Management by crisis: Midnight marketing


This article first appeared in The Zweig A/E Marketing Letter (ISSN 1549-9588)
Issue # 102. Originally published


Find out how to get out of the routine of doing everything at the last minute.


The typical A/E firm marketing department often operates from crisis to crisis— and generally the crisis was caused by someone else. Someone received an RFP, put it in his “in” box to age for a few days, and it got buried; or someone committed to joining a team but before he could tell anyone, the phone rang and the commitment just slipped his mind.


This morning your phone rang, and a marketing person at another firm said “Hi! Where’s my stuff?”


“What stuff?” you asked.


“The stuff for the XYZ proposal. Joe Brown agreed last week to be on our team. We were supposed to have your stuff yesterday!”


Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Do you wonder why it keeps happening, over and over again, ad infinitum, ad nauseum?


To the average technical person, marketing is just not terribly important; it’s something that someone else does. Mr. Tech has his project to work on, and anything else can wait. He doesn’t think he needs to market as long as he has work. Proposals are not as important as projects because they’re overhead (boo! hiss!). Is this the prevailing philosophy in your office?


You see, Mr. Tech is so totally removed from the marketing process that he generally has no idea how long it can take for a pursuit to become an actual project— how much time can elapse between the RFP and the Notice to Proceed.


Engineers, architects, and scientists often pride themselves on being good planners. So they often plan in advance to leave proposal writing for the last minute. When they finally remember to mention the RFP, or their commitment to be on someone else’s team, marketing will be the group working late, not them. So what’s the problem?


The problem is that every time marketing pulls the rabbit out of the hat, we confirm that this bad behavior is OK. (Don’t say it too loud, but that makes marketers equally at fault!)


To the average technical person, marketing is just not terribly important; it’s something that someone else does.


Now I don’t advocate blowing proposal deadlines, but we have to find a better way. And here’s a group of suggestions that might help you develop a workable process:


Get your firm’s principals to properly empower the marketing staff with the right authorities to get the job done. Have the principals “sing the new song” at operations meetings so that every department leader knows what’s happening.


Have marketing staff present the news at departmental meetings, or host “brown bag” lunches. Make it clear to staff how long it can take to bring new work in the door, so nobody thinks he or she can “rest” on a current project. And make it clear what happens when projects are completed but no new ones have been marketed.


Make an agreement with principals and department heads that you won’t try to run design efforts if they don’t try to run marketing. Let them know that you will keep their proposal involvement to a minimum, unless they want to participate more.


Make sure the process is overseen by someone who has no vested interest in chasing a particular type of project. The process MUST be owned and run by marketing.


Implement and enforce a good “Go/No-Go” process— which is bought into from the top down— to ensure that no time is wasted on pursuits that shouldn’t happen.


Make sure that each effort has a “champion” who will lead the technical effort. Without a champion, there is no proposal.


Make sure that writing and reviewing assignments are made only to people who will have time to complete them on schedule.


Make sure there is adequate time to do a superior job. A mediocre proposal rarely impresses anyone.


Restrict Mr. Tech’s activities to those that require technical knowledge. Don’t ask your senior architect to write three paragraphs about the firm; don’t ask a principal to call a subconsultant to ask for a resume.


Make sure schedules are written, detailed, and agreed to by all participants in a specific proposal effort. And make sure that marketing has the authority to “pull the plug” on any proposal that gets off schedule.


Technical people are not idiots; they don’t spend their nights looking for ways to drive marketing staff crazy. They just have different, more focused, priorities. As marketers, we have to help them broaden their vision, to see beyond today’s project to tomorrow’s empty desk.


Further, marketing is an “unknown” to many of them, and we have to help them deal with their fear of the unknown. Therefore, we can make our lives easier by teaching Mr. Tech enough so he can appreciate what we do. Then, hopefully, he’ll respond to our requests for information in a timely manner, and not hide under the desk when we approach his door!


Bernie Siben, CPSM, of The Siben Consult (Dallas, TX), has more than 25 years of marketing experience with A/E/C and environmental consulting firms. Contact him at (214) 681-0097, or

This article originally appeared in The Zweig A/E Marketing Letter. To subscribe, call 1-800-466-6275 or visit

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