Effective architectural, engineering and construction marketing: It’s so easy, and it’s so hard

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Every time I think about effective architectural, engineering and construction marketing, I’m reminded about how easy and hard it is at the same time.

Easy, because when things go right, you almost have to deliberately seek to fail, and yet you will still succeed. Hard, because you can try, try and try some more, and never break through the barriers of long-established relationships, personal biases, and “required competencies” that seem to have much less to do with actual capabilities, and much more to do with preordained selections of selected contractors and suppliers. (You might use the word ‘rigged’ to describe the competitive process.)

There are exceptions to this relationship-based theme, but they aren’t very helpful. Consider for example, an open competition for a public sector opportunity where your business (and many others) can qualify. You scramble to put your qualifying bid together, only to find, painfully, that someone who shaved a few too many zeros off the budget wins the job. Dozens of vendors effectively compete for the opportunity to lose money on the work. (The ‘fairer’ system turns into a kind of lottery, where invitations are rotated among a prequalified bidders list — but you need to wait your turn and still need to fight for the business.)

On the other hand, of course, if you are an incumbent or have good relationships with the client, the story becomes much easier. Often you can informally set things so that you don’t have to stress through the RFP response because you know you will win. Of course it is better to do things right — and even though you may have an obvious edge, it won’t hurt to spend time and resources to make sure your response is professional and technically compliant.

Trouble is, to get to this inside spot you either need to have spent much time building the relationships, or you need incredible luck.

So, yes, AEC marketing is incredibly easy, and incredibly hard.

What should you do.

First, assess your circumstances and realistically focus most of your work on the easy stuff. This may mean you don’t have much work you “have” to do to succeed. That’s okay.

Second, allocate some resources to setting the stage for future?”easies”. This won’t be a quick reward situation (though you may occasionally hit the jackpot.) I see real merit in working to build relationships through client-focused associations and community activities, earning a reputation for your specialized expertise, and enhancing your brand for helpfulness and capacity.

Finally, if it really looks hard — like a lot of effort for a remote chance of success — I would back off and take it easy. Why should you bang your head against the wall in a futile attempt to defy the odds? I don’t believe in purchasing lottery tickets, but I think you would be better off doing that if the game is stacked against you. At least with lotteries, you don’t need any talent and almost no effort to enjoy the remote chance of winning.

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