Marketing Excellence Awards: “Social Network” Training Series

2. Klohn Crippen Berger Ltd. The Social Network Poster - HorrorKlohn Crippen Berger Ltd. (Vancouver, BC) – a 500-person international engineering, geoscience, and environmental consulting firm – is taking home second place in the Internal Marketing category of Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Excellence Awards for its “Social Network” employee training series.

At KCB’s 2014 corporate strategy session, the marketing group identified a few key business risks – including a lack of brand awareness, retiring technical staff, and limited market penetration.

With that information, the marketing and human resources groups developed an internal training program that would help staff develop skills to act as brand ambassadors for recruitment and business development. To engage staff in the process, a fun, creative internal campaign featuring parody movie posters was developed to draw attention.

The goals of the training series included getting mid-level managers and junior staff more involved in conferences, associations, and community functions by providing them with the tools they need to navigate any networking activity. They also wanted to increase participation in social media – particularly LinkedIn – as a way to build personal brand and the brand of the firm. As a result of networking, they also hoped to develop client prospect lists and employee referrals.

The campaign was launched in KCB’s head office in Vancouver, which employs 193 people. A total of 168 staff members attended the training series, which included four sessions and a mock event. Feedback from attendees was very positive. KCB is already seeing an increase in activity on LinkedIn profiles as staff members implement tips and tricks they picked up. The training program is now being rolled out to all KCB locations.

For more info on the Marketing Excellence Awards click here…

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Marketing Excellence Awards: Westwood

3. WestwoodWestwood Professional Services (Eden Prairie, MN), a 350-person professional services firm, is the third place winner in the Online Marketing category of Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Excellence Awards for its new website.

Before commencing with design concepts for the new website August Ash, Inc. – a web developer and Internet marketing consultant – conducted nine months of analysis on Westwood’s existing website. Feedback was gathered through meetings and surveys with Westwood’s key leaders to help deliver the best site design and layout to meet their needs.

Their research uncovered several issues. The Westwood team realized that they needed to clearly communicate their value and core services. They also needed to work on demonstrating their expertise in additional services without compromising their core services. They needed to enhance their jobs, office, and corporate pages to attract the right people to want to work at Westwood. Their new website needed to be more dynamic and mobile-responsive.

Westwood’s fresh brand image and message was effectively implemented into the company’s website and social channels. Results show that visits to their online sites have increased. Having analytics in place to make good, informed decisions for their online marketing has been a big advantage. They’re able to better understand visitor behaviors, and test and adjust design features that don’t work. As a result, they’ve found much success in both upward and downward trends. If something is trending down they can fix it. Additionally, focus on social engagement has increased referrals to the new website.

For more info on the Marketing Excellence Awards click here…

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A fresh look at employee evaluations

Architectural colleague shares new scale for assessing employees’ impact on the firm, community, world in areas of attitude, capability, performance.

I’ve always been skeptical of the “performance review” style of evaluating. I believe in a strengths-based method of casting – placing people in roles that take best advantage of each person’s unique mix of talents. Preparing for and then delivering (or receiving) a performance review seems about as pleasant as having a root canal.

I’ve been spending a great deal of time with Don Clark, who runs the Reno-based architectural firm Cathexes. The name of the firm is the plural of cathexis, which is an investment of mental or emotional energy in a person, object, or idea. And Don does exactly that in everything he undertakes and with everyone with whom he works. As we were talking the other day about people management, Don shared his employee evaluation form with me. My first response was skepticism, until he began to explain it.

Don uses three general areas of review; each has a few subcategories along with examples of how successful performance is to be evaluated. His categories are very much an inventory of culture and values. They are not granular, nor are they work-assignment specific. Since I’ve covered many of these issues, I’ve added short-hand descriptors from some of my previous columns in italics.


  • Assumes responsibility – set it and forget it; no need to check back
  • Work relationships – plays well with others; courteous, friendly, sincere
  • Professional outlook – takes responsibility to grow in the firm and profession
  • Attendance &ndash shows up and works with focus
  • Image – maintains an orderly work area and projects a professional image and appearance


  • Analytical ability – is a self-starter in research, concise and thorough with recommendations
  • Initiative – takes responsibility, recommends systemic improvements
  • Mental alertness – listens carefully, responds well to changes
  • Ability to represent firm – respectful toward clients, “lives” the firm culture, inspires confidence in the firm and team
  • Supervisory ability – inspires team, develops team members, obtains measurable results
  • Stability – projects calm in crisis, is consistent in performance, adapts to change
  • Overall competence – possesses technical/design skills, adds to the skill base of the firm, is an “expert” in something valuable to others in the firm


  • Dependability – completes assignments thoroughly without being monitored
  • Quantity of work – is consistent with skills and project needs
  • Quality of work – is consistently organized, coordinated, and accurate
  • Resourcefulness – seeks out best solutions, overcomes adversity
  • Communication – speaks, listens, writes, and responds clearly and thoroughly in a professional style

You can imagine that everyone at Cathexes has a clear idea of what the culture of the firm is. When this is the case, it fosters consistent and predictable behavior and attitude. But here’s where Don adds a unique twist that is both humorous and serious. Using a point system from 0 to 10, each person is rated in each category as follows:

  • 0. You died
  • 1. You’re fired
  • 2. Poor; need to relearn this concept
  • 3. Marginal; need to pay attention and improve
  • 4. Good; need some fine-tuning
  • 5. Perfect; all we askSo, where do people in the firm go from here?
  • 6. Perfect, and a little extra
  • 7. Performance is changing the office
  • 8. Performance is noticeable in the community
  • 9. Performance is changing the community
  • 10.Performance is changing the world

Both Don and the person being evaluated fill out the form with their numbers. The meeting is a comparison of how each sees performance. But, since the process has an aspirational character, no one is bothered by it. It’s all about expectations, and expectations like this require continual support from the firm to help people achieve their ambitions and passions to change the world. It also attracts others with such aspirations.

If people are working consistently to achieve this level of performance, their efforts affect their project work. The projects Don has on the boards right now in Reno are of a scale, scope, and thoughtfulness to place them squarely in the “9” category. If they are as successful as they have the potential to be and are emulated in other communities, Cathexes will score a clear and resounding “10.”

Don adds: “When you reach ‘10,’ erase the slate and start all over again!”

Edward Friedrichs, FAIA, FIIDA, is a consultant with Zweig Group and the former CEO and president of Gensler. Contact him at

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Wanted – two kinds of people

Inspiration is necessary for technical/design professionals and those who manage projects to be successful.

​I’ve been saying for years that having two tracks – one for managerial and sales people, and one for design and technical people – is largely a myth in this business. My conclusion was based largely on money and supply-and-demand. There are less people who can sell and manage, and they are worth more than someone who only does project-related worth.

Now, I’m going to backpedal a little on that. I’ve always known that we need those technical and design people – particularly leaders – who turn out outstanding projects. It goes wrong when we don’t do a good job of communicating exactly what that standard is. It’s high.

What we need in these outstanding technical/design people and in those who manage projects is inspiration. They need to be able to inspire everyone else on the team to ever-greater performance. I define that performance from the client’s point of view: The project has to exceed their expectations. They should be calling and writing letters and emails to you expressing how great a job the firm and your people did for them. And the workers who report to these people should be coming to you on their own to express their admiration and appreciation for the outstanding leadership that has been provided to them.

See, the problem is, we act like project-related work isn’t important and, instead, only achieving certain business goals is. If you know anything about the best, most passionate, and creative architects, engineers, and planners, you know that only talking business with them is alienating to them. They want and need to know that what they are doing is important, worthwhile, and appreciated. Their heroic efforts cannot be consistently ignored if you expect them to be repeated. They do not just want to drive business results; they want to do projects and have relationships with clients that they can be proud of.

We need project leaders and discipline experts who demonstrate that they want to keep learning. We need project leaders and discipline experts who don’t act like they are superior to everyone else on their team and help others learn. We need project leaders and discipline experts who are responsive to questions and engaged and who know how to treat other people they work with. We also need project leaders and discipline experts who work hard and don’t act like unionized blue-collar workers. The expectations are high – even if you aren’t a big seller of work or manager of people and “just” a project person.

So, in this business, we desperately need good, inspired, passionate, and committed architects and engineers, who take tremendous pride in their work. We have to make sure we don’t only talk about business but also devote airtime to their project accomplishments, both inside and outside of the firm. We need hard-working leaders who love their work so much they have to be pried away from it. When we have people like this in design posts and project leadership roles, they will inspire others – Gen-X, Gen-Y, and Millennials – to work harder and longer and be better at what they do. That will produce even better projects and more accolades you can share and one more of the “virtuous cycles” of this business is established. This pattern will create a culture that leads to BUSINESS SUCCESS as well; it is the outcome of it.

The $50,000 question is: “Are you creating high enough expectations for all of your project staff?” If not, start now. And are you really touting their accomplishments? If not, start that now. You will be more successful if you do. Don’t let the design and technical track be a dumping ground for people who not only aren’t good managers or business developers, but also aren’t effective inspiration project leaders and team members.

MARK ZWEIG is founder and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him at

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Marketing Excellence Awards: HLB Lighting

1. HLB Lighting DesignHLB Lighting Design (New York, NY), a 62-person architectural lighting design firm, is the first place winner in the Internal Marketing category of Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Excellence Awards for its redesigned brand.

In 2013, HLB staff re-evaluated marketing and branding strategies in order to meet aggressive sales, business, and development goals. In doing so they realized their branding approach and current identity weren’t cohesive throughout the firm. Aside from business cards, there were no brand standards, typefaces, or foundation to build from. The team at HLB decided to start from scratch and execute a complete redesign and overhaul of the entire brand.

HLB staff conducted client surveys, branding workshops, and graphic strategies within the AEC industry to establish what their new brand identity needed to represent and what their clients were looking for.

With that feedback, HLB was able to create new brand identity and messaging in just five steps:

  1. HLB’s “Branding Brilliance” – a brand identity book
  2. HLB’s “A New Level of Light” design brochure – a portfolio of 15 market sectors of lighting expertise
  3. HLB’s “The Daylight Dynamic” design brochure – a portfolio of HLB’s daylighting and sustainable design practice conveying thought leadership and technical expertise
  4. HLB’s Marketing Year End Success Story 2014 – the firm’s first marketing year-end report
  5. HLB swag – fun giveaway items anchor HLB’s new brand identity

HLB set an ambitious goal with rebranding the entire firm, made only more ambitious with the decision to carry out the rebranding in-house.

Due to its new brand presence, HLB has been able to increase design fees with repeat clients to 33 percent and with new clients to 11 percent. Hit rates are stronger than ever at 39 percent, which has allowed the firm to leverage more clients in new areas where they are considering expansion.

For more info on the Marketing Excellence Awards click here…

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Marketing Excellence Awards: “Great Chemistry, Great Design”

2. Hickok Cole Architects, Inc..Hickok Cole Architects (Washington, DC), a 95-person architecture and interior design firm, is the second place winner in the Integrated Marketing category of Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Excellence Awards for its “Great Chemistry, Great Design” campaign.

In 2014, HCA launched the yearlong campaign “Great Chemistry, Great Design” with the goal of positioning the firm as a creative, collaborative practice focused on “great design.” Another goal was to use the campaign as a vehicle to launch Hickok Cole Creative – the firm’s new boutique ad agency.

To kick off the campaign’s message and set the tone for the year, a New Year’s card was printed and sent to the entire HCA database. To foreshadow Hickok Cole Creative, a book on the basics of great graphic design was hand-delivered to 300 clients. The invitation for the firm’s annual Open House party – where HCC was launched – featured “Let’s Bond” as its call to action. HCA’s invitation for its annual Art Night event came with a kit to assemble a three-dimensional molecule and invited guests to “Stop, Look, Love, Buy and Bond with Hickok Cole.” The campaign’s chemistry theme was also carried out in the firm’s events.

The campaign increased HCA’s presence in the market and clients expressed their appreciation for the campaign’s attention-getting marketing. Thirty-four of the 300 gift-recipients sent handwritten or electronic thank you notes. Substantial buzz followed the launch of HCC and the Open House party. Following the event, HCC generated over 40 creative project leads, scheduled over 20 meet-and-greets, and won an astounding 12 new jobs for the department. Website hit rates continue to spike at 32-38 percent after the firm’s events, gift distribution, Constant Contact newsletters, and e-announcements. Articles and press mentions in national and local publications were equivalent to over $50,000 worth of ad placement.

For more info on the Marketing Excellence Awards click here…

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Marketing Excellence Awards: “TransCentral”

2. Sam Schwartz EngineeringSam Schwartz Engineering (New York, NY), a 100-person consulting firm, is taking home second place in the External Newsletter category in Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Excellence Awards for its “TransCentral” email service.

“TransCentral” is a weekly email service compiling top transportation news stories locally, nationally, and internationally.

The main goals of “TransCentral” were to create an additional marketing tool for SSE at minimal cost, and to keep those interested informed of transportation news.

In an effort to enhance SSE’s branding “TransCentral” was introduced as a free service, catered to its target audience’s needs. The email service doesn’t promote SSE in the traditional sense, but it’s stamped with the SSE brand and is designed to carry SSE messages as needed. A story on SSE would easily be inserted amongst the other hot topics in the transportation world.

When “TransCentral” was created in 2005 it was sent to 580 readers. Since then, readership has grown to just under 7,000 – 12 times the original number. “TransCentral” has become a mainstay in the transportation industry for both heads of public agencies and private consulting firms, and young professionals and students alike. “TransCentral” provides a resource for transportation professionals to follow trends on important transportation issues. The purpose of “TransCentral” was to integrate the SSE brand with an industry tool, and the recognition it has gained over the past 10 years has proven that it has met this goal.

For more info on the Marketing Excellence Awards click here…

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Marketing Excellence Awards: Smith Seckman Reid, Inc.

5. Smith Seckman Reid, Inc.Smith Seckman Reid, Inc. (Nashville, TN), a 375-person engineering firm, is the fifth place winner in the Online Marketing category of Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Excellence Awards for its new website.

SSR leadership wants to provide clients with the highest quality of information based on the in-depth experience and expertise of its engineers, consultants, and staff. In order to communicate this information to SSR clients and the community, the firm needed an updated website to promote its markets, services, and employees.

Before beginning the site redesign SSR employees, clients, and competitors were polled to determine what features the previous website lacked as well as features they would like to see. With that information, the SSR team determined the usability, workflow, design, and marketing strategies that would be necessary to achieve the firm’s goals of developing a site that is visually appealing, easy to navigate, and integrated with SSR’s social, digital, content, and other marketing strategies.

The main goals of the site redesign were to increase traffic, build credibility, spread awareness, build brand, and improve interaction and experience.

Once the website design was complete, the SSR team was ready to share the exciting news of its arrival with the world. A marketing campaign was created to launch the site internally and externally using a variety of channels including email marketing, marketing automation, and social media. After going live, the website went from 121 site visits to nearly 20,000 site visits in the first month. Since then, SSR has been able to keep a steady average of 12,000 site visits per month. Site metrics showed that before the redesign site visits were below 250 per month. Through a newly implemented social media campaign integrated with inbound marketing, the firm has watched social media engagement steadily increase and drive traffic to the website. Visits to the new site have increased 99.4 percent and social reach has been raised by 82.7 percent.

For more info on the Marketing Excellence Awards click here…

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Marketing Excellence Awards: “Better people. Better results.”

1. Westwood.Westwood Professional Services (Eden Prairie, MN), a 350-person professional services firm, is the first place winner in the Integrated Marketing category of Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Excellence Awards for its refreshed brand.

Clients complained that Westwood’s message no longer clearly communicated their focus and value. Westwood’s branding – everything from their website to their logo – was dated and no longer represented the firm. New office locations lacked Westwood brand awareness. The Westwood team determined that it was necessary to completely refresh their dated brand, which meant updating all aspects of their corporate identity, inside and out, in order to attract ideal clients and recruit top talent.

Their goals included wanting to clarify business, define their value proposition, and simplify the brand message. Their logo – created in 1992 – needed to be brought up to date without changing it drastically. They needed to simplify their design elements to make relevant information easier to understand and navigate. They needed to build a toolkit that would proactively support business development, and strengthen their brand to increase national and targeted brand awareness. Westwood kicked off this project February 2014 and launched on schedule, December 2014.

The Westwood team accomplished their goals. The new brand provides clarity to what the firm does, defines their value proposition, and greatly simplifies the brand message. They refreshed their logo and implemented a minimalist design in all of their branding. The content-rich Projects and People sections on the new website make use of specific keywords, which should drive more qualified leads and potential hires to the site. Westwood invested in an enhanced monthly analytics-reporting program so that they can measure success and improve materials on a regular basis. Success is also measured by employee buy-in, informal feedback from job seekers, unsolicited feedback from clients, and launch analytics.

For more info on the Marketing Excellence Awards click here…

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Marketing Excellence Awards: JOIN US

3. HKS, Inc.HKS, Inc. (Dallas, TX), a 1,000-person architecture firm, is taking home third place in the Special Event category of Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Excellence Awards for its JOIN US event.

2014 marked HKS’ 75th anniversary. The team at HKS wanted to celebrate 75 years with a bang – no boring paperweights or bulky, hardbound history book. JOIN US was a yearlong campaign where thought leadership and captivating stories were shared with clients, colleagues, and employees.

Goals for the event included creating a culture of knowledge sharing; connecting HKS staff, clients, consultants, and the community with informative topics; and finally, getting it out to the masses.

There was a series of 52 short, compelling presentations at the HKS Dallas headquarters Learning Center. The JOIN US presentations were featured live via streaming video – accessible to clients and consultants – as well as being available afterward via on-demand channel. The talks were also e-blasted to company contacts and promoted on the HKS intranet, website, and social media pages. A JOIN US microsite was created to house the calendar of events. All events were promoted on the site prior to the event and stored in “past events” following the talk.

With JOIN US, HKS created a culture of knowledge sharing that was so successful firm-wide that the program was continued in 2015. On average, 150 people participated in Dallas and online at each of the 52 JOIN US talks. Visits to the microsite and knowledge center averaged 100 hits per day. The integrated communications team at HKS even received calls from clients and consultants asking if they could hire them to implement similar programs at their businesses.

For more info on the Marketing Excellence Awards click here…

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Keeping spirits bright

Leadership, accounting, rewards, and more contribute to an organizational culture of positivity and high morale.

​Great projects happen, and successful firms become even more so, when morale is high inside the firm.

It’s one thing to say that you have good morale and your people, for the most part, enjoy their jobs. It’s another thing altogether when the people of the firm are on a sort of collective “high.” That is when everyone stops thinking selfishly and cooperates with each other, supports one another, and is willing to work hard to make the organization successful.

I’ve witnessed this condition in a few firms – not many – over my 35 year career in this industry. These companies seem to be doing a number of things significantly different from the mass of other A/E/P and environmental firms. Here are some of them:

  1. They have unselfish leaders who understand that a strong company comes first, before their own needs. Ever heard this one before? It is a defining characteristic of the best leaders in any business. Unfortunately, many professionals and small business people forget this and instead are driven by their own egos and personal financial needs. This always results in alienation and demotivation of the people who are necessary to achieve the success required to meet those personal needs!
  2. They have complete transparency in both the numbers of the business and in management decision-making. Open book management – sharing the numbers with everyone and not having any secrets whatsoever – helps build trust with the employees and management. Educating all employees at ALL levels on where the money goes is helpful to getting them to see how they contribute to the firm’s success. You cannot underestimate the importance of sharing this information. Ditto for explaining all decisions made that affect people in the firm and the logic behind them. We have intelligent people in this business, and they can understand things for the most part IF you explain. Doing so is critical to their motivation.
  3. They keep it positive! It’s really easy to be a cynic and gripe and complain about problems. I have been there, myself, many times. But in the interest of your team and their morale, you are far better off to keep it positive! Make sure that you share successes on wins and give accolades to those who receive praise from clients for jobs well done. All of this will contribute to a positive culture. And positive results come from a positive culture.
  4. They have accounting and reward systems that encourage cooperation. So many companies are set up to do the opposite of this. They track each unit and then pit them against each other and, in the process, discourage work-sharing, people-sharing, credit-sharing, and, in general, helping out the other guy who’s in need. You must be extremely careful how you design your accounting and rewards and make sure they encourage whatever behavior is the best for the LONG TERM interests of the organization.
  5. They have the right mix of people in the firm. This is easier said than done, and there’s no simple formula or prescription for how to do it. But, the fact that it is difficult doesn’t mean it is any less important or necessary. You’ll know it when you see it. And cultural compatibility of everyone in the team is critical to you. It doesn’t mean you want everyone to be the same, either, because that will likely result in a lack of creativity and, in some cases, unnecessary competition and conflict. Getting the right team is a job that never ends. Management has to remain vigilant, in terms of decisively dealing with problems and capitalizing on opportunities to add good people.

There are so many things you have to do to get your machine humming and everyone pulling the rope the same way. All I know is when you do, amazing things will happen!

MARK ZWEIG is founder and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him at

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Marketing Excellence Awards: Harris & Associates

2. Harris & AssociatesHarris & Associates (Concord, CA), a 200-person engineering and construction management firm, is taking home second place in the Online Marketing category of Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Excellence Awards for its new and improved website.

Since 2010 the Harris team has worked to rebuild the firm after the economic recession. After hiring and promoting new senior leaders, adopting a new “one-firm” matrix structure, and embracing a new set of shared values, the Harris website, which dated back to 2007, no longer reflected the “new” Harris.

As a result the Harris marketing and communications team, with help from an external writing group, designed and developed a new website as a modern marketing tool to publish content and conduct outreach to current and potential clients.

The Harris team’s main goals were to increase website traffic, and to reflect Harris’ new brand and increase brand value.

The project was delivered on time at 54.6 percent under the original budget. The new website has resulted in a 26.2 percent increase in visitors and a 15.5 percent decrease in bounce rate. Average visit duration has increased by 128 percent, with an increase in page views of 25.2 percent. Harris’ HR team has even reported a noticeable improvement in both the number and the quality of job candidates applying to Harris through the new website.

For more info on the Marketing Excellence Awards click here…

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Marketing Excellence Awards: Brand Refresh Launch Event

1. Westwood...Westwood Professional Services (Eden Prairie, MN), a 350-person professional services firm, is the second place winner in the Special Event category of Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Excellence Awards for its Brand Refresh Launch event.

Westwood refreshed its brand in 2014, with a simple and sincere promise to clients – with better people Westwood can deliver better results. The Brand Refresh Launch event was unique with its integration of the “better” idea throughout the campaign to help instill the message.

With the Brand Refresh Launch event, the Westwood team hoped to generate buy-in and excitement for the new brand, and get the brand in front of as many employees and clients as possible to ensure awareness and a quick transition.

In the weeks leading up to the Dec. 18 launch, catchy teaser posters were hung around each office and email blasts were sent out. Posters emphasized the word “better” and emails encouraged people to find out what was new and “better” at Westwood. Wall decals were created that showcased office-selected “better” promises, along with the company value statement – “Better people. Better results.”

On launch day, a final email teaser was sent to staff, inviting them to celebrate the unveiling of the fresh brand. Highlights of the new brand were covered in the unveiling. The celebration ended with a branded cake, and on their way back to their desks employees picked up their new business cards and a gift containing items branded with the fresh look.

Westwood accomplished their goals because of their creative and persistent use of the “better” theme. This methodical and deliberate communication effort set the stage for a clear transition to a fresh look and message. Results were measured through immediate and ongoing employee feedback, client feedback, email marketing results, and online analytics of web, PR, and social engagement.

For more info on the Marketing Excellence Awards click here…

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Marketing Excellence Awards: Art Night

1. Hickok Cole Architects, Inc.Hickok Cole Architects (Georgetown, DC) is taking home first place in Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Excellence Awards in the Special Event category for its social marketing event – Art Night.

Every October, HCA transforms its four-floor offices into a huge art gallery to produce Art Night – HCA’s social marketing event where the proceeds from the sale of artwork are split between the nonprofit organization Washington Project for the Arts and local, participating artists. HCA absorbs all costs.

The goal of Art Night 2014, which had about 780 attendees, was to support the Washington, D.C. arts community by raising $100,000 through art sold and donations, and to garner press coverage equal to at least $10,000 worth of advertising and exposure.

Art Night 2014 surpassed the firm’s goals by generating more than $120,000 in artwork sales – a 14-year record. Sponsors – called Art Angels – generated a record $70,000 in advance artwork sales. HCA was able to distribute $60,000 to artists and $60,000 to the WPA, exceeding the year’s goal by 20 percent.

Coverage from post Art Night press releases combined with photos featuring prominent members of the real estate community exceeded initial goals. Coverage of the event in “Multi Housing News” magazine, “The Washington Business Journal,” and online newsletter “Real Estate Bisnow on Business” equated to more than $50,000 worth of ad placement – five times the original goal.

For more info on the Marketing Excellence Awards click here…

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Marketing Excellence Awards: TEECOM

1. TEECOMTEECOM (Oakland, CA), a 50-person low-voltage engineering firm, is the first place winner in the Online Marketing category of Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Excellence Awards for its website redesign.

In 2013 clients expressed that, based on the information on its website, it wasn’t clear what services TEECOM provided and it was difficult to locate contact information. This feedback revealed not only weaknesses, but also opportunity to improve. A strategic plan for a website redesign was initiated to enhance user experience.

The TEECOM website redesign team’s goals were to enhance user experience with navigation, create a clear understanding of what TEECOM does, infuse the site with TEECOM culture and personality, improve marketing efficiency, and increase website visits.

The new and improved website allows clients to easily access information on TEECOM’s services, market sectors, employees, business practices, culture, and values. When the site launched April 2014, it was promoted through social media and employee email signatures. Implementing SEO strategies also helped target audiences to easily discover TEECOM’s website.

Through information from Google Analytics and HubSpot the TEECOM team found that the website redesign has accomplished all of the team’s original goals. The redesign has enhanced user experience with navigation – 15.78 percent for desktop visitors and 73.01 percent for mobile users. The site gives users a clear understanding of what TEECOM does, with information about TEECOM’s projects and services. The redesign infused the site with TEECOM culture and personality, with the addition of the People page – which includes information about all TEECOM employees. Marketing efficiency has also improved with the redesign. The redesign successfully increased website visits – organic search rose 114.28 percent, direct rose 57.84 percent, and referral rose 78.20 percent.

For more info on the Marketing Excellence Awards click here…

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Two Ways to Participate in Zweig Group’s 2016 Salary Survey

SSurvey_Web-graphicYou may have noticed that we currently have two open salary surveys, the Individual Salary Survey, and the comprehensive Salary Survey. We welcome participation in both surveys, as our data depends on survey participants like you.

What’s the difference? The Individual Salary Survey is just that—an individual survey asking what you do and how much money you make. It is just a few questions and shouldn’t take more than a few minutes of your time. It’s a way to gain more responses, so we can provide better data. In exchange for your time, you’ll get a free “benchmark” report, showing how your salary compares to the average, after we’ve closed the survey. Your responses are anonymous.

The comprehensive Salary Survey is for HR professionals, or the person who handles payroll at your firm. It asks the average salary for various positions in the company. Because we know your time is valuable, we designed the survey to ask questions based on your answers, so you don’t have to spend time reading questions about job titles your firm doesn’t have. As an additional thank-you for your help in shaping our 2016 Salary Survey, we’ll give you a discount code for 65% off the published survey—or 65% off the full-price of any of our other published surveys.

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Is Cloud Computing the Answer to Firms’ Data Concerns?

Zweig Group’s 2015 Information Technology Survey finds that data storage/organization is the biggest IT concern for firms this year, with 59% of respondents rating it a top priority. It comes in ahead of network/intranet/remote access (54%), hardware upgrades (49%), and CADD/BIM/technical applications. Further down the list, cloud computing, which usually includes data backup, lingers at 30%.

IT survey stats Capture

It’s no surprise that data storage is a concern. The IT Survey also found that 87% of respondents said their firms had suffered some type of data destruction or loss. The most common reason cited was “accident by employee” (62%), followed by “hardware malfunction or failure” (also 62%), and “computer virus infection” (53%). (Percentages total more than 100% because respondents were encouraged to check as many options as applied; many suffered more than one type of loss.)

When asked if they had an IT disaster recovery plan, 93% said yes. The most common type of recovery plan was a UPS battery backup (94%), followed by fault-tolerant storage systems like RAID (91%) and virus scanning (88%). (Again, multiple responses were expected.)

Unfortunately, all of those plans still leave a firm vulnerable to data loss. Fault-tolerant drives, UPS backups and antivirus software are of little or no use if your building burns to the ground, floods, or experiences a natural disaster. 86% of those surveyed said they have some off-site storage, such as tape backups or hard drives stored elsewhere, but this also has problems—off-site storage of physical drives typically happens once a day, sometimes less often. A lot of data can be lost in a day, and there’s also the possibility of losing backups during transit. Tapes, CDs, hard drives, and other types of physical storage can degrade over time and fail.
Is cloud computing the solution? Cloud computing has many benefits, allowing employees in distant locations to collaborate easily and access shared resources almost instantly, but it also usually includes a backup component. In the event of a fire, flood, natural disaster, theft, or a virus/hacking attack, your files will still be safe in a cloud backup.

There are different types of cloud backup for businesses; some offer unlimited plans, while others charge for so many GB of storage. Most scan uploaded files for viruses, although an uploaded piece of malware would not be able to spread until it was downloaded and opened anyway. The better-rated cloud backups usually have tight security protocols, but for those with especially strong concerns, some providers allow users to manage their own encryption key. The upside is that this type of storage is so secure it’s even HIPAA-compliant; the downside is that if you lose your encryption key, your provider can’t retrieve it for you (so keep that password in a fireproof safe or something).

The benefits of cloud storage and problems of data destruction may have contributed to surveyed firms’ increased interest in cloud computing. Those surveyed spent an average of $10,883 on cloud computing last year, but estimate they’ll spend an average of $12,560 for 2015.

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More on being profitable

There are a few basic traits that differentiate firms that make money from those that scrape by.

Chad Clinehens and I were talking in the office yesterday about why some firms we work with make money and others seem to struggle with it. There are some basic differences worth noting. The following observations are based on 35 years in this business and working with thousands of A/E/P and environmental companies:

  1. Profitable companies understand why it’s important to be profitable. They know everyone feels better when the enterprise is successful. They know that they need profits to be able to pay people well and keep building their teams. They know they need profits to buy other companies and accelerate their growth, to improve their IT systems, to pay for training, to spend money on marketing – and for many more investments. These people don’t need to be sold on why profits are necessary!
  2. Profitable companies have management that expects to run a profitable business. Believe it or not, not everyone out there goes into business with the assumption that they will, in fact, make a profit. Some believe it’s immoral to do so. Some just think you can’t do it in this industry. And some set such low goals and budgets that they aren’t going to be profitable. In the last year, we have twice seen companies set annual budgets to make $0 profit – and these were not small companies. How can you expect to be profitable when your goals don’t even describe a profitable outcome? You can’t!
  3. Profitable companies have management that takes action. They don’t just wring their hands or delegate the problem to a committee that cannot even meet because they have too much project work. They act. And they act quickly. They know that you cannot rationalize for why you aren’t making money and instead have to match costs to workload. They know that you cannot afford a losing month because you have to make up for it next month and that losing months kill morale and motivation. They just plain DO what they need to do every month to make a profit, even if that means doing hard stuff that they don’t like to do.
  4. Profitable companies have owners and managers who have a healthy self-esteem. They don’t go into a new client relationship expecting to get beaten down on fee or to have AR collection problems. They don’t think they should just work for anyone who will give them a job. They know they are good – heck, they know they areBETTER than good – and WILL be paid accordingly. Because they have high self-esteem they don’t want to waste their time. So, all of these good things happen and the virtuous cycle repeats itself.

I know this probably sounds terrible to some of you, but I can meet a CEO of a company in this industry and form an opinion within just a few minutes about whether or not that person is likely to be running a profitable business. I’m not always right, but I am right a lot more than I’m wrong about it. The defining characteristics above are only part of the story; the rest of it is not so clear. I’m not so sure charisma is such a bad thing, in spite of Jim Collins’ work in Good to Great. But, that’s the subject of another article!

MARK ZWEIG is founder and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him at

In response to Mark Zweig’s column in TZL issue 1113 on July 27, reader Chris Hillmann, president and CEO of Hillmann Consulting (Union, NJ), contributed three lessons he’s learned:
  • Serve a charitable cause (or multiple causes) together as a company. We do it every year, but this year we are doing it 30 times (actually more like 40) to celebrate our 30th anniversary. You can imagine how much this has built camaraderie within our team and with some of the client teams we volunteer with … not to mention how good it feels. Imagine waking up to emailed photos of children an employee you sponsored is serving at an orphanage in Haiti or the thanks we received from a couple who lost their home in Hurricane Sandy as we put the finishing touches on their new home for Habitat for Humanity.
  • You’ve said it before, there is no substitute for personal contact with your clients. So, get out of the office often, even just in the evening to attend cocktail networking events or, better yet, evening charity functions, if you are too busy 9-5.
  • Our first attorney 30 years ago taught me the value of respecting the corporation. Pour money back in, and it rewards you with a healthy balance sheet, which our banking and insurance clients find very appealing. I asked our business banker back in the throes of recession in 2009 why we were still a good risk. He told me stories of owners with multiple vacation homes or big boats who were at the doorstep of bankruptcy because of lavish personal spending at the expense of retained earnings. The bankers simply love the respect we give the business. Don’t kill the golden goose!
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What does it mean to be the best?

Top ranking AEC firms have positive organizational cultures, provide employees with the tools they need to be successful, and foster open communication.

How do you get your firm to a place where every one of your employees, or at least most of them, love coming to work and, more importantly, working on great projects?

Over the past few months, we’ve polled hundreds of employees AEC firms to get the low down on what it’s like to work there. Zweig Group received a ton of responses, which help to paint a picture of what separates the good firms from the great ones when it comes to employee performance, satisfaction, and general happiness. As one of the chief recruiters here at Zweig Group, I’ve always said that money and a title only last for so long. You have to speak to the needs of the complete employee. Are they adjusting to your corporate culture and, more importantly, is that culture easily adaptable? Have you given your employees the tools and the training they need to be successful? Do you encourage open thought and allow for differences of opinion? In my opinion, all of these factors – and more – help to determine the Best Firms to Work For awardees in the AEC industry.

THE CULTURAL COMPONENT. I recently discussed company culture in an article for our recruitment blog (, where I pointed out the ways for a candidate to determine the cultural fit of a company before he/she signs on the dotted line. The same guidelines are true for those currently employed with a firm. A good firm will make sure that its mission statement and goals are easily understood by everyone. And a firm with a clear cultural component has employees that eat, drink, and sleep its mission statement and know where the company is headed, or at least the general direction. In addition, these employees will identify with the key leaders of the firm, in addition to their teammates. All of these people have to care enough to make sure that everyone is being well taken care of. Finally, because of the strong culture, employees enjoy coming to work on a daily basis and giving it their all.

TOOLS AND TRAINING MAKE CHAMPIONS. The Best Firms to Work For make sure that their employees have the latest tools to do the job they’ve been hired to do. Updated computers, a cell phone, and Internet access while out of the office are just a few of the ways that the best firms ensure that their talented employees are adequately prepared to take on any challenge they face. Having an arsenal of the proper tools is great, but training is just as important. The AEC industry is constantly changing, and the firms that have stayed ahead of the curve are the ones that consistently allow their people to be trained on new procedures, technology, and, most importantly, project management, which is the lifeblood of our industry. Any employee will tell you how exciting it is to learn new things and stretch themselves – at least the ones that want to grow personally and professionally will. These are mostly the only types of people that Best Firms to Work For have on staff. It has been my experience that a mediocre firm has a hard time keeping good talent like this.

OPEN THOUGHT AND DIFFERENCES OF OPINION. While it’s important to hire and work with like-minded people, it can also be dangerous if no one raises his/her hand from time to time to ask the question that everyone is afraid to ask. A well-rounded AEC firm allows for differences of thought and opinion, and it’s clear to everyone that they won’t get their head bitten off for sharing. This is the type of healthy work environment that smart and intelligent talent usually gravitate toward. Even if a firm’s leadership feels very strongly about something, the mere fact that they will listen to all aspects of an argument can go a long way in cementing trust with employees. Trust me, no one wants to work at a firm where they feel like they are not being heard. This is an issue that Best Firms don’t usually have.

There is an old proverb: “It’s a pitiful frog that doesn’t praise his own pond!” Obviously, professionals in the AEC industry, like most places, should be proud of where they come from and where they are going. If an employee is welcomed into a strong culture of excellence, where they understand the mission and goals and feel like they have a voice, they will shout it from the rooftops.

Over the past few months, AEC employees from all over the country have been shouting to Zweig Group the virtues of their companies and why they are the Best Firm to Work For. On September 3 and 4, we will hear more from these firms and their representatives at the 2015 Hot Firm and A/E Industry Awards Conference in Boston. I will be there, and I hope you will join us!

RANDY WILBURN is executive search director for Zweig Group. Contact him at
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1477789_10152791298915678_4946862984534976341_nSometimes negative thoughts can creep in; here’s why leaders should always try to maintain a positive outlook.

Being positive – surrounding yourself with other positive people and believing you CAN do something – is essential to your success as a leader in this or any other business.

But it’s not easy. It’s something we all have to work on periodically – some of us more than others. Things go wrong. People disappoint us or, in some cases, actually betray us. Not all problems are “opportunities.” Some of them are just plain old problems!

Let me tell you something, Folks. I am 100 percent certain that no one would ever start a company if they weren’t fundamentally an optimist. Too many things can, and probably will, go wrong. That said, I have, at various times in my life, let negative thinking creep in, and, when it does, it’s harmful.

Here are some more thoughts on being positive:

  1. If you aren’t positive, you’ll scare your people. When I have sounded the alarm about the status of our bank account, I have had people panic and think our demise was inevitable, even though that was not remotely possible. I even had a fairly senior guy in my employ actually tell a client – or clients; I don’t know – that we were going broke! How harmful is that to your reputation and image?!
  2. Don’t confuse being positive with being delusional. I have run into plenty of people who were the latter in this business over the years – people who absolutely B.S. themselves into thinking everything is great when it is not. So, they don’t do anything they need to do to change course, and it gets worse! I resigned from a board once because the architectural firm absolutely would not make any real effort to cut its costs. They even had their secretaries peeling their fruit. The situation was bad and their delusional thinking – not to be mistaken for positive thinking – was killing them! Be positive, but take action.
  3. You can influence negative people! The next time you are dealing with someone who is negative, start making positive, hopeful statements and watch what happens. It’s very interesting: About 80 percent of the time the negative person will suddenly sound more positive. Don’t underestimate your own power to change things.
  4. Positivity is more fun. And fun is important at work. People who are having fun are more creative, work longer, and get along with each other better. Anything you can do to make it more fun at the office is good.

If you want to get a serious jolt of positivity, come to the 2015 Hot Firm Conference and A/E Industry Awards in Boston this September. You don’t need to be a winner to attend. Everyone is welcome! I will be there with my entire family, and I can assure you that you won’t find a more positive group of inspirational people anywhere.

MARK ZWEIG is founder and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him at
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