MEANT TO MEET
BY: JEN LEVISEN, EDITOR AT THE FORUM, MORTARR
The Society for Marketing Professional Services, known as SMPS, is a community of marketing and business development professionals working together to move the AEC industry forward.
At its core, Mortarr is a marketing platform for the commercial construction and design industry. Mortarr — now featuring 10,000+ images from pros and brands across the country, and the world (hi, Canada!) — exists to inspire, streamline, connect and spotlight the best the industry has to offer regardless of location, size, or connections.
The two were meant to meet and mingle.
The Forum had the opportunity to talk with SMPS CEO, Michael Geary, CAE, for his thoughts on the AEC industry, marketing and what it takes to stay relevant.
You recently presented to SMPS Twin Cities chapter on AEC Trends and Emerging Issues. At the beginning of your presentation you shared that the AEC industries’ professional organizations and state regulatory bodies prohibited marketing for many decades. Can you tell us more about this?
The general idea was that the way business was done, even 50 years ago, marketing as we know it today wasn’t a concept that was being used. Everything was word of mouth, or a gentleman’s agreement, so when marketing came along and was introduced to the professional services, those groups wanted to ensure the public was being protected, that no one, or no one company, was being disingenuous. And historically speaking, now this is probably closer to 100 years ago or so, it wasn’t acceptable to speak about what you do and advertise those services. That was the business culture at the time and for several generations.
But over the years in the U.S., as with most things and cultural shifts and changing business strategies, including technology, the prohibition of marketing services was eventually deemed a restraint of trade by the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission, and these decisions reversed the long-standing tradition
... THE PROHIBITION OF MARKETING SERVICES WAS EVENTUALLY DEEMED A RESTRAINT OF TRADE BY THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT AND FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION, AND THESE DECISIONS REVERSED THE LONG-STANDING TRADITION.
So truly, the AEC industry hasn’t been marketing itself very long.
Not when you sit back and think about it. SMPS has been in existence for just 45 years and we were one of the first to formalize marketing and business development. We are seeing continued progress on the idea of marketing as an integral part of business in the industry, and part of this progress is due to generational shifts and exposure to more and newer capabilities and technology.
I’ve been around these industries for quite some time now, and it’s not uncommon to hear an owner say, “What I’m doing works for me. Why would I do anything else?” Well, cue the generational shifts and exposure to more that I just mentioned. But this aversion to change is not unique to our industry.
As the older generations retire and younger generations enter into leadership roles, the understanding of what marketing can do for a company and that marketing should have a seat at the table — a leadership role — is expanding. And this is what SMPS is here to support and promote.
We’ve also discovered that as we go out to the industry with Mortarr. It is quite an educational experience.
We view marketing as any activity that creates firm awareness, promotes, earns and keeps a company’s business. How that promotional, earning and keeping work is done, needs to evolve as new relationships are needed and formed, and as new capabilities and technology are introduced. Marketing platforms, such as Mortarr, are needed.
In your presentation you also discussed the changing way firms are promoting themselves — one example being companies’ websites shifting from being project focused to team focused. Why do you think that shift has occurred?
It’s about having a distinction, without, necessarily, a differentiator. Everyone can design a building, build a building, wire a building, etc. So, when firms are looking to separate themselves from the competition, it is often their teams that can set them apart.
We hear from our members all the time that it's more often the people who make the difference on the project and not the work itself.
So firms are now promoting their teams, as opposed to their projects?
Firms are always looking for ways to stand out in the industry, and their values and teams are a strong way to do that. And these firms are also using their websites as a recruitment tool. They understand that prospective employees are looking online for the firms they want to work with.
Interesting. Why do you think that shift is so easily made for recruitment and retention, but not necessarily for getting business?
One of the biggest challenges, of course, is that marketing activity is typically not a billable activity. It is treated as an overhead expense. And our members are telling us that clients just aren’t surging to websites to find new pros to work with.
We’ve found websites are being used more so for vetting purposes, from the developers on down the line.
That’s true, which is why having an online presence is so critical. Your platform, Mortarr, is a tool that can help showcase work and connections.
What do you think people need to be aware of and focused on to grow their practices and stay relevant in the industry?
Continually looking to increase efficiencies in their work. We know profit margins are getting tighter, so firms are looking to increase efficiencies in their projects to create more wiggle room in their profit margins. The industry has come a far way in its adoption of efficiencies — precast is a perfect example — but there is more to be done by way of adopting technologies.
The rest is continually striving to be relevant and visible. Ensuring that how you talk about yourself, in person, through your employees, and online matches your abilities.
Michael, thank you so much for your time today.
Thank you, it was my pleasure.