In A Galaxy Far, Far Away…

My son has recently become a huge fan of Star Wars, which means I have recently become a huge fan of Star Wars. I guess there are plenty of worse things, right?

The other night we were watching Episode IV (what our generation knows as the actual first Star Wars) and I caught a scene that had me laughing until I cried. A stormtrooper walks through a doorway and clocks his head on the door. Here it is, for your enjoyment.


I still can’t watch it without a chuckle.

Anyways, the reason I’m sharing it (besides spreading the joy) is to pose a question. Star Wars had a resurgence in popularity to a whole new generation which allowed them the chance to edit this scene upon re-release. But Lucas’ team didn’t. Why?

My vote, in marketing terms, they knew their target audience. They knew this scene probably makes the movie BETTER to many people, instead of worse.

When it comes to branding, and understanding your target audience – a great brand goes way beyond the normal “our people”, “responsiveness” and “good design.” It has to do with the small details of your firm that you may not even necessarily control, but your clients can’t do without.

Working Globally: How to Successfully Engage Clients Anywhere (once they already know you…)

I just finished reading a nice post on AIArchitect entitled Working Globally: How to Successfully Engage Clients Anywhere.

The timely piece is a great look at many tips and tools for managing international projects, written mainly because a lot of firms have found themselves pursuing new work overseas during the slow US (and global) economy. However, I think it misses a huge opportunity to discuss what happens BEFORE the project. After all, the title of the piece is about successfully engaging clients.

Here’s a brief blurb from the opening:

“…along with many of our competitors, as the domestic market slowed we compensated by pursuing work overseas, particularly in the Middle East and Asia. The work ranges in size from millions of square feet of institutional work to small satellite offices for an existing client. The one thing that all of these projects have in common regardless of size is that they are regionally unique. We had to learn how to manage them on a case-by-case basis.”

There are several items mentioned in the opening that scream “marketing” to me but the piece really only delves into the management aspects of the projects – not the initial engagement of clients.

  • Increased competition
  • Pursuing new markets (specific markets, not all projects)
  • Diverse service offerings
  • Culturally and regionally sensitive communications

When it comes to actually winning the project – these items aren’t overcome without a sound brand or marketing strategy. I mean to take nothing away from the billable team that delivers top-notch work; but the communications strategy needed to overcome those bullet points is how the successful engagement has to begin.

Increased competition in your own backyard is a challenge for all firms, especially in recent years. Many great firms haven’t been able to overcome it successfully. So, is it really just a skilled team and good project management that wins jobs with two major factors in play: increased competition AND a brand new market?

I say no. The difference (or at least the big one) between firms that win the work and don’t isn’t just skills, nor is it resources/size. It’s powerful, dedicated, engaging marketing.

We Don’t Need a Hero – But We Do Need a Champion

One of the biggest roadblocks to marketing success is a lack of buy-in from non-marketing staff. A more positive way to phrase that is, one of the most important things marketing needs to succeed is…a champion.

I don’t mean a great marketing director or CMO. I mean a great CEO, principal or other senior team member that is in fact, not a marketer at all. As I’ve said numerous times, marketing isn’t about a one-on-one sales relationship and it is never a one person job – even if the marketing department only has one person. Marketing is an organization-wide initiative because every team member represents the brand, the message, the commitment to project delivery, etc.

A champion is crucial.

One big reason is that marketing success often requires process change or “doing things differently.” And doing things differently is hard. When the request or command only comes from marketing, it is sometimes easily set aside by billable employees with other priorities. When that request is powerfully and consistently backed by a champion outside of marketing, it has more weight. This isn’t because “the boss” is now asking people to do something. It’s because staff has the ability to hear why this request is important from someone that has been in their shoes before. It’s easier to get on board when numerous people are saying it’s a good idea, and when those people represent a variety of backgrounds.

Think about some of the simple business processes that we as marketers have to endure. How do we get staff to update their resumes? How do we get PMs to provide project descriptions for the website? How do we get people to review/weigh in on new opportunities (one that is near and dear to my heart thanks to GoNoGoPro)? Like it or not, these are business processes, and ones that have to be addressed somehow. Generally, marketing achieves more success in getting these things done efficiently when it’s not JUST marketing asking for it.

Another reason a champion is so important, is that marketing can’t have a “place at the table” all the time. During those times when impromptu project meetings happen, or the Principals get together but marketing isn’t represented, the champion has the ability to carry the torch and know what marketing can do and how value can be added. All it takes is “This is a great idea, we should let marketing take this report and clean it up a bit,” or any number of other suggestions. The idea is that marketing’s capabilities are being considered, even if the marketing department isn’t in the conversation. Then, obviously it’s key that marketing deliver on those promises.

So, as marketers, what do we do to create a champion?

  • Find a senior team member that already has a sound approach to marketing or works with your department often.
  • Get them involved more in what your team does. Show them the exciting new thing you just did, even if it isn’t for their department.
  • Make sure they’re in the loop when you develop new pieces or processes and get their feedback on how they may or may not be useful.
  • Don’t abuse the relationship – a true champion will go to bat for you when you want to make changes for the better, but pick and choose your battles wisely.

It shouldn’t be “us” and “them” when it comes to marketing and billable professionals, and the most successful marketing teams keep that from happening. Having a champion greatly helps bridge the gap between the two sides of the table and often prevents things from getting lost in translation among teams that have very different daily objectives.