Marketing Excellence Awards: “We make buildings work”

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Barton BartonAssociates (York, PA), a 57-person MEP engineering firm, created a marketing campaign to target their two niche markets: education and healthcare. The campaign took home fourth place in Zweig Group’s Marketing Excellence Awards in the Integrated Marketing category.

Barton set out to reach high level decision makers in the higher education, healthcare and architectural industry in four-month-long campaign. Each marketing piece was further designed to target specialized submarkets that exist within each of the two niche markets. The comprehensive campaign was comprised of a combination of direct mail, email, website improvements and social media efforts.

The firm began by researching master-plans for higher education facilities as well as future trends in healthcare facilities. Two separate campaigns focused on specific types of education and healthcare facilities that would be most meaningful to a specific client base.

Next, the firm determined what kind of marketing communication would work best for clients by researching B2B content marketing, SMPS resources, and the marketing efforts of competitors. Ultimately, Barton determined that a mix of print and digital methods would extend the reach of the campaign. James Holtzapple, vice president of business development and marketing specialist at Barton Associates, developed the idea and professional engineers at the firm wrote all the marketing content, focusing on providing clients with useful and specific information about each sub-market.

Barton Associates began with sending out a postcard, followed by an e-engineer newsletter just one week later. The newsletter contained website links that also had a downloadable brochure. The newsletter was also posted on the firm’s website and LinkedIn company page.

The simple postcards had descriptive text, photos of past projects and the firm’s tagline, “We Make Buildings Work.”

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Editorial: Two types of necessary people

Your job is to instill harmony between those who thrive on change and those who prefer the status quo.

After working with A/E firms for about 35 years, I have come to the conclusion that there are two types of managers/leaders working in most firms. Everyone seems to fall into two camps. It is either the “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” camp or the “If it ain’t broke, break it” camp. Both types of managers/leaders are necessary but neither of them is right ALL of the time.

Those who think things aren’t broken and should be left alone to operate as-is may very well be correct, but only under certain conditions. First, whatever area of the business you are talking about truly has to be unbroken and you can’t just be rationalizing for your laziness or complacency in not dealing with what actually is a problem. Second, the risk of changing it and screwing up what it does contribute is, in your judgment, greater than the benefits you could accrue by “fixing” it. And third, there are other areas or opportunities for improvement inside the firm that are a better use of your time and other resources. All of these conditions have to be met but there certainly are some good cases for concluding that this area is NOT where your focus needs to be at this time. Having people from this camp can be essential to keeping peace and harmony inside the firm and to keeping you focused on the highest priorities. The harshest critics will accuse these people of settling for less than they should and holding the company back, and in some cases they may very well be right.

It is true that those who think things can always be done better (the “If it’s not broke, break it” camp), may be the ones who actually make some real breakthroughs that ultimately make the firm a lot more successful. There really is something to be said for being in a constant state of dissatisfaction with the way things are at present. No dissatisfaction equates to no motivation to make things better. These natural optimizers just “see” opportunities to improve everything. And the truth is, in my experience, everything in most AEC firms CAN be done better. That said, they aren’t always fun to be with and can cause quite a bit of stress and discomfort to top management at times.

Both of these types of managers/leaders are needed in your firm. It’s kind of like an orchestra – you need different instruments. Pull any one of them out and the composition doesn’t sound so good. Your job as the “orchestra leader” is to decide when “good enough” really is good enough and when changes need to be made to make things better. It takes a balance, a constant reassessment of priorities and available resources, and continuous judgments about who you can make uncomfortable or potentially demotivate with too much or too little change. This is just one more aspect of the “art of leadership,” and part of what makes your job a continuous learning experience…

Happy New Year, All!

Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him with questions or comments at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.


This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1086, originally published 1/12/2015. Copyright© 2015, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

 

 

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From the Chairman: Losing valuable people?

A test of your staff’s commitment to you so you know what to fix.

Architects and engineers are seeing increased activity in the marketplace and firms are hiring. This is not news to most of you, I suspect. It certainly is the case with the firms I’m working with today. In fact, some firms have a voracious appetite for additional talent and are aggressively poaching from other firms. How secure and committed to your firm are your employees?

I’ve frequently mentioned the Gallup book, “First Break All the Rules” and am reminded daily of the pertinence of their 12 key questions regarding workplace moral. Their message is simple. If your people answer yes to these 12 questions, they are “deeply committed” to their work, and by extension, deeply committed to the firm that they are a part of. Here they are:

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work? (Do my team members have clear job descriptions, and clarity around projects, tasks and expectations?)
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right? (Do they have the resources they need to succeed in their role?)
  3. Do I have the opportunity to do what I do best everyday? (Do you have people in the right jobs, where they can use and build on their strengths?)*
  4. In the last 7 days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work? (When was the last time you praised the individuals in your team? If it wasn’t in the last week, it’s not regular enough. People crave recognition – your role as leader is to encourage and cheerlead your team.)
  5. Does my supervisor or someone at work seem to care about me as a person? (Do you know who your team members are as people, not as employees?)
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development? (Do you provide opportunities for your staff to learn new skills and feel like they are moving forward?)
  7. At work, do my opinions seem to count? (People leave managers, not jobs. What structure do you have in place for your team members to provide their feedback? And do you listen when it’s given?)
  8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important? (Do your team members know how their role fits into the bigger picture?)
  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work? (Are you letting poor performers set the standard or are you encouraging people to lift the bar? The standard your walk past is the standard you set. Good performers can be demoralized if poor standards are accepted in others.)
  10. Do I have a best friend at work? (Are you providing opportunities for your team to grow supportive relationships at work? Work is a big part of their lives, so it’s vital for people to have fun and friendship.)
  11. In the last 6 months, has someone talked to me about my progress? (Are you providing regular reviews and feedback to help people with a sense of direction at work?)
  12. This last year, have I had the opportunity at work to learn and grow? (Are you providing opportunities for advancement?)

I’ve used these questions with firms I’ve worked with to help leaders determine how well they’re doing. Buy the book, use SurveyMonkey to poll your staff, and you’ll learn very quickly how vulnerable you may be. If anyone who is part of your leadership team thinks this is nonsense, perhaps it’s time for new leadership, because people who answer yes to each of these questions are simply not interested in going somewhere else. Environments that foster a culture built around each of these ideas won’t easily be found elsewhere. If your people know that it is your intent to build your firm on these principles, they’ll also be more likely to explore what it’s like in the firm that’s trying to lure them away.

* I also highly recommend another Gallup book titled “Now Discover Your Strengths,” which elaborates on point 3 above.

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

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Editorial: What to pay a new employee

As hiring picks up in 2015, make sure you are taking all factors into consideration, Mark Zweig writes.

Some years ago, I got a call from a good client and friend of mine. He ran a good-sized A/E firm in the Midwest and needed some help with recruiting. They desperately required a strong engineering project manager with a healthcare HVAC design background. He wasn’t happy with the capabilities of the five other PMs they had with HVAC backgrounds. None of them were strong enough to handle the big project they’d just landed (according to him).

We discussed all the requirements for the job and then I asked him what they would be willing to pay. His response was $90,000 max base pay because that’s how much they paid the other people there (the ones he wasn’t happy with, mind you!). I asked him why he thought we would be able to find someone better than the five he already had and entice him or her away from their present employer for the same pay he’s giving others who aren’t as good. He didn’t really realize the low probability of that occurring until I pointed it out to him!

Determining what to pay someone you’re trying to hire is always a thorny subject. What they make currently, what others in the firm make, what their expectations are, relative cost of living where they are now versus where you will put them – there are many factors to consider.

Finding out what they currently make is crucial but many firms don’t even ask for it. The best way is to just come out and ask. When the person says, “I make $100K,” the next questions out of your mouth should be, “How does that break down? What portion of that is base pay? Bonus? Overtime? Benefits?” You may very well find out they actually earn a base salary of $80K, which could radically affect your assessment of that person’s value to you and prospects of accepting an offer of $95K.

Looking at your existing staff honestly is another factor. If you love them you’d better consider the risk of bringing someone in from outside at a higher price. If you think you need to upgrade, be ready to pay a higher price than what you’re paying everyone else now. And here’s the truth of it: It will be hard to hire someone as good as the people you have now without paying that person more than you pay everyone else because their current employer probably values them similarly to how you value your other similar-capability staffers.

Salary surveys are one way to get some external data reference beyond what the person says they are currently making and beyond what you are currently paying your similar people. But beware. The geographic groupings they put people in may not make sense or reflect where you are. “Southern States,” for example, would include Atlanta but could also include Greenwood, Miss. The price tags for people with similar backgrounds could be quite different in those two locations. So looking at what people with an architectural degree, registration, and 10 years of experience “earn” could be an apples to oranges comparison.

Cost of living is yet another factor. Yes, it is a lot more expensive to live in San Francisco than it is the DFW area. But “no,” the salaries in the Bay Area are not correspondingly higher over the DFW area. So salaries do NOT automatically go up in higher cost areas. Yet, this is bound to be a factor for anyone considering a new job.

There are many factors to consider in what to pay someone. We haven’t even discussed bonuses, benefits, and relocation packages. The best companies are going to be throwing all kinds of “deals” out there but will pay the greatest attention to base pay. Base pay is what someone can count on and is always the most important number in anyone’s compensation package. Not to mention higher salaries make it harder for people to leave your employ because other companies can’t afford ’em. My guess is you’ll be doing a lot of hiring in 2015. I hope this helps!

Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him with questions or comments at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.

 

 

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Marketing Excellence Award Winner: A gingerbread video project

The holidays are a great time for fun and creative marketing pieces. Taking home second place in Zweig Group’s 2014 Marketing Excellence Awards in the Online Marketing Category, Clark Patterson Lee (Rochester, NY), a 220-person multidisciplinary firm, combined the traditions of making gingerbread houses and sending holiday cards into a sweet marketing piece that spread holiday cheer inside and outside the company.

The firm began the process with a brainstorming session three months before the targeted send date of an e-card on Dec. 20. The firm decided to make a video of the process of creating a gingerbread structure, and to make things even more A/E industry-themed, the process of creating the ginger structure was made to mirror the steps taken in responding to a request for proposals. The video emphasized the creative process, which captured all the steps from receiving RFP through completion and ribbon-cutting.

Project teams and individuals were encouraged to submit a proposal. A committee selected the winning design, choosing to incorporate elements from all submittals.

The team selected a digital platform to distribute the video e-card due to cost and flexibility. The recording captured the design process in real-life, resulting in a time-lapse video set to music, resulting in a fascinating and engaging visual.

The process of creating the card and gingerbread structure remained collaborative: the e-card was created and executed entirely by internal staff, who expressed pride and joy in the project. Architects, engineers, and interior designers used their talents to design, plan and execute the structure constructed solely from edible food materials. The firm produced an outtakes video from the bloopers as a bonus feature to encourage further engagement.

The e-card was posted on YouTube, shared on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, and linked back to the firm’s website as a part of an inbound marketing campaign.

Clark Patterson Lee set a few simple goals for the marketing piece: showcase their creativity to clients and friends in a way that evokes the holiday spirit, promote firm culture by working collaboratively on a project that generates firm-wide excitement, and increase traffic to the website and increase name and brand awareness among a broader audience.

The target audience was broad and included over 1,800 friends, colleagues and clients along the eastern seaboard. The video was also embedded on the firm’s website, with a link emailed to contacts. Traffic was driven to the website to increase SEO.

Results
The firm set a modest budget of $1,500, though the actual cost ended up being even less in accountable hours of time from marketing staff and cost of food supplies. Non-marketing staff volunteered time to build the ginger structure. The firm used camera, equipment and computer programs they already owned.

The 1,800-contact send-list generated 4,168 page views, 1,725 unique views, and had only a 0.6 percent bounce rate. The video garnered 1,508 views on YouTube and was shared by many recipients, with countless positive comments: “An extended member of the CPL family, in southern N.H. loved this! The ribbon cutting and the gingerbread man upside down in the ‘pond’ were innovative touches” – Lyndy Burnham. “The BEST holiday card of the year!” – Timothy J. DeBuse, national corrections market leader, HEERY DESIGN.

The marketing piece also won the Smartegies A/E/C Full-Service Marketing Agency Holiday Card Contest in Atlanta and placed in the SMPS 2014 Marketing Communication Awards.b1ea7958cffa64011d56d0e61405ad64

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Editorial: Know your margins

Which units are performing and which are not? Do a little research; allocate your investment appropriately.

I’m all for holistic thinking – always have been. I’ve seen a lot of silly (make that stupid) stuff done in AEC firms when they run offices or departments as profit centers. One group is hiring while another is firing, cross-selling isn’t happening, and managers are fighting with each other in senseless turf wars.

That said, sometimes you HAVE to look at how units are performing profit-wise compared to one another. If you don’t, you don’t know where you should be investing and where you should be cutting. Resources are limited. Management time, money, marketing dollars, training dollars, technology dollars – these things must be deployed where best used.

Many companies don’t ever do a margin analysis between offices, divisions, market sector groups, clients, or studios and teams. This is critical information and it should potentially affect virtually every decision made by management.

For example, one time I was asked to do a marketing plan for a client who had multiple separate and distinct market sector groups they were organized around. I had their CFO do a complete analysis of each unit – something they had never done before. When the results came in we saw that they were spending more money on the worst performing units and less money on the best performing units. It was the exact opposite of what a logical and dispassionate management team should do. Yet this is a typical scenario.

The reason this happens is that we tend to focus on our problems. They command our attention and resources. Instead of investing in what works, we do the opposite. We ignore the good and devote our energies to the bad. And that then results in throwing good money after bad and wasting months or years. Then we wonder why our businesses aren’t profitable or growing. This phenomenon is certainly one reason why…

Of course, you have to be smart about your analysis and look at longer-term performance versus just shorter-term. We do have different units and areas of business for good reasons. Sometimes they are countercyclical. That’s ok. But be sure when the cycle is right their contributions exceed their costs when the cycle is off. Some things never make money. Several times, I worked for companies in this business where we studied project performance over a 15- to 20-year period. In one case, we discovered that all of our higher education projects over the life of the company, when totaled, lost money. This certainly was good information to have, influencing our marketing efforts going forward. Another company I worked for discovered that claims paid ate all profits in one project category they worked in over a 20-year period. That told us to get out of that market.

I always say: before business planning is a good time for a little research. Have you done your homework?

Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him with questions or comments atmzweig@zweiggroup.com.

This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1084, originally published 12/29/2014. Copyright© 2014, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Brand Building: ’Tis the season for giving

Marketing is the area of your business intended for giving to others.

I was on-site with a client recently and we were discussing a business development strategy for their new planning group. One of the senior leaders made a key observation that I think is important to share. He said: “We need to make sure we do not apply our traditional utilization targets to this group.” You may not think that comment is profound, but too many firms do try to start a new group to add value for their clients and then do not really give the group the flexibility and resources to adequately succeed. Firms find it difficult to not apply their refined management systems to all groups in order to keep an eye on them.

I believe the comment brought up a very good point that we can all learn from – marketing and business development is a business of giving. It requires a great deal of faith that, by giving to others, you will eventually get something in return. There are some things that require a completely different set of rules and measures for accountability. For this firm, adding a planning group would add value to their clients; something to set them apart from their other general engineering competitors in the area. Here are tips for taking a leap of faith in marketing and business development without completely losing control of those precious marketing and BD dollars:

  1. For new areas of business, whether developing expertise or a new geographic area, set realistic expectations for revenues and costs based on specific information and research you gather. At the same time, do not buy into commonly circulated myths – i.e. “all new offices take three years to become profitable.” There are many situations when, if executed right, you can become profitable almost right way. There are other situations where it may take five years to become profitable. Keep your expectations (and faith) based on what you know related to the specific investments you are making. Do lots of research!
  2. Be willing to give a lot to get a little. This ties in with the season. Marketing and BD is all about offering information and services to current and potential clients in order to earn that very important quality – trust. Anywhere you can offer to help a client upfront before a project opportunity exists is a tremendous way to build trust and loyalty. Offering to help write the RFQ, scope the project and provide cost estimates, provide ideas for saving money or even suggesting alternate projects are just some of the ways you can offer your expertise and advance your chances of becoming a preferred provider in the future. Give to others!
  3. Be ROI minded. Return on investment is, at the end of the day, what marketing and BD is all about. This concept is applicable even in this season of giving. We give to others in order to provide them with a benefit now or in the future. And giving to others always comes back to the giver in a positive way. A/E firms certainly must manage utilization carefully and not invest wildly in marketing and BD without any accountability or strategy. However, firms must also realize that new ventures need different rules and mechanisms for accountability. Investing in something where returns may not be realized for years down the road can be hard for our utilization-obsessed industry to embrace. Consider all of your marketing expenditures and where to best spend those dollars and realize that giving something of real value to clients, like your time, is at the top of the effective list. Many firms waste tens of thousand of dollars on worthless marketing giveaways like pens, koozies and other junk that does not make near the impact that an hour of your time does. Focus on activities and investments where you have the greatest chance of return. Be ROI minded!

Any decision of giving or investment should be guided by a strong business plan. As we close out an outstanding year of recovery for our industry, every firm should be taking a hard look at its strategic plans. Much has changed and lots of opportunity exists at this time. The firm that spends time developing a thoughtful plan for the future will be the one that outperforms its peers. Decide what you want to be and who you want to be with you and start giving to them in a smart and deliberate way.

Chad Clinehens is The Zweig Group’s executive vice president. Contact him at cec@zweiggroup.com.

This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1084, originally published 12/29/2014. Copyright© 2014, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Editorial: I love this business!

An ode to the A/E profession, from Mark Zweig.

Being in the construction and development business through Mark Zweig, Inc., and getting exposure to many other businesses and industries as a professor teaching entrepreneurship at the University of Arkansas, I have gained a whole new appreciation for the A/E and environmental consulting business. I love it!

Sometimes I think it’s good to remind ourselves why we do what we do, and why it is such a great business to be in.

First off, the people who work in A/E firms are some of the most honest, ethical, and hardworking people you can find anywhere. The standard of ethical behavior in this business is higher than any other I’m aware of – helped, in part, by professions that have strict ethical codes of conduct.

The people in this business are also intelligent and creative. What could be better than that? We all have to spend a lot of time with our co-workers so why not work with people we can learn from and who inspire us? There’s nothing better!

Another great aspect of this industry is that the companies that make it up are by and large doing good stuff for society versus just selling junk food or tobacco, or overpriced garments or unneeded financial products. The work of firms in this business directly impacts the quality of life for all of us.

The work itself is fun and gratifying. Designing construction projects and then seeing them built in life-size, 3D is incredibly gratifying. And doing something where you get to continue to learn new things is also great. The advances in software and other technologies people get to use every day keep things fresh.

Being able to move around during the day is also great. Whether it’s getting in the car and driving to a job site, or getting on a plane and going to an exotic location, the opportunity for people working in this business to not be stuck behind a desk all day is real.

The point is, we all have a lot to be thankful for and feel really good about working in the A/E/P or environmental consulting business.

So let’s use some of these points as the underpinnings of our own daily affirmations to create a positive attitude for ourselves and our people as we move into 2015.

Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him with questions or comments at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.


This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1083, originally published 12/15/2014. Copyright© 2014, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Search Savvy: Change is good!

Five ways to increase your digital footprint in branding and recruiting the best and brightest in 2015.

As we approach the end of 2014, I’m amazed at how much has changed in such a short period of time. Let me preface this by saying this year was unlike any other for me. I stepped down from a position I had been in for almost five years; after hearing a profound EntreLeadership Podcast (EntreLeadership.com) featuring a story about two men who had the opportunity to be mentored by Peter Drucker – arguably one of the greatest minds on Wall Street – and then reaching out to my own version of Peter Drucker in one Mark Zweig, for mentoring.

Based on the time I spent with Mark, I decided to take the plunge and get back into management consulting in a way that I haven’t done in years; since my first “tour of duty” with Zweig White & Associates. Back then, I was one of those associates given plenty of rope to make things happen.

When I left the industry, the technology that we take for granted today was in its infancy – we had a couple of career websites but that was it! There was no Twitter, Facebook,  LinkedIn, etc. If I remember correctly, Napster was the biggest game in town online and you were hip if you had an AOL account. In the Executive Search group at ZWA we got on the phone and made call after call after call. We sourced all the people we could find, recruited everyone who would speak to us and secretly hoped that the fax machine had enough paper in it for the résumé you were about to receive. Those were the days…

But they are long gone.

The A/E industry is all grown up now and more mature then ever. Just like every industry, profession, or discipline, HR and recruiting has had to come to grips with the changes in how we do things, workplace education and development, source candidates, call on clients, and recruit the best and brightest people.

Tools like LinkedIn and Twitter and even Facebook have changed the way we work. Information flow is more instantaneous and if you don’t know how to parse and process this information you could get left behind. Having spent time outside the A/E industry and seeing information and data manipulated in new and profound ways has given me a unique perspective on things.

Today, it’s no big deal for a company to develop and run cost-effective, simple software that allows them to operate more efficiently or provide a better bridge to a program that is the backbone of what they do or manage (Think Deltek or Salesforce or any other project management program). Inexpensive technology is everywhere.

Here are five ways for you to increase your digital footprint in branding and recruiting the best and brightest to join your firm in 2015.

  1. Let social media be ‘social’ and not ‘so-cold!’ Don’t create a bunch of canned responses that make it look like you have a robot monitoring your social media accounts. There are great programs out there – HootSuite (Hootsuite.com), Buffer (Buffer.com), and Sprout Social (SproutSocial.com) to name a few. With proper planning and a thoughtful approach these social media dashboards can make things so much easier for you to have genuine conversations with clients and candidates, for that matter.
  2. Make sure that your brand message is consistent across multiple social media platforms. Your logo, tagline, vision, mission statement, or whatever you are known for should exist somewhere on all of your social media profiles. More and more AEC candidates are spending time online doing research and talking to peers through multiple social media channels before making job changes. It hurts rather than helps you to not have an active and organic presence online. Nowadays a website is just not enough.
  3. Tell your story the only way you can. Use video and audio to brand yourself and your message properly. When trying to attract the best talent you always have to put your best foot forward. Consider creating a series of short videos or podcasts that capture the essence of who your firm is, what it means to be a team member, and maybe even the benefits of working with your company. I learned an expression a long time ago: “It’s a pitiful frog who doesn’t praise his own pond!”
  4. Keep an electronic database or CRM on all prospective candidates who respond to any job postings or come in the office for an interview. Many firms may want to have their HR department keep a separate simple CRM to refer back when ready to hire. There are several FREE ones out there, including ZOHO Recruit (Zoho.com/Recruit) and Insightly (insightly.com). As recruiters, our database is our lifeline. You have to make sure that you have an adequate database in place to keep track of all of the amazing candidates you run across over time. Maybe someone you really like isn’t a fit now. Sticking their business card in the bottom on your drawer may not work so well for you nowadays. You need to keep that person’s information in an electronic format and if there is an opportunity to engage with them through social media you should consider that as well. You never know when you might be ready to hire that person and if you remain engaged with them even on the simplest of social media levels that call to recruit them down the road is much warmer.
  5. Don’t make social media and marketing your brand for recruitment purposes a chore. Keep the message on point and have some fun with it. Keep relevant data about your firm, your growth, and the project mix nearby so that you can always make it available through social media to potential clients and candidates alike.

Everyone is under a microscope to perform. But clients and candidates can see thru a smokescreen. Whether your firm is working with a recruiter or not you may only have one shot at a great candidate. Make sure it’s your best.

Happy Holidays!

Randy Wilburn is director of Executive Search with Zweig Group. Contact him at rwilburn@zweiggroup.com or find him on Twitter at @RandyWilburn and @ZGRecruiting.


This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1083, originally published 12/15/2014. Copyright© 2014, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Editorial: Keys to success in 2015

Build a better, more sustainable company with these suggestions from Mark Zweig.

2015 is shaping up to be a FANTASTIC year for firms in this business. It’s really fun to see how many firms are doing exceedingly well in terms of growth, profits, and backlog, and to observe the renewed optimism and sense of possibility for their owners.

Now is your chance, if there ever was one, to build a better, more sustainable company and to grab the proverbial “brass ring.” It’s really up to you – as a leader – in how you shape your firm and the people in it, as to whether or not you’ll capitalize on the opportunity that is before you. As usual, I predict there will be some winners and some losers…

Here are what I see as some keys to your success in 2015 and beyond:

  • Purpose. Everyone needs it. Few can sustain working for the money alone over the long haul. A clear definition of your firm’s purpose is essential to sustaining individual motivation levels throughout the firm. While this may seem like an impossible task for some firms, it is necessary.
  • Commitment to growth. I have been criticized before for being too growth-oriented. If so, I accept that willingly. There is no alternative. You are either growing or declining. Growth is necessary for so many reasons – to keep people motivated, to improve capabilities, to increase firm value, to support investments in the future, and much, much more. Don’t rationalize that it is ok to not grow. It isn’t.
  • Successors. You need your successor. Everyone who reports to you needs their successors. All those successors need their own successors. Forcing people to do this – working hard on finding successors for everyone in the firm – will greatly increase your chances for success.
  • Working together. We’re in a complex business. We don’t need solo performers. We need team players who get the idea that cooperation is required if they want to accomplish what’s truly possible. Tear down the walls inside your organization (perhaps literally) and reinforce this idea through your own actions.
  • More creativity in marketing. It all gets stale faster than ever. Maybe it’s because we’re all getting bombarded with marketing messages through so many different channels today that keeping everything fresh is more essential than ever. Mix things up. Use all of the channels available to you. Get younger people involved. Build your brand.
  • Selling. Everyone MUST understand that selling work is one of the most important things in the firm. The firm has to be a “selling machine” if it is going to survive and prosper. Everyone has to contribute to this in some way through lead identification, fee estimating, proposal and presentation preparation, and closing.
  • Responsiveness. There simply is no substitute for being super-fast to respond to calls and emails if you want to create a good impression on clients and everyone else you work with today. Those who are responsive will win more jobs and keep more clients than those who don’t. Yes, that tether can create stress in your life. You have to learn how to manage it.
  • Doing. Don’t forget that your firm must deliver quality work and no amount of marketing or responsiveness will make up for bad quality. Those who “do” have to be recognized and rewarded if you want them to ultimately perform as you need them to.
  • Recruiting. People are getting harder and harder to find, despite the popularity of social networking sites such as LinkedIn. You must devote time, money, and other resources to recruiting if you’re going to be able to survive the battle for talent in the years ahead.
  • Investing. Everything takes an investment mentality. If you are one of those firms that functions as an “income club” (a term I first heard used by Paul Greeenhagen, CEO of Westwood Professional Services and one I really like), then you’re going to have to make some changes. Growth takes cash. You need money to invest in marketing, people, technology, research and development, new ventures, acquisitions, and more. You cannot strip it all out like we used to in the good ol’ days.
  • Fueling the fires that burn. One of the most dramatic successes I ever witnessed in this business was with a design firm that I helped with their marketing. I forced them to look at marketing costs by market sector. What we found was the lowest cost of marketing as a percentage of revenue was in their largest sector, and their highest cost as a percentage of revenue in their smallest sector. I convinced them to cut off all marketing to the three worst performers and instead spend that money on the top three performers. They exploded with growth in the years that followed.
  • Construction. You have to get closer to it. I can’t tell you how exactly, other than the lack of construction knowledge, costs to build, and design-build is probably hurting you. Contractors are increasingly powerful competition for design-only firms and more clients are going to them first when they want to do something. That’s a threat to you.
  • Communication. There’s no substitute for it. No communication will result in misunderstandings. These inevitably crop up between busy people who travel a lot or people who work in different offices, departments, or locations. Your job as a leader is to mitigate these problems through every means possible.
  • Just being nice. Everything goes down better if it has a little sugar on it. Be a nice person and people will treat you better. Avoid gossip, don’t seek vengeance, be friendly to everyone – especially those lower down in the pecking order, and you won’t have (as many) people wanting to shoot you in the back.

Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him with questions or comments at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.


This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1082, originally published 12/8/2014. Copyright© 2014, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Search Savvy: The next ‘rock star’

Five facts to consider during the recruiting process at your firm.

Managing expectations in an executive search process can be a burdensome task. After all, you’re eager to quickly find that perfect new team member and move on to the next challenge. Everybody is depending on you. But potential hires don’t come neatly packaged with a bow on top. Here are five things to consider when looking to hire the next “rock star.”

  1. News flash: Good candidates are not necessarily looking for a new job. One thing I’ve learned about finding and identifying good candidates for a potential job change is that in most, but not all cases, they are not looking for a job. Of course, many are open to hearing about other opportunities but normally they are pretty comfortable where they are. The art of recruiting good candidates is getting just enough of your foot in the door with these individuals so that you can sell them on the potential for growth with your firm and maybe even zero in on things they want to do in their profession but are not able to do where currently employed. You have to listen to the small subtle hints that can sometimes reveal to you what it would take for a perfectly happy employee to consider making a move.
  2. Executive search timeframes vary and you have to be prepared for the long haul if necessary. All positions in your firm will vary with regard to the time it takes to find the right person for your team. It may take twice or three times as long to find a CFO, COO or highly specialized position (think Clean Room MEP) that is hard to come by versus the ubiquitous CAD designer or entry level civil engineer (no offense to all of my civil engineer friends out there). Based on this, whether you are working with an internal recruiter or you’ve hired an executive search firm to help, you should be realistic about the time it will take to find the right person. If only recruiting was as simple as a snap of the finger life would be easy. But, alas it is not and you need to be prepared for the ride.
  3. You have to ‘sell!’ the opportunity – especially when you hire a search firm. You will obviously know your company but your recruiter (whether in-house or outside) needs to be able to sell your firm and the opportunity as well as you can.
    Once you’ve identified someone who could be a fit in your firm you need to make sure you don’t drop the ball by making them feel like you are doing them a favor by considering them for employment. You would never do that with a potential client. You have to sell the benefits of working with your firm and maybe even share some inside information – not “Area 51” information but you know what I mean – to help seal the deal. This is especially true if you hire a firm to recruit on your behalf. You need to make sure they can sell your company and the opportunity almost as good as you can.
    At the Zweig Group we rarely take executive search work without spending some time with the client, visiting their office, learning about their culture, and figuring out the prototypical candidate who could succeed in that environment. Employee acquisition is not cheap and whether you do it yourself or hire someone you want to make sure you are doing things the right way because, more than anything else in our industry, proper talent acquisition will ensure the future success and growth of your firm.
  4. Timely feedback on presented candidates is a crucial piece of the puzzle. You have to respond to all résumés and requests for info ASAP in order to ensure success in the recruitment process.
    One of toughest things to do in such a competitive market for top talent is to give feedback on potential candidates in a timely manner. It may seem like common sense but you can spend time and money looking for the right people but drop the ball by not getting back to them or a participating recruiter and managing their expectations throughout the courtship process. Even if you are not sure about a potential candidate you should treat them the way you would want to be treated – and not like a commodity. It’s always easier to be upfront with people about your interest or lack thereof. They will probably appreciate you more for your candor. Obviously, if you are working directly with a recruiter, getting back to them with timely feedback will greatly enhance the speed at which a position can be filled.
  5. Be slow to hire and quick to fire. This doesn’t mean you can take eight months to hire someone because I can guarantee you that in this market they will not stick around, but you get the idea.
    Sometimes you find what you think is the right person but they end up being a dud. It happens. As painful as it sounds, the more time you spend trying to fix something will ultimately cost you more money than admitting the mistake and pulling the plug and starting over. It will cost you less in the long run. This is the biggest mistake we see our clients make, especially after they’ve spent money and effort trying to fill that Senior Project Manager position. This doesn’t happen that often in our industry because we can usually tell if someone is the “real deal” fairly quickly; because of the discipline experience it’s harder for a mechanical or structural engineer (or architect for that matter) to pretend to be something they are not. It usually ends up being a personality clash or lack of good work habits, which can easily be masked through the search process and sometimes you don’t find out until well after the ink is dry on the employment contract. Again, when these issues arise you should consider cutting ties sooner, rather than later. People can certainly change but you will have to ask yourself if you’re willing to wait for the caterpillar to become a butterfly? The choice is yours.
    These are just a few of the key ingredients and facts to consider when looking for the next “rock star!” addition for your office. Just remember to listen more than you talk and let the facts stand on their own accord. If you need help or guidance in this area or just want to talk about your recruitment process, please don’t hesitate to reach out and ask. We are here to serve.

Randy Wilburn is director of Executive Search with Zweig Group. Contact him at rwilburn@zweiggroup.com or find him on Twitter at @randywilburn.

 

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Editorial: Resentment for the money-maker

If you are a target of bitterness, here’s four tips from Mark Zweig on how to deal with it.


​On a recent flight to go see some clients in South Florida, Chad Clinehens and I were talking about how we’ve both witnessed an extremely dysfunctional situation in a number of firms we had both worked for: Resentment for one or more of the company’s top performers.

In several of the cases we discussed, this “top performer” also happened to be the CEO in a multi-owner firm. We’re talking about the people who sell the most, make the most profit, and generally, make most good stuff happen at the firm. Yet some – or many of the other principals or partners – can’t wait to get them out of the firm and out of their way.

It would be one thing if the people we are talking about were jerks or lorded their power or accomplishments over others. But the ones we are talking about aren’t. They are nice, self-effacing, and know how to treat others. You’d think everyone would love them, honor them, and thank them for all their help in making an outstanding living and creating a valuable firm. Instead, they are often the subjects of plots to get the King off his throne.

So the question is: WHY are these money-makers resented and what can they do about it, if anything? If YOU are one of these people, here’s my advice:

  1. Don’t get distracted by it. Your goal – your need – is to perform. If you don’t perform, everyone suffers. So don’t get too worried if the lesser performers are jealous and talking trash about you. You have to do what you have to do anyway!
  2. Over communicate, particularly face-to-face. People have to know you care about them and that you are not a jerk. This is REALLY hard, especially if you are the busiest person in the company and travel a lot so you just aren’t there – and when you are, you’re backed up. It doesn’t matter. You need to make two or three times the effort other people do just the same.
  3. Do you best to share the credit. Always deflect praise to other members of the firm or your team. The more you can do this, the better. Other people will like you more. You know what you do, anyway. No need for you to be insecure.
  4. Do things that show how nice and compassionate you are. Every act of kindness from you will help you build up your goodwill reserve. It’s important that you – as a high performer – do this. While you shouldn’t be a target, you will be. Our firms are filled with insecure, egocentric people.

Do any of you have any ideas on this topic? If so, send ’em to me. Until then, I’ll see you next week!

Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him with questions or comments atmzweig@zweiggroup.com.   

This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1080, originally published 11/17/2014

11/17/2014

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Brand Building: Build a competitive marketing department

Using industry benchmarks can help invest with confidence.

Have asked yourself how many marketing staff members your firm should really have? Firm leaders often ask us this because they are constantly hearing how they should be investing more in marketing. Say the words “marketing investment” and many things can come to mind: Marketing staff, computers, software, printers, business developers, golf sponsorships, conference booths, advertisements – and the list goes on.

  • Having a good marketing department is the first step in getting the most out of your numerous marketing expenditures. You need enough people and the right kind of expertise to earn a decent return on your marketing investment. For firm leaders or marketing professionals looking for guidance on what a marketing team should look like, benchmark data can help you invest with confidence.
  • Have enough marketing people to adequately support your technical staff. Firms often subconsciously believe that all overhead is bad; therefore we should have as few marketing staff as possible. Having adequate marketing support resources can actually free up your billable staff to focus more on projects and therefore make more money for the firm. Having the adequate number of quality marketing team members handle more marketing tasks at lower hourly rates is preferable to using your technical professional staff. Firms in this industry have a ratio of total staff to marketing staff of 26:1, according to Zweig Group’s 2014 Marketing Survey.
  • Have the right expertise for your firm. The larger firms are, the more varied the expertise they have in-house. Firms often add a marketing director once they reach 25 employees. Once a firm surpasses 250 people, they tend to have one marketing director, two marketing managers, four marketing coordinators, two public relations and communications specialists, one graphic designer and one web designer. For firms to compete in this market, their marketing departments need to be staffed with the expertise that will help them stand out from the competition.
  • Have your marketing effort reflect your vision and mission. Industry benchmarks are great for offering a basic sense of what the market is doing, but to truly stand out, your investments must empower your strategic plan. For example, the average 2014 marketing budget as a percentage of net service revenue was 1.6 percent for stable growth firms versus 3.4 percent for growth firms, according to the 2014 Marketing Survey. Firms growing 20 percent of more for the past three years are therefore spending over twice as much in marketing. That clearly demonstrates that fast growth firms believe and invest more heavily in marketing. If your strategic plan includes an aggressive growth plan, a preemptive investment in marketing staff is likely necessary to enable a scalable organization. A clearly distinguished vision and mission is greatly enhanced by strong marketing!

Being armed with industry data can provide a good starting point for where and how much you need to invest in marketing. Additionally, the data supports a powerful argument when you need to get other firm leaders on board with what may be a significant investment in marketing.

Knowing what other firms are spending in marketing is a good way to benchmark your investment. As we have said it many times: The margin between winner and loser in our industry is often painfully small. Anything you can do to outsmart, outspend and outperform your competition can make the difference in being a stable firm versus a high growth firm!

More information about Zweig Group’s 2014 Marketing Survey of Architecture, Engineering, Planning & Environmental Consulting Firms can be found at https://zweiggroup.com/p-2205-marketing-survey-2014.

Chad Clinehens is The Zweig Group’s executive vice president. Contact him at clinehens@zweiggroup.com.


This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1080, originally published 11/17/2014. Copyright© 2014, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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From the Chairman: Offer program management services?

Design firms may have a niche to fill in this area. After all, you can do it better than a dispassionate program manager.

Architects and engineers have long complained about their relationships with program managers. “They challenge us on our fees. They don’t understand the value we provide. As owners’ representatives, they don’t do very much. I come away from a meeting, and it seems as though they have distributed every task to someone other than themselves.”

Sound familiar?

Look at the origins and processes of program management as a professional service offering. I’ve seen two strong needs for a seasoned professional: 1) an owner or tenant, constructing a building or improving leased space, who does not have the expertise in-house to manage a construction team; 2) a corporation that has assembled a large bureaucracy to manage the procurement, design and construction of space, and then oversee its management and change over time.

Large real estate organizations, like CBRE and Jones Lang LaSalle, skilled in brokerage and facility management, saw a need among their clients for this service. They acted as an owner’s representative for individual projects. Eventually, they began to take over entire real estate departments from large corporations, proposing to reduce costs and assure professional staffing in each role. After all, no corporation is in the business of procuring, designing, constructing and managing real estate, and if it’s not part of the core business, why not outsource it?

These entities claimed they could achieve highly professional results, lower costs relative to an in-house department, as well as in construction, by using their broader leverage. And, relative to any other entity (like an architect, engineer or contractor), they maintained that they could remain unbiased with no conflict of interest. Their power grew to the point that architects and engineers feared that they would be “black-balled” if they entered into competition with these entities.

After all, architects had gained a reputation for being irresponsible with budgets and schedules, concerned for “design” above all else. Contractors were just builders, lacking the sensitivity to and engagement in the full range of issues an owner is solving for. The reality is, however, that people from these same architects and contractors staff these entities.

So, should an architect, engineer or contractor consider entering this field? At this time, to try to compete with the large, established practices like CBRE and JLL with their national and international networks, scale and capabilities, would be extremely difficult. There are, however, market niches where an architect or engineer with a definitive expertise, should be in this business. Why? For the very same reasons that others entered the field. An owner considering doing a on-off building or tenant interior who doesn’t have in-house design and construction expertise is well served by someone highly knowledgeable in all aspects of bringing a project from concept to occupancy. Many architects and engineers live with their clients from the time they identify a need to the day they occupy or begin to use a facility, and often many years after.

Specialties such as retailers that either acquire land and must secure entitlements, site engineering, design and construction, or even simply lease and build out a space in an existing retail building could be well served by someone outside their own organization.

Many years ago, the firm I was part of took on this entire array of services for a healthcare provider to build what they termed a “doc-in-a-box,” which they planned to replicate. We provided a turnkey service, managing everything from site development and entitlements, through design and construction, right up to supplies in the drawers like Band-Aids and rubber gloves. Why not? The healthcare provider had never done this before, had no expertise in-house and no desire to staff up.

With so much change in the way services are being offered (the healthcare industry, data centers and other critical facilities are good examples), I believe the opportunity to enter the program management field is strong. Select your path carefully, research the process being used today to go from concept through the lifecycle of the use of the facility, and design a service offering that will achieve a better, more creative and cost-effective design solution because the process is being managed by an architect or engineer, rather than a dispassionate program manager.

Edward Friedrichs, FAIA, FIIDA, is a consultant with ZweigWhite and the former CEO and president of Gensler. Contact him at efriedrichs@zweiggroup.com.


This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1079, originally published 11/10/2014.

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Editorial: A great loss for the A/E world

Mark Zweig offers remembrance on passing of dear friend and firm leader Joe Lalli.

We lost a great leader, design professional, and friend with the passing Joseph J. “Joe” Lalli, FASLA, in Fort Lauderdale on Oct. 25. The son of a New York shoemaker, Joe had an amazing and successful career, first as a professor and then for next for 40-plus-years at the internationally acclaimed planning and design firm EDSA (formerly Edward Durrell Stone, Jr., and Associates).

I first met Joe in the early ’90s, when Ed Stone called me to get help with his executive committee, which wasn’t “getting along.” That trip resulted in Joe being named managing partner by the EDSA BOD, a job he held for about 20 years; a period during which EDSA enjoyed incredible success – growing from roughly $6.5 million in annual revenue to a peak of about $60 million near the end of Joe’s tenure. Joe was a powerful guy who defied all stereotypes. A tremendously talented designer loved by his clients, Joe could sell like crazy but was so soft-spoken that at times you had to strain to hear him. I think that was part of his success. He made you listen.

Joe was EDSA and EDSA was Joe. I never met a guy more dedicated and obsessed with both his company and his projects than Joe. He thought about his work 24 hours a day. He called me most weekends, when he wasn’t overseas, just to check in and tell me what was going on with both the firm and his jobs. Our relationship was far more than that of consultant and client. The very last night I spent with the mother of my two oldest daughters was at Joe and Jeanne’s house in Maine. Several years later, it was because of Joe and Jeanne that I met my wife, Katie. My older girls and I were down in Ft. Lauderdale for Easter vacation and the Lallis invited us over to their house for Easter dinner. They also invited Katie, who at that time was a young landscape architect at EDSA just getting started out. She didn’t have any family down there and they didn’t want her to be alone on a holiday. Those are the kind of people Joe and Jeanne are. We picked the middle name of our first daughter together – Josephine – to honor Joe.

Joe was an amazing designer – both large and small scale. It could be a 60,000-acre multi-use development in a foreign land or a tiny half bath retiling project in Massachusetts – he was never too busy to give design ideas on anything. I always got his input on my residential projects because he had such a unique and artistic yet functional way of looking at things. He was also a tremendous and prolific artist – particularly as a watercolor painter. He was an accomplished teacher and helped many people learn how to draw, paint, and design. Joe was very patient with others but not with himself. He pushed himself so hard… too hard… right up to the end. I never saw a guy who would travel like he did to Asia, the Middle East, and Europe – sometimes all in the same month – for months and years on end!

Joe was at the forefront of every challenge facing his firm in the ’90s and 2000s. His leadership got the firm into China. He negotiated every financial and business obstacle thrown their way. He also ran the firm’s largest design studio for many years. And he helped so many people grow into incredibly talented designers and planners – many of which are still at EDSA today. I never met anyone inside or outside of EDSA who didn’t have complete respect and admiration for Joe. He was truly the archetypal design professional. In fact, Joe was the very first Jerry Allen Courage in Leadership Award Winner – an honor well-bestowed and one he was proud of.

He also had a fantastic sense of humor. He told hilarious stories of his adventures. He could do impressions. He would have you rolling on the floor at times when he got ramped up – usually after a glass of wine or two. He was just fun to be around. He had a bucket of mechanical hand mixers. He had more art than anyone I have ever seen and more houses and art studios, too, including a plantation in Honduras. You never knew what he would come up with; he was full of surprises. When Joe came to Arkansas last year and spoke at The Fay Jones School of Architecture, he stayed at our house. The last night he was there, he and I stayed up late using our iPads to look for videos and sound clips of Ferrari engines. He just loved the sound! He was always looking at Ferraris but never bought himself one.

Back in the ’90s, I was down in Fort Lauderdale visiting Joe when we went to an old warehouse they kept to store stuff in. There was his Honda 350 Scrambler – parked since the ’70s – rotting away. I convinced Joe to send it to me and I restored it for him. He took it to his vacation compound in Maine, complete with several small houses and a miniature replica of Fay Jones’ Thorncrown Chapel that he used for his art studio there. And every Spring Joe would call me to tell me he got the Honda going again (usually with a new battery!) and how much he loved it.

I don’t have that many true friends. Joe was one of them. We all lost a great leader – a great example – and consummate design professional with Joe’s passing. May he not be forgotten.

Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him with questions or comments atmzweig@zweiggroup.com.


This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1079, originally published 11/10/2014. Copyright© 2014, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Editorial: A great loss for the A/E world

Mark Zweig offers remembrance on passing of dear friend and firm leader Joe Lalli.

We lost a great leader, design professional, and friend with the passing Joseph J. “Joe” Lalli, FASLA, in Fort Lauderdale on Oct. 25. The son of a New York shoemaker, Joe had an amazing and successful career, first as a professor and then for next for 40-plus-years at the internationally acclaimed planning and design firm EDSA (formerly Edward Durrell Stone, Jr., and Associates).

I first met Joe in the early ’90s, when Ed Stone called me to get help with his executive committee, which wasn’t “getting along.” That trip resulted in Joe being named managing partner by the EDSA BOD, a job he held for about 20 years; a period during which EDSA enjoyed incredible success – growing from roughly $6.5 million in annual revenue to a peak of about $60 million near the end of Joe’s tenure. Joe was a powerful guy who defied all stereotypes. A tremendously talented designer loved by his clients, Joe could sell like crazy but was so soft-spoken that at times you had to strain to hear him. I think that was part of his success. He made you listen.

Joe was EDSA and EDSA was Joe. I never met a guy more dedicated and obsessed with both his company and his projects than Joe. He thought about his work 24 hours a day. He called me most weekends, when he wasn’t overseas, just to check in and tell me what was going on with both the firm and his jobs. Our relationship was far more than that of consultant and client. The very last night I spent with the mother of my two oldest daughters was at Joe and Jeanne’s house in Maine. Several years later, it was because of Joe and Jeanne that I met my wife, Katie. My older girls and I were down in Ft. Lauderdale for Easter vacation and the Lallis invited us over to their house for Easter dinner. They also invited Katie, who at that time was a young landscape architect at EDSA just getting started out. She didn’t have any family down there and they didn’t want her to be alone on a holiday. Those are the kind of people Joe and Jeanne are. We picked the middle name of our first daughter together – Josephine – to honor Joe.

Joe was an amazing designer – both large and small scale. It could be a 60,000-acre multi-use development in a foreign land or a tiny half bath retiling project in Massachusetts – he was never too busy to give design ideas on anything. I always got his input on my residential projects because he had such a unique and artistic yet functional way of looking at things. He was also a tremendous and prolific artist – particularly as a watercolor painter. He was an accomplished teacher and helped many people learn how to draw, paint, and design. Joe was very patient with others but not with himself. He pushed himself so hard… too hard… right up to the end. I never saw a guy who would travel like he did to Asia, the Middle East, and Europe – sometimes all in the same month – for months and years on end!

Joe was at the forefront of every challenge facing his firm in the ’90s and 2000s. His leadership got the firm into China. He negotiated every financial and business obstacle thrown their way. He also ran the firm’s largest design studio for many years. And he helped so many people grow into incredibly talented designers and planners – many of which are still at EDSA today. I never met anyone inside or outside of EDSA who didn’t have complete respect and admiration for Joe. He was truly the archetypal design professional. In fact, Joe was the very first Jerry Allen Courage in Leadership Award Winner – an honor well-bestowed and one he was proud of.

He also had a fantastic sense of humor. He told hilarious stories of his adventures. He could do impressions. He would have you rolling on the floor at times when he got ramped up – usually after a glass of wine or two. He was just fun to be around. He had a bucket of mechanical hand mixers. He had more art than anyone I have ever seen and more houses and art studios, too, including a plantation in Honduras. You never knew what he would come up with; he was full of surprises. When Joe came to Arkansas last year and spoke at The Fay Jones School of Architecture, he stayed at our house. The last night he was there, he and I stayed up late using our iPads to look for videos and sound clips of Ferrari engines. He just loved the sound! He was always looking at Ferraris but never bought himself one.

Back in the ’90s, I was down in Fort Lauderdale visiting Joe when we went to an old warehouse they kept to store stuff in. There was his Honda 350 Scrambler – parked since the ’70s – rotting away. I convinced Joe to send it to me and I restored it for him. He took it to his vacation compound in Maine, complete with several small houses and a miniature replica of Fay Jones’ Thorncrown Chapel that he used for his art studio there. And every Spring Joe would call me to tell me he got the Honda going again (usually with a new battery!) and how much he loved it.

I don’t have that many true friends. Joe was one of them. We all lost a great leader – a great example – and consummate design professional with Joe’s passing. May he not be forgotten.

Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him with questions or comments atmzweig@zweiggroup.com.


This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1079, originally published 11/10/2014. Copyright© 2014, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Editorial: Relationships key to success

Six suggestions from Mark Zweig on how to form and keep relationships alive.

I never liked the idea that a consulting business should have its marketing based on personal relationships. I just don’t like being too dependent on people. Doing what it takes to have a brand – where clients come to you because of your company name, not because of specific individuals who happen to be employed there – is much better.

While I realize few firms ever get to this “nirvana” state marketing-wise, I still feel the same way. But that doesn’t mean you don’t want your people to have good relationships with their counterparts in your client organization, as well as with regulators and those in a review and approval capacity, and those in other firms you work with as subconsultants or teammmates.

Relationships are critical if you are going to be able to overcome pricing issues or service/quality problems. You want people to like and trust you and understand that you are a good person who is serious about your work and cares deeply about them as an organization and as individuals. This won’t happen if you don’t have a relationship with them. If all you are is a name and they know nothing about you the slightest problem could become a good reason to dump you.

So how do you form these relationships? Here are my thoughts:

  1. It takes time. There’s something to be said for working with someone over an extended period of time. You really get to know and trust each other. This is more easily done with subconsultants and suppliers than with clients, obviously, as you aren’t in control of the latter. But one thing is for sure: Don’t be one of those people who always lets the new client seduce you away from the old. It’s critical to take good care of your current clients if you are going to have long-term ones.
  2. Show some loyalty. Show some loyalty to the people you work with and who work for you. Don’t always make them compete on price. Have some trust to let them go ahead and work and then send you a bill. And have some loyalty to your clients, too. See point #1 above.
  3. Don’t let the nickel get so big that it hides the dime sitting behind it. What I am talking about here is just getting so cheap that any out of scope request from the client is met with your corresponding extra services agreement to be signed by them. Some people just don’t get this idea. And I’m not suggesting that you let your clients walk all over you, either. That’s another problem some folks in this business often have.
  4. Don’t over-rely on email. One problem with the “e-generation” (those weaned on cellphones and computer screens) is that many of them seem to lack face-to-face social skills. People have to pick up their phones and CALL other people. And better yet: Get in the car or on a plane and go SEE them sometimes. Then maybe they will connect your name with a face and a real person.
  5. Get the other guy talking about themselves. Ask lots of questions. There’s one thing everyone likes to talk about – themselves. Use this to your advantage. People will like you if you get them talking about themselves. They’ll never trust you if they don’t like you. And you won’t have a good relationship with someone who doesn’t trust you.
  6. Don’t speak ill of the other guy or complain about them. You really have to be careful about this. It could get back to them. Even if it doesn’t, your complaints or negative talking could affect the attitude of other project team members and how they will interact with the client. And that, in turn, could affect your relationship with them.

Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him with questions or comments atmzweig@zweiggroup.com.


This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1078, originally published 11/3/2014. Copyright© 2014, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Is your marketing department a sweatshop?

We recently got an anonymous blog comment, that got me thinking.  “Why is no one talking about the white collar sweatshops of the marketing departments and marketing staff within most A/E firms?” the person asked.

Have you ever worked somewhere where the marketing department (or any department for that matter) works 12-hour days for days on end, has unpaid overtime, has to participate in the endless chasing of every single RFP that comes out, and never gets acknowledgement for their efforts?

Are marketing departments overworked at A/E firms and why does this happen? Are their too many “all hands on deck” situations when a proposal needs to go out?  Are marketing departments undervalued and only approached when someone needs something “right now”?

Is this a phenomenon from the past or something still experienced today?  We want to know your thoughts!

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Brand Building: So you’ve rebranded, now what?

These comprehensive campaigns are more than a marketing exercise.

Do you roll your eyes when you hear of a firm going through a rebranding? Be honest. Certainly the concept of branding has been slow to be embraced by the design and construction industry, but it is gaining acceptance. Many firm leaders are realizing that to better compete in this crowded market, having a strong brand goes a long way toward providing a competitive advantage. In a market where the margin between winner and loser is often very small, every little advantage is critical.

Whether you have rebranded or not, or are even still in the process of understanding branding, read on. Last month’s article discussed rebranding and brand refreshes from a conceptual standpoint. Let’s now go a step further and work to dispel some of the misconceptions of rebranding and delve into some of the details of branding. First of all, most firms make the mistake of viewing branding, and rebrandings, purely as a marketing activity. As such, most firms do not truly rebrand. They simply change their marketing messaging and marketing materials and then go on a promotional blitz. Unfortunately, often everyone in the organization is doing pretty much the same things they did before the launch.

If you are considering a rebranding or have recently rebranded or are likely to rebrand, consider these tips to get the most out of this significant investment.

  • Rebrandings demand that your actions match your message. Do not rebrand and tell your market that you are going to be a new and improved version of yourself, and then just go on being yourself. Most of the time, rebrandings are an effort to be somebody or something else. Look carefully at everything you are communicating and make sure every department, system, and procedure in the company is congruent with that. I had this saying when I was leading marketing at my A/E firm: “Say what we do, and do what we say.”
  • Rebrandings or refreshes offer an opportunity to open a dialogue with your clients. These activities are not just about pushing a ton of information and “look at the new us” messages to your clients. They are about getting real about the things you need to work on and your clients are your best source of that info. Include your best (and not best) clients in a two-way conversation about who you should be. Then make meaningful and noticeable changes in the organization to reflect that input. The most effective marketing today is one that is inspired by a two-way exchange of information and ideas.
  • Push your branding messages through every layer of your organization. Rebrandings are about every single employee getting on board with what the “new you” really means. A meaningful rebrand demands that you examine every aspect of your organization and being willing to make changes to improve. That means every employee must be on board with the necessary changes in order to effect true change. Additionally, rebrandings benefit your culture as much or even more than they benefit your clients and customers. Rebrandings and refreshes are a shot in the arm for your culture and you need to leverage that to its fullest.

We launched our new brand Sept. 26 at our 2014 Hot Firm and A/E Industry Awards Conference in Beverly Hills. ZweigWhite officially became the Zweig Group. A lot of work went into making sure all of our visual branded elements were transitioned at that moment. It took a lot of forethought to anticipate all of the things that people would see after 4:30 p.m., when we launched the brand. If you have gone through a rebranding, you likely know what I am talking about. So now what? Well, we still have a lot to do. In fact, we have a tremendous amount of work ahead of us. We are going to survey our clients (you), we are going to survey people in our market. This company has gone through much change and we are ready to find out what you really think and what you really need and we are willing to make the changes to get there!

Chad Clinehens is Zweig Group’s executive vice president. Contact him at cclinehens@zweiggroup.com.


This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1077, originally published 10/27/2014. Copyright© 2014, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Editorial: Can you delay gratification?

Results of long-running study show that those who wait for reward do better in the end, Mark Zweig writes.

Back in the ’60s a Psych professor at Stanford, Walter Mischel, gave a famous test to a group of 4-year-olds. He put a marshmallow in front of them and told them if they could wait 15 minutes to eat it, they’d be rewarded with a second marshmallow. Only about a third of them could wait.

Fast-forward 50 years and there are some very interesting findings. Not only did the group of those who could wait the 15 minutes do a whole lot better on their SATs, they were more successful in their careers with higher salaries, bigger 401(k)s, and shorter criminal histories. Pretty interesting research, all covered in Mischel’s new book, “The Marshmallow Test.”

We see much the same thing in the AEC firms we work with. Those run by principals who can delay gratification seem to be much more likely to have growing, profitable companies than those whose personal “needs” require them to strip the company bare every chance they get.

It’s really common sense. If you want to grow your company you’ll have to reinvest your profits into acquisitions of other companies, starting new offices, adding new services, making new hires, trying new marketing initiatives, and investing in technology spending. Your other options are to extract the money, buy a bigger house, acquire more vehicles, go on more vacations, etc. People fit in either one of these two camps.

Of course, if you delay gratification long enough and really get things going you’ll be able to have your cake and eat it, too, because at some point the machine becomes so profitable and so valuable you really can afford to make some major extractions from it. The key is knowing when the time is right for that to occur.

But one thing is for sure, if you don’t take care of the machine that feeds you, you’ll never have the opportunity to make that choice. There really are two ways to run one of these businesses – or any type of business. It all goes back to the question of: “Do you run a small business that allows you to make a living, or do you run an entrepreneurial venture that has value at the end?”

One of my clients, Paul Greenhagen, CEO of Westwood Professional Services (No. 6 on the Zweig Group 2014 Hot Firm List) likens the “small business choice” to being a housepainter. “They may make a living for 40 or more years painting houses. But at the end, all they have to show for it is some old ladders and rollers they can sell at a yard sale,” he says.

So what are you – a marshmallow eater or someone who knows that if you let them sit there for a little while with the bag open they’ll improve with age? If you want to end up with more than some old desks and office equipment to sell cheap, I hope you’re one of the latter…

Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him with questions or comments atmzweig@zweiggroup.com.


This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1077, originally published 10/27/2014. Copyright© 2014, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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