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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Marketing Excellence Awards: G2

4. G2 Consulting Group, LLCG2 Consulting Group (Troy, MI), a 50-person engineering firm, is taking home fourth place in the Integrated Marketing category of Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Excellence Awards for its integrated marketing strategy.

In April 2013, G2 began a rebranding initiative, reevaluating its business trajectory, target clients, and unique selling position. This rebranding process recaptured the firm’s vision and business plan, and enabled the firm to mirror this strategy in its new marketing direction and tools.

The purpose of G2’s integrated marketing program is to consistently communicate the firm’s brand to target clients and new employee candidates, sharing information that establishes G2 as a thought leader in their areas of specialization and providing proof that backs their brand claim – “Smart.Results.Fast.” In addition, the marketing pieces are intended to reflect G2’s personality and business focus.

To achieve their goals, the G2 team utilized a number of communication tools. The firm redesigned their website and corporate identity pieces. An email campaign was started, along with a public relations campaign. The firm used blog posts, Twitter, and LinkedIn posts, and even started using a YouTube channel to showcase project videos.

Since beginning the integrated marketing program in 2013, G2 has experienced significant growth in revenue – 22 percent in 2013 and 52 percent in 2014. The effectiveness of the marketing is largely due to the cohesiveness that exists among the firm’s operations, business development, and marketing. Coming off of its third year of increasing project activity and strong revenue growth, G2 has hired 12 new environmental scientists and geotechnical engineers in the past six months and is looking to hire up to five additional professionals. This represents over 30 percent growth in the firm. Email campaigns over the past year have achieved a 30-40 percent open rate, and a 10-36 percent click rate.

For more info on the Marketing Excellence Awards click here…

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Marketing Excellence Awards: Maser

4. Maser Consulting P.A.Maser Consulting P.A. (Red Bank, NJ), a 500-person multidiscipline engineering consulting firm, is the fourth place winner in the External Newsletter category of Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Excellence Awards for its new brochure package.

Due to Maser Consulting’s continuous expansion of services and geographic locations, the firm’s corporate brochure was quickly becoming obsolete.

The goal of the new corporate brochure package was to aid the firm’s strategic objective of establishing the brand in new geographic regions as it extends its East Coast reputation further south and west. Anticipating this growth, the firm needed something that could grow and evolve.

The new corporate brochure presents a more accurate representation of the firm in a clean and comprehensive manner. Designed to be highly customizable and flexible for future services, the brochures can be used as a package or separated into individual pieces. Each piece can be updated on its own without having to discard and reprint the entire package, which enables the brochure to grow and evolve with the firm – a fundamental goal of the project. Additionally, the brochure package enables Maser Consulting staff to target audiences with specific interests, delivering precise messages about desired services to target audiences.

The brochure package organized the firm’s services into seven core disciplines, simplifying and delivering a clear message about their capabilities. It also introduced a new, clean look. Once deployed, the brochure received enthusiastic feedback from both employees and clients. The comprehensive package achieved the firm’s ultimate goal of flexibility and longevity. The extensive in-house review of material also helped their marketing team learn about specific details and sub-services within the seven core disciplines. With more knowledge about the industry, the firm is better able to serve internal and external clients.

For more info on the Marketing Excellence Awards click here…

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Marketing Excellence Awards: Daniel C. Baker Associates 125th Anniversary Event

17341485179_34c95cc62b_oLarson Design Group (Williamsport, PA) – a 290-person engineering, surveying, and architecture firm – is taking home fourth place in the Special Event category of Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Excellence Awards for its Daniel C. Baker Associates 125th anniversary event.

In 2014, LDG acquired DCB, the oldest continually operated engineering firm in Pennsylvania. DCB was founded by Michael Baker, Sr. in 1890, and remained a family business for four generations. When Craig Baker, CEO of DCB, agreed to an acquisition by LDG, it was determined that he would become a Principal with LDG and that DCB would keep its name until Craig’s retirement.

In 2015, DCB celebrated its 125th year in business. The LDG team wanted to host an event that would highlight DCB’s illustrious history in the Beaver, Pennsylvania area, as well as set the groundwork for a transition to the LDG name upon Craig’s anticipated retirement in 2016.

The goals of the campaign were to showcase the work done by the Baker family over the past 125 years, to introduce the Beaver market to LDG, and to begin familiarizing current DCB clients with the staff who would be performing work upon Craig Baker’s retirement. In terms of more concrete goals, 75 guests were anticipated.

LDG far exceeded its goal of 75 attendees, and several local business leaders were in attendance. Pennsylvania State Representative Jim Marshall attended and presented Craig Baker with a citation in recognition of DCB’s contributions to the area, which demonstrates that local officials held the event in high esteem. A follow-up campaign has also been created, with a press release and a feature article on the cover of the Beaver County Chamber of Commerce’s monthly insert in the Beaver newspaper.

For more info on the Marketing Excellence Awards click here…

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Marketing Excellence Awards: AC Martin

4. AC Martin Partners, Inc.AC Martin (Los Angeles, CA), an 85-person architecture firm, is the fourth place winner in the Online Marketing category of Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Excellence Awards for its new website.

The AC Martin team wanted to create a website presence that modeled their standard of quality and excellence. They wanted the new site to represent their full scope of capabilities, presenting their guiding principle – “to create enduring environments that affect people’s lives in a positive way.” They needed to refresh the entire website, both visually and structurally.

The primary goals of the website were to improve usability; update the technology; provide an impressive and accurate showcase for AC Martin, its team, and its excellent work; have a manageable platform to update and add content; utilize analytics for ongoing website updates and reporting; and integrate social media.

The new site provides AC Martin the tools to directly post updates to its website with ease. It also features user-friendly navigation, interactive elements, and image-centric landing pages that engage the user and enhance the overall experience. Additionally, the newly implemented portfolio categories provide the user with clear direction based on sector or project type.

Since the launch of the new website the AC Martin team has noticed several changes and improvements. Now, 77 percent of visitors to the website are new visitors. There have been over 99,000 page views since launch, with an average of 6.3 pages viewed per visit. Average page views are roughly 37 percent above benchmarks.

AC Martin’s website has won two other awards – the 2014 W3 Silver Award and the Standard of Excellence Web Award.

For more info on the Marketing Excellence Awards click here…

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Marketing Excellence Awards: 2014/2015 Annual Report

3. Thornton Tomasetti Group, Inc.Thornton Tomasetti Group, Inc. (New York, NY) – an 850-person structural engineering, façade engineering, sustainability, and multidisciplinary forensics firm – is the third place winner in the Integrated Marketing category of Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Excellence Awards for its 2014/2015 Annual Report.

Thornton Tomasetti’s long-range goal is to be the global driver of change and innovation in the industry. To achieve this, they realized that they needed to understand where the industry is going and where they think it should go.

Thornton Tomasetti put together an annual report, which asks where the AEC industry will go in the next 20 years and discusses some possible answers.

The primary purpose of the report was to spark reflection and discussion – both within Thornton Tomasetti and in the AEC industry – of the future of design and construction. A secondary goal was to demonstrate thought leadership and pique the interest of potential clients.

A survey was sent out and people from across Thornton Tomasetti’s 26 offices shared 102 ideas, which were boiled down to seven key trends. The annual report covers the seven trends – with topics ranging from promoting and retaining women in the industry to 3-D printing. The seven ideas were covered in editorial pieces, expert interviews, articles written by technical staff, and roundtable discussions. Members of Thornton Tomasetti staff, clients, industry colleagues, and even competitors were enlisted in these discussions. Full roundtable discussions are available online.

In April, 4,366 hard copies of the report were sent to AEC industry members in 38 countries. Hard copy distribution was focused on decision-makers at client companies and on industry partners. Hard copies were also distributed to every employee.

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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Lessons I’ve learned lately

1477789_10152791298915678_4946862984534976341_nBeing human, we all have opportunities to learn (and re-learn) valuable truths for dealing with others.

You’re never too old to learn, if you keep your mind open to it. I have found over the years that whatever I’m experiencing in my life is also happening to a lot of our readers. So, I thought I would share some recent lessons I have learned.

  1. Don’t ever deny your first instincts about people. If you think maybe they are disingenuous or dishonest, they probably are. If you think they are good and worth investing in, they probably are. First impressions are accurate more often than not. Always follow your gut.
  2. It’s good to give people freedom and autonomy. It helps them develop their decision-making skills. But don’t forget to keep working on making yourself useful and productive no matter how good you are at delegating. You always have to keep getting better, doing more, being more productive, and looking for your own highest and best use inside the organization.
  3. Success is fun. No matter what anyone says about how great the learning opportunities provided by failure are, being successful is always better. Yes – the seeds of failure could be sown in your success, but success always beats the alternative.
  4. There is just no substitute for honest, ethical dealings with people, and everyone should be treated with dignity. We always have two choices when it comes to dealing with people: We can be decent or we can be a-holes. Decent people know how to treat everyone they interact with. A-holes do not and always seek to bully or coerce what they want from people.
  5. ALWAYS take care of your best clients. Give them the best people, best service, and best pricing you can. Reward their loyalty – don’t punish it by price gouging or providing poor service just because you can get away with it.
  6. When an employee says or does something so stupid that you want to fire them over it immediately, don’t. Take your time and deal with them smartly on whatever the best possible schedule is for you. Be calm and remember that a level head makes better decisions!
  7. No matter how many times we learn some of these lessons, we will always have the opportunity to re-learn them. We are all human beings. As such, we have a great capacity for self-delusion. We can easily talk ourselves out of doing hard stuff or into doing easy stuff. So, we repeat mistakes because of it.

What important lessons have you learned lately? Have any you want to share them with our readers? If so, email me. We may publish your feedback!

MARK ZWEIG is founder and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him at
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Speaker Spotlight: John Zweig

Zweig Photo (00000002)Keynote Title:  “THE GOSPEL OF FREDERICO” — Insights on hot firms from a spiritual seeker and creative devil.

Speaker: John Zweig, Chairman of specialist communications, WPP Group

Description:  Start, build, acquire, sell… lead, collaborate, integrate. John Zweig has seen it all from the vantage point of the world’s largest, most diverse, 180,000 person marketing services firm.

Hear what John and his brother learned from their 95 year-old father that turned out to be the critical ingredient missing from all the speeches you’ve ever heard, courses you’ve ever taken and books you’ve ever read.  You will entertained, informed and inspired!

About: If anyone has an eye for spotting excellence, it’s John Zweig.  He’s overseen more than 50 companies for the world’s largest advertising and marketing services organization, WPP.  He’s been pivotal in building firms, merging firms, buying them, and selling them.  He’s spent 30 years observing what makes great organizations great – all over the world.  You’ll be surprised – and inspired – by what he’s discovered about organizations, and mostly, people.  Come share an extraordinary hour with John Zweig.  You might just discover a whole new perspective on the excellence that resides in you.

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Do small firms even need a board of directors?

bodHere’s a small excerpt from the A/E Board of Director’s Manual….

In short, some do and some don’t….Since a majority of firms in the industry—most of which are small—have boards, it would seem that boards are a popular solution for many small firms. But even so, size is definitely a factor when it comes to deciding whether or not to create a board of directors.

For some firm leaders, once the company hits a certain number of employees, creating a
board becomes an imperative. For 470-person environmental engineering firm Woodard
& Curran’s CEO and Chairman, Albert Curran, the magic number of employees the firm
should have before considering creating a board of directors is about 100 people. “At
less than 100 people, with all the issues a small firm has, dealing with the nuts and bolts
of converting from a private practice to a professional firm, [creating a board of directors]
is probably beyond what’s necessary. But certainly, from 100 employees on,
[firms] should move toward having a board of directors.”

For other firms, the question is not the number of employees, but the number of owners
or shareholders, the number of branch offices, a major ownership transition, incorporating
the firm, or hitting a certain revenue milestone that precipitates the implementation
of a board of directors. Some firms have a board in place from the day they are founded
and others have “theoretical” boards that are not active but could be pressed into service
should the need arise. For these firms, the question is not whether to create the board,
but whether they need the benefits a board can provide.

Whether to have an active board at all is a perennial question among firm leaders,
especially in the thousands of small firms that make up the majority of the companies
in the industry. Many leaders wonder how the board can provide any additional benefit
to the firm, especially because in most cases, and almost always in its initial stages,
the board will probably be made up of the same people you see every day and talk to
regularly—the other owners, shareholders, and business unit leaders.
Although A/E/P and environmental consulting firms tend to be owned, managed, and
staffed by the same people, there are some good reasons to have a designated group of
people serving as a board of directors. Instituting a board of directors—even if it is
drawn entirely from the ranks of top management—will professionalize the governance
of the firm. A board that meets regularly and discusses things other than the
day-to-day issues of running the firm and focus on more of the global issues facing the
firm can only help organizations that are looking to grow long-term.

Board meetings are an opportunity to sit down together to talk about the overall
business. Every A/E/P and environmental consulting firm can benefit from this. Most
firms are too project-oriented and get caught up in the details of getting the work done.
External, client-imposed deadlines make everything else seem secondary. How many
major initiatives has your firm abandoned partway through because everyone seemed
to get too busy to keep pushing the ball forward? This is one of the vital functions the
board can serve: keeping the bigger picture goals and programs on track. Sometimes,
you need to look at and discuss the entire firm, not just a project or a problem that
became evident in the course of doing a project. The board meeting is the only time
when this occurs in many firms, and having a board to follow through on lessons
learned from such meetings can make the difference between your firm makeing the
same mistake again or getting better.

Board meetings provide a forum to talk frankly about the other owners. Unless
every owner has been named to the board of directors, which many firms do but
should avoid, the board meeting is a good chance to compare notes on key people and
observations about how they are doing, particularly the other principals and owners.
Reviewing other owners and top management personnel should be a standing agenda
item at board meetings. If changes in key personnel are needed, the board meeting is
the right place to talk about it and come up with alternatives that management may not
have even considered. At some levels, this should be an operational question, but when
it comes to executive leadership, such as the CFO or someone who heads up a business
unit that comprises 40% of your fee volume, it becomes a big picture issue and
one appropriate of the board’s attention.

Board meetings and having a board in general can be a refocusing experience.
Sometimes firms go off course and forget their strategic plans. In the rush to get projects
done and move onto the next deadline, busy firm executives and board members
sometimes forget why they are in business and what the global priorities, core values,
and mission of the firm are and should be. The board meeting is a good opportunity to
Board of Directors Manual for A/E/P and Environmental 16 Consulting Firms
remind the key people (board members) what it’s all about and what their jobs really
are (including the CEO).

Board meetings are a formal opportunity to share personal information. Whether
that includes plans for the future, retirement issues for major shareholders, or what
each board member wants personally from the company, it’s good for the top people to
know what issues their fellow board members are grappling with. Often these issues
would not come up unless these individuals sit down and talk about them. The board
of directors meeting, as well as the social warm-up prior to it and whatever fun activities
might be planned as a wrap up, is the perfect place to share these kinds of
thoughts with fellow board members. It’s also a chance to inject a little more humanity
into the sometimes sterile day-to-day world of running a business. People work to support
families and achieve personal goals, and it’s important to remember that sometimes.
Meeting regularly with an advisory group like a board can help reconnect decision
makers with that fundamental truth of the modern workplace

Board meetings are a good way to keep others informed, especially when the firm
is multifaceted or spread out geographically. Although most informational meetings
can be successfully and inexpensively conducted via conference call, these types of
distance meetings have their limits—the best people don’t always get a chance to comment
or ask questions of each other and the distance can stifle free discussion. The
board of directors meeting can be such a time for the key people to really gain an
understanding of the problems each geographic location or service division is facing
and offer up solutions. Board meetings can function as a company-wide checking-in
and brainstorming session.

Board meetings are also a chance to train others in how to run the business.
Board meetings are a great place to apprentice the up-and-comers in your firm. Use
the board to develop younger talent. And while you may have a great branch manager,
division manager, or project manager, you cannot assume these individuals all understand
the broader issues related to running the firm, so an early introduction may be
the right approach in your firm. Inviting the bright young stars to a board meeting to
see the inner workings of the firm can provide an opportunity for these future leaders
to gain valuable exposure to those who were there first. It’ll probably make them feel
like a “chosen one” which can be a huge motivator for them to work harder, bring in
more business, and remain with your firm for the long haul, effectively keeping them
right where you want them.

A board of directors that meets regularly, has a tight agenda, and perhaps even has one
or two outsiders on it, can easily develop into one of your firm’s biggest assets as the
firm grows and evolves.

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