Marketing still is a fairly young concept in the professional services world.
Some of that is tied to tradition.
There is a mindset that architecture, engineering and construction, or AEC, firms shouldn't promote themselves the way a consumer-oriented company does, said Amy Collins, president of the Society for Marketing Professional Services, Central Pennsylvania chapter.
In fact, well into the 20th century there were long-standing rules on how professional service firms — namely, architects — should represent themselves.
"That mindset is changing," said Collins, deputy manager of corporate communications and marketing at East Pennsboro Township-based Gannett Fleming Inc., a large engineering firm with professionals dedicated to building and executing specific strategies for each of the company's business units.
At the same time, resources for in-house marketing staff can be a challenge for many firms.
"Small firms typically do not have marketing staff, or a secretary does marketing," said Neil Brown, chairman of the Illinois-based Construction Marketing Association. "Large firms often have business development staff or marketing staff and title but (have) business development responsibility."
Compared to manufacturing, or brands that sell to the construction industry, marketing is weak, said Brown.
Economic conditions haven't helped.
"When times are tough, marketing cuts are first," Collins said.
Many firms have marketers, but they might wear several hats, including proposal development, she said. Some firms eliminated marketing during the recession, while others have grown staff because of increased activity or outsourced certain functions.
Growth driving increase
Increased marketing activity might largely depend on the workload or service territory.
Six years ago, Harrisburg-based Mid Atlantic BX, a trade group for the construction industry, was still known as the Harrisburg Builders Exchange.
The association reported on project information for mostly Central and Eastern Pennsylvania and focused little on external communications, said Nate Pigott, who came on nearly two years ago as director of communications and public relations.
"There was very little, if any, PR," he said of group's past. "There was more member relations and communications."
As its territory grew in Delaware, New Jersey and Maryland and the project volumes grew to 13,000 and 14,000 projects a year from 1,000 to 1,500, MABX knew it needed to ramp up awareness in other areas, Pigott said.
"What happened was our region grew based on word of mouth. We didn't have outreach or PR into those outer areas," he said.
Since coming onboard, Pigott has been tasked with not only publicizing events and highlighting benefits for members but also collaborating more with regional media and trade publications.
MABX has gradually made progress outside of the area, he said.
Pigott also designs and lays out marketing materials, shoots and edits videos, and manages MABX's social media strategy, which previously didn't exist.
"The challenge is narrowing it down to what will work best for our members," because membership varies from small suppliers and subcontractors to large design and project management firms, Pigott said.
Challenges and third-party help
To identify goals and build effective strategic marketing, a company needs someone who can translate its technical information to the outside world, Collins said.
"Most folks have no exposure or training," she said. "It requires someone to get a handle quickly and ask the right questions."
It is challenging, but someone in this role has to have a good understanding of all aspects of what the company does, Pigott said.
"My job is to stay on top of everything here," he said. "You have to find out what's going on out there."
Of course, during lean economic times, when the phonebook marketing strategy is no longer paying off, smaller firms — such as roofing companies and home-improvement contractors — are turning to third-party firms to build or bolster websites.
"Everyone is going to the Internet," said Tom Malesic, president of East Hempfield Township-based EZSolution, a Web development and online marketing firm that has seen steady growth from professional services clients.
As leads dry up in other areas, construction firms are seeing increased value in showcasing their work online, Malesic said.
"It's not a luxury, it's a necessity," he said. "There is just a realization they need more marketing beyond word-of-mouth or the phonebook."
More about Amy Collins
• Deputy manager of corporate communications and marketing, East Pennsboro Township-based Gannett Fleming Inc.
• With the company since January 2008
• Age: 38
• Residence: Hampden Township, Cumberland County
• 1996 graduate of Kutztown University, English major
• President, Society for Marketing Professional Services, Central Pennsylvania chapter
More about Nate Pigott
• Director of communications and public relations, Harrisburg-based Mid Atlantic BX
• With the trade group since February 2011
• Age: 34
• Residence: Upper Allen Township, Cumberland County
• 2000 graduate of Kutztown University, professional writing major
Seventy-six percent of construction professionals said they intend to increase their marketing activities and budgets in 2013, according to a November survey of the industry.
The other 8 percent expected business as usual.
Other survey results:
33 percent: Branding was the top 2013 marketing priority for construction professionals.
68 percent: Nearly 70 percent of respondents said they will increase social media marketing efforts in 2013. No. 2 was public relations at 63 percent.
32 percent: Direct mail usage and advertising were at the top of decreased marketing tactics in 2013. Both tallied 32 percent of respondents.
71 percent: The majority of respondents develop an annual marketing plan as well as a strategic marketing plan. Most construction professionals — 82 percent — also develop a marketing budget.