The year 2007 will live in infamy for many years to come if you were employed by an Architecture, Engineering, or Construction firm. Late 2007 is when I began to witness signs of the housing crash that would lead to the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The work literally began to dry up and we all scrambled like cockroaches in a lit room. As we entered 2008, the heat turned up and we saw our revenues heading south. The natural response was to reduce spending to keep the proper balance between receivables and payables. AEC firms tend to cut Marketing expenses first. This is especially pronounced for architecture and engineering firms that are trying to maintain the balance between billable hours and overhead. Let’s talk about why this counterintuitive and what you can do about it.
Marketing Equals Growth
First, we must realize that the true purpose of marketing is to grow your business. When available work dries up and the level of competition remains constant, it stands to reason that a firm’s workload will be threatened. Further exacerbating the problem during the recent recession was that some of the individuals that were laid off started a firm because there were no jobs available.
There is a great deal of misunderstanding when it comes to marketing. Marketing is required to grow a firm. That’s the bottom line. There are times when a low bid wins the day, but for most firms in the AEC world, there are other factors that play into the decision. If you choose to invest in marketing your firm, you’re making a commitment to growth.
Marketing is an Investment
You’ll notice that I used the term “invest” in my previous statement. Marketing, like investing, brings great benefits when practiced consistently over time. The parallel between marketing and investing was obvious in the past six years. Let me explain. The stock market bottomed out in March of 2009. Most people sold their investments at a loss of up to 40 percent because they panicked. Many never bought back into the market, which was at a historically low entry point. The most recent headline is that many Americans missed gains of the five-year bull market because they never reinvested in the stock market.
Now let’s bring it back. If you were one of the firms that eliminated your marketing efforts in 2007 or 2008, you accomplished your goal of reducing spending. But at what cost? How did that impact your workload and your positioning among the competition in the short term? More importantly, how will it affect you as we emerge from the recession? Are you positioned for success? All signs point to a recovery in the economy and the AEC industry is seeing a moderate uptick in workload. Now is the time to make sure that your firm’s image is solid in the eyes of your clients and prospects.
Caution! Danger Ahead
For the firms that eliminated or reduced marketing expenditures, there will be a temptation not to restore spending. This mindset will be especially prevalent as the rising tide lifts all boats. Don’t fall victim to the illusion that you can grow your business without marketing. Quality work, customer service, and competitive pricing only go so far.
Use this time of increasing prosperity to strengthen your brand and solidify your position in the marketplace. The economy is cyclical and this industry is especially cyclical. We will experience another downturn at some point, although we have no crystal ball. Marketing is a key element in the growth of your business. Make the investment continuously over time and you will thrive in upturns and survive the downturns.