, and environmental industries. Mark spoke about the need to shake things up in a business and how a leadership team can determine if it’s time to approach things differently. His candid and colorful discussion included a list of the Top 10 Signs You Need to Shake Up Your A/E/C Firm:

  1. When your firm stops growing — don’t settle for just being in business
  2. When your best people start leaving the firm
  3. When owners can’t agree on the direction of the firm
  4. When your best clients stop working with you but keep working with your competitors
  5. When your ownership transition program dies because no one wants to buy in
  6. When work is too easy — you are not putting in the long hours you used to because you have too much support staff
  7. When the founder’s idea of what the company should be is ignored
  8. When you stop having fun
  9. When staff is doing something because “that’s the way it’s always been done”
  10. When you stop (or never start) marketing because all of your business is word of mouth


From 2004-2008, I worked for an engineering firm and I heard reason number 10 quite a bit. Business was booming and most of it came through word-of-mouth referrals. Fast forward to the construction meltdown of 2009-2010 and things are quite different.

At Hinge, we have an opportunity to work with many architecture, engineering and construction firms. Many of them struggle to define their unique value proposition in a battered marketplace. As I listened to Mark Zweig, it was easy for me to connect his observations with some of Hinge’s research findings. As you embark on your firm's strategic marketing planning, think of ways you might shake up your own firm. Here are Mark's recommendations, with a few additions of my own:

  1. Pay someone outside of your firm to interview past and current clients. Share your findings/perceptions with everyone in the company. Do this often.
  2. Develop a new plan and question everything in it.
  3. Do what clients need. Just help them — even if it is a service you've never offered before
  4. Try things out. Be bold! Take things on and make them happen!
  5. Take jobs away from people that aren’t getting them done. Get tough and don’t keep the duds.
  6. Outsource marketing (and anything else your staff isn’t getting done) — focus on what you do best
  7. Hire new blood and brainstorm new services
  8. Give immediate feedback publicly. Encourage the sharing of lessons learned.
  9. Put critics in charge of the areas they criticize. Put the people who are best at a function in charge of that function.
  10. Clean up the office. Decluter. Every so often, change the physical spot where people sit.
  11. Don’t accept the performance of the marketplace as an excuse for poor firm performance.

It's time to recognize that maintaining the status quo is not enough to be successful. Trying something bold may just be the key to growth in the coming year. Happy planning!