by Susan Shelby and Barbara Hicks
Starting a new initiative can be as invigorating as it is daunting, and for many AEC firms, the conscious decision to launch a marketing and PR program may represent a major turning point in their strategic business approach. Because of the comprehensive nature and sheer interwovenness of the various components of such a program, unless you have experienced in-house marketing staff to champion the process and keep all the plates spinning, then outsourcing is often the most viable option.
Step 1: Getting to Know You
Our journey of discovery with a new client echoes what an architect or engineer does at project kickoff: Gather information that will crystallize the client’s goals and objectives. In the case of a marketing and PR program, we learn everything possible about the client, especially in areas that will inform the overall plan and action items.
Explored topics range from basic facts – the company’s organizational structure, services, markets, and competitors – to a more intimate examination of what differentiates it from the competition; target audience; current and hoped-for clients; the business development process and cycle; and plans for growth in size, geography, or expansion into new markets. Drilling down even further, we conduct a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis.
The outcome of this intensive process will be three to five key messages the company wishes to communicate to the identified target audience, as well as setting realistic expectations for results at the end of a successful, year-long PR and marketing campaign.
Step 2: Refining Your Brand
Discovery also enables us to define, or clarify, your brand. Contrary to popular belief, “brand” isn’t about graphics; it’s not a logo or a color palette. Rather, it’s your firm’s reputation and what clients, colleagues, and prospects may be saying about you to their friends and colleagues. It’s also about how your firm operates: Branding starts from the top down, encompassing people, services, integrity, mission, values, culture, and the energy you put forth into the world. In the end, it’s about your message, which eclipses graphics every time.
Step 3: Putting It into a Plan
At the conclusion of Steps 1 and 2, everything will be on the table: what the company is now and what it wants to be; its primary marketing and business development goals and objectives; and of course, the time, money, and resources it has to commit to this initiative. We are then able to develop a strategic PR and marketing plan featuring specific implementation tactics and deliverables while establishing the communication vehicles and touchpoints most conducive to reaching your target audience. In the AEC industry, these may include PR (press releases, media relations, industry awards, speaking engagements); social media; website (content, graphics, search engine optimization); and marketing/BD collateral (proposals, firm profile, project sheets, resumes, brochures, business cards, and even email signatures).
Like a building design and construction project, a successful PR and marketing program requires unwavering support from firm leaders, the budget to back it up, and, for best results, a one-year commitment. Success takes time and repetition. In a crowded landscape where it’s hard to stand out, keeping your name out there is what gets results.
Susan Shelby, FSMPS, CPSM is president and CEO of Rhino Public Relations, and Barbara Hicks, CPSM is owner of B-Graphic.