Make the Most of the AIA 2012 National Convention

I’m very excited and honored to be helping the DC Chapter of the AIA in promoting the 2012 National Convention. Because of my involvement, I’ve been lucky enough to get a bit of a sneak peek at the awesome Host Chapter events the team has planned this year and thought I’d take a moment to share some teaser info and offer a little helpful marketing advice for attendees!

Registration isn’t open yet, but the chapter has lined up more than 100 educational tours and events, ranging from touring Frank Lloyd Wright’s work to having a night out with the Nationals. So, once registration is open, it’s probably safe to say that spots will clear out fast. Beyond getting registered early, here are three ways to increase the value of your trip to the AIA National Convention and get the most out of your time and investment.

Sponsor, and Do It ASAP

Sponsorships can be difficult to justify sometimes, especially when there are only limited ways to do so and few of them meet the demands of your marketing budget. However, this year there are so many different ways to sponsor that you can choose one that makes the most sense for you. If you plan to sponsor, do it EARLY to maximize the exposure you can get for your investment. Also, capture the effectiveness of your sponsorship by sending traffic to a landing page when possible, not just the homepage of your firm or business.

Volunteer

Sponsorships costs money, but volunteering costs nothing. In fact, volunteers save $50 off of their registration this year. The major benefit to volunteering is a richer connection with more business contacts though. It can sometimes be difficult to break the ice at a convention, but being a volunteer allows even the biggest wallflower to be a resource and opens up communication with peers you may never have met.

Get Up and Get Out!

The conference floor or classrooms are not the only place to meet people. Getting out and taking part in some of the tours can actually put you in a better, more comfortable networking environment, so that you have a chance to develop business while getting your Learning Units.

Useful Info

This wouldn’t be a very helpful post if I didn’t at least share some points of contact. If you think sponsoring sounds right for your firm, Jody Cranford is in charge of sponsorships for the chapter and she can be reached at 800-818-0289 ext. 101. The chapter also has a volunteer coordinator, Liz Reynolds, and she can be contacted at lreynolds@manceandassociates.com.

I hope to be able to share more info about the convention throughout the coming months. Be sure to check back and click this link if you’d like to view posts specific to the convention, I’ll use the Label “AIA National Convention”.

5 HUGE Differences Between Diversifying and Scattered Marketing

Among a long list of words I’d like to ban, somewhere in the middle lies the word “diversify”.

It isn’t really a bad word, per se; it’s just so often used incorrectly that I’ve grown to cringe when I hear it.

Investors diversify their portfolios, but they don’t do it by buying every stock that they hear about on TV or read about on the web. They do it by selecting a few options that are strategically aligned with the rest of their portfolio – items that offset a potential weakness in their assets, or items that reflect a well-rounded approach to their financial goals. To buy and sell stocks based on what’s “hot” is not diversifying, it’s just trading.

In the A/E world, we talk about diversifying our portfolios in very much the same way. Unfortunately, for many firms the word is completely misused, and is more akin to just a scattered approach to marketing. So, I’ve compiled a list of the 5 differences between diversifying and pursuing every opportunity that comes through the inbox.

1. Diversifying Requires a Plan
If your firm is truly diversifying, it must do so in both the Business Plan and the Marketing Plan. In those plans, there should be specific markets to focus on, not just an overall revenue target. If your firm doesn’t have one or both of these plans, there is a good chance it isn’t diversifying.

2. Diversifying Has Nothing to Do with Chasing the Money
Chasing the next big public budget that’s about to be announced is also not diversifying. It would be silly to choose to focus on a new client-type without awareness of what’s going on in the market, but chasing budgets does nothing for your firm except keep you in constant flux and burn your marketing department out.

3. Diversifying Starts from Within
Diversifying is a decision that starts from within the firm and takes into account expertise, resources and your plan. Starting internally keeps your marketing messages honest, accurate and on-brand as you focus on new endeavors. Choosing to diversify based solely on what’s going on outside of your walls is reactive, scattered marketing and never allows you to develop an expert presence with any client type.

4.  Diversifying Is Not a Business Development Activity
Yep, you read correctly. Diversifying is a function of marketing, operations, finance – the entire organization – and it has very little to do with Business Development until the end of the cycle. A good BD professional can get in a lot of doors and help win contracts with new clients, but without the professional infrastructure and expertise in place, that win is unsustainable.

5.  Diversifying Takes Commitment and Time
For an industry with such a long project life-cycle, often our marketing expectations are flat out unrealistic. Many firms begin with a plan and abandon it within six months because they haven’t seen enough new leads. Strategic activities in professional services firms can take years. Diversifying means considering options like mergers & acquisition – things that aren’t overnight decisions!

True diversification is an investment, and it can be a risky one that requires an immense amount of change in an A/E firm. If you find your firm discussing diversifying, but realize that you’re not really putting much on the line to do it, there is a very good chance you’re just pursuing work with a low hit-rate.

AEC Marketer as Webmaster

The term webmaster isn’t very commonplace in the A/E world anymore. In fact, I rarely hear it tossed around at all, even when talking shop with people outside of the industry.

Though they do still exist, the role of the webmaster as someone to “keep the website running and make content updates” seems to have fallen by the wayside. The immersion of easy to use Content Management Systems, especially open source ones, is one major reason for sure – but I would say more important is the increased focus that marketers must have on knowing the ins and outs of the web. This has really relegated the traditional webmaster role to that of just one task of an IT person or network admin.

Let’s face it, the plates of marketers are getting LOADED these days. Proposal writing, business development expectations, collateral, branding, graphic design (often), the list goes on and on. And now it’s a must for marketers to know their way around the web.

Even if your firm isn’t active in social media, that doesn’t mean you won’t have to field questions about it. What about SEO…have you ever been asked by senior team members why your website doesn’t show up at the top of their Google search results? (Perhaps it’s better to say how many times.) If there’s an update to be posted for a project description, does it go to the IT department or straight to your team?

Congratulations marketers! You are now the definition of a webmaster, on top of about a dozen other things. Embrace it. Become best friends with your IT team so you can understand the environment in which your most powerful marketing tool is hosted. Finally, be sure to do everything in your power to drive traffic through your website with your other marketing efforts in a targeted, specific way. It’s likely the most measurable line item in your marketing budget.

You Talkin’ To Me?

I was lucky enough to be the guest moderator today for the AECSM Tweetchat. It really was a fantastic group, including some of the best AEC social media folks around!

The session today was all about “Content Leadership” and there was conversation about what the heck that means, who does it and what types of “content” firms in the A/E industry find useful.

Sometime around the middle of the chat there was an interesting divide into two conversations.
1. Content leadership in the A/E industry with regards to content marketing – i.e. writing for our clients.
2. Content leadership in the A/E industry FOR the A/E industry – i.e. writing for other architects and peers.

I’ve been thinking on this one all night long and realized it not only made people take away very different things from the Tweetchat, but it also represents a HUGE difference in the approach of architecture firms that actively market and those that don’t.

Who are we talking to?

In every page of your website, every brochure, every press release, every email, every…EVERYTHING, it’s a must to consider your audience first. I strongly believe that the ability or inability to focus on clients first (or industry) in your content is what separates firms in a philosophical way.

As a small firm in the first years, is the principal
A. creating an umbrella to practice for themselves or
B. actually intending to grow a firm?

When writing a project description for your new Higher Ed project, are you writing about
A. the Golden Ratio and cascading structures or
B. the way your new student center works at peak hours on campus?

As a religious architect, are you more focused on
A. the Pritzker Prize or
B. the Faith and Form Church Architecture awards?

Do you care more about the opinions of your
A. peers (AKA your competitors) or
B. your clients?

The answers aren’t all mutually exclusive, but if your firm isn’t answering B at least some of the time then you’re definitely missing out on the idea of “content leadership” and how to build reputation with your target clients.

Special thanks to Taryn Erickson for allowing me to host the #AECSM chat today!