PSMJ has received a number of passionate reactions to David Whitemyer's recent blog post, 8 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Do A/E Marketing. Here we publish one response from Melise Gerber, Director of Marketing at KDG Construction Consulting, which offers many good points for consideration.
I have been providing marketing for the A/E/C industry for 15 years now. A colleague forwarded me your blog post about A/E marketing, and I have read and re-read it, trying to understand why the article bothers me so much. I think I have finally determined that my discomfort with the article is related to its "intended" audience. You see, if this article that was truly intended for a readership made up of folks who do not have a job in our industry, and are considering becoming marketers, there are a number of good points to be considered here. But I doubt that many folks reading an article on the PSMJ blog are likely to be unemployed recent college graduates wondering what job they should pursue. And, because of that disconnect between intended and likely readership, the article instead begins to read like a laundry list of complaints about marketing folks. And this is where my discomfort began.
Have you read/heard about the Indiana University Kelley School of Business study that found that those in high-stress jobs with little control over their workflow die younger or are less healthy? It is just the latest in a long line of studies that show how less control over your job leads to higher stress levels. And my main concern with your article is that it simply fosters many commonly held misconceptions about the nature of the marketing role, suggesting that marketers should be willing to accept a situation where they are expected to successfully function in an incredibly high stress environment, without ever trying to reshape that environment to allow them more control. Do you really want the marketing roles within our industry to be filled with people who, by your definition, are willing to work themselves to death?
I know that this may sound like hyperbole, but I want to touch on a couple of your points that I think are misguided:
You're Introverted—Everyone in every position in the world has areas of their job that they are less comfortable with. I am an introvert by nature—and yet I reach out to other people on a day to day basis to ask questions about their requirements, to explain my requirements, to understand what projects they are pursuing, to find out more about the work on their resumes, etc. A successful marketer does not have to be an extrovert, nor do they have to be "bubbly," (an adjective that borders on sexist--how many times have you heard the term "bubbly" applied to a man?). As long as a person can successfully communicate with other people to ask and answer technical and non-technical questions, they can be successful at marketing.
You think that no one appreciates you—This statement immediately made me flash back to memories of how our industry fared during the "Great Recession" of 2008-2009. I can personally name at least 8-9 firms that went out of business during this period. I don't think that those firms failed because of their less than stellar "architectural and engineering skills," but because architectural and engineering skills are NOT enough to make a firm successful. Lack of respect for the marketing skill-set leads directly to believing that marketers are interchangeable, that their work is easily achieved and that their challenges arise simply because they do not try hard enough. Firms that believe this about their non-technical professionals are also those firms most likely to overload their marketing staff, expect them to meet unmeetable deadlines, and have the highest level of turnover in marketing staff. I can tell you that the surest way to drive away a skilled marketing professional is to treat them as if their skills and abilities are not important to the success of a firm.
Items 3-7—After reading every single one of these items, my immediate thought was that these apply at least as much, if not more, to the technical professionals in the firm. And frequently it is the technical professionals' inability to be flexible, to understand that things must be done differently, to become offended easily that cause the largest challenges for a marketer. People who live in glass houses...
Finally, "You're focused on your career more than on your firm"—I think that marketers are notorious job hoppers because they are constantly searching for a firm that doesn't succumb to the pitfalls I have mentioned above. I know that the majority of the moves that I have made have been in search of a firm that provides me with more autonomy, more respect, and more recognition that I bring an important skill-set to the firm. A quick example—I had just started with a new firm on a Tuesday. There were two marketing folks within the firm; each of us had primary responsibility for individual studios within the company, and would back each other up as much as we were able. I arrived in the position to an RFP that was due the next Monday—I had no idea how to find any of the information, no knowledge of the firm's skills, knew nothing about which staff had what experience, etc. My counterpart did as much as she could to help me, but she also had a proposal due on Monday. We both ended up working until the early hours of the morning on Saturday morning to finish the proposals so that a messenger could deliver them on Monday morning. We were not shortlisted for the proposal that I put together, but my colleague's proposal did get shortlisted. When informed about the short-listing, the studio leader—the same person who had decided to pursue the project in the first place—declined the interview because her technical team didn't have the time to prepare for the interview. This was such a clear signal about how the firm felt about the relative importance of the time constraints of technical staff vs. marketing staff that I decided then and there to leave the company as soon as possible. I waited until I had been there just a bit over a year and then moved on. During my tenure with the firm, the marketing group improved the percentage of proposals to short list from the low 30s to about 65%. The only thing that a marketer has to offer is their ability to focus on their firm and win new work for their firm—without the ability to do so successfully, the marketer will not be OFFERED new jobs. In other words, the only way to be a job hopper is to also be the type of person who can focus completely and successfully on their firm. For firms that have multiple experiences with job-hopping marketers—well, I suggest turning this back around to the firm itself. I frequently receive feelers about jumping ship and moving to a new firm--but the only time I am even tempted to discuss another opportunity is when my current firm is making me feel like one of the people studied by Indiana University Kelley School of Business.
Unfortunately, David, I would venture a guess that your firm might fit that category.
If you would like to discuss these issues in more detail, I would love to have a more in-depth constructive conversation with you.
PSMJ is always looking to publish diverse views on emerging issues and trends in the A/E/C industry. If you would like to respond on this topic or comment on any other, we invite you to submit a 500-word post on any industry-related topic. We look forward to hearing from you.