Today is the second episode of our interview with Craig Park, principal with the Sextant Group. Craig is an author, speaker, consultant and former Chief Marketing Officer for two large architecture firms.
In this episode you'll discover:
- The 6 domains of marketing that you must be skilled in to succeed
- Tips for getting published in Trade Magazine
- Architectural Outlook for 2015 from the front lines
- Breaking into emerging, international markets
This interview is on iTunes. Subscribe above, and be a hero! If you know another architect who would benefit from watching this video, share away using the social share buttons.
Craig Park is principal with The Sextant Group.
He can be found on Twitter at @cepark49.
Interview Transcript and Members Only Resources:
Enoch: Hello and welcome back, Architect Nation, to the Business of Architecture.
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Last week we spoke with Craig Park, and today, we’re going to continue that conversation.
Craig Park is a Principal of the Sextant Group. He leads their Midwest operations office in his town of Omaha, Nebraska. In addition, Craig has a long history of working with the Society for Marketing Professional Services, Business Development for Architecture Firms, and also for the technology consultancy firms that he’s worked for over his career.
He’s the author of “The Architecture of Value: Building Your Professional Practice,” which is recommended reading for the SMPS-CPSM accreditation program. In 2013, “The Architecture of Image: Branding Your Professional Practice.”
If you caught last week’s episode, you caught the fact that Craig has some great insights to share about presenting ourselves, about making the client relationship be something of lasting value.
Craig, welcome back to the show.
Craig: Thanks, Enoch. It’s great to be back.
Enoch: Yeah. Of course, between us it’s only been about three or four minutes, but for our listeners, it’s been about a week.
Craig: Yeah. That works.
Craig: I like time travel.
Enoch: Yup. Now, Craig, in addition to your work with technology firms, you’ve also worked in a leadership capacity as Marketing Director for several architecture firms. Is that correct?
Craig: That’s correct. I was the Chief Marketing Officer for Fields Devereaux Architects & Engineers in Los Angeles, a 200-person practice with four offices; then, subsequently, the Chief Marketing Officer for LEO A DALY here in Omaha, a 1,200-person AE practice with about thirty offices around the country.
I had spent the most of my career, up until that point in 2003/2002 when I joined Fields Devereaux, working as a Technology Consultant to hundreds of architects. I had a passion for marketing. I think the process of telling our story in order to gain the respect and trust of our clients was one that really resonated with me.
I tell the story, when I get on stage and give presentations, that I’m an architect by training, technologist by practice, but a marketer by passion.
Really, the experience of leading that marketing effort for both Fields Devereaux, which is now known as Harley Ellis Devereaux… It was a merger – I think, much a result of our efforts, during the time I was there, to grow the practice. Like many good practices, we got the attention of a larger firm who came in and merged with us, and created a national practice. So, they’re now about a 600-person firm with offices in the Midwest and the West Coast.
Enoch: Well, as you say, it’s a universally applicable skill. You mentioned marketing…
Craig: Yeah. I would say, marketing is an umbrella term depending on where you fit in the organization. I always consider it as the umbrella over the communication process, the way that we tell our stories, on the web, in the articles we write in our brochure material, even down to our job site signage. How do we tell who we are to the world in a variety of ways?
Part of it is public relations – the part that pushes that out in a more formal way to the media to hopefully get the attention of a larger audience through a third party, through someone else – having an article published in Architectural Record, or one of the other trade journals or in the, you know, even better, the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal.
There’s the part that is the business development part or the client development side. How do you build relationships with those target clients that fit within the niche that your firm is trying to achieve, you know, where you serve best?
Many architects are generalists, so those niches might be broad and have multiple vertical markets in which they serve. Even within those, you need to have the relevant stories to tell those clients to gain their interest and their trust over time.
Then, there’s that last piece. The SMPS, the Society for Marketing Professional Services, identify six domains of marketing that you need to be cognizant of and skilled in to be successful.
Those are: Market research (Where are you going to work? What markets will you serve?), Market planning (How are you going to go to market?), Communication (Collateral development. How are you going to tell your story?), Client Development, Information Management, and there’s a PR slice in there. So, that’s the six.
I always say there’s a seventh. The seventh is the one that architects hate the most. It’s called “Sales.” The S-word is… That’s why we call it “Business Development,” because we certainly don’t want to call it “Sales.”
In fact, what you are doing is you can’t put… I used to say “Can’t put pencil to paper,” today, it’s “You can’t put mouse to screen unless you’ve sold something.” It is a process of recognizing: “I’m going to get to the point where client and I can come to an agreement that I could provide a service, they could afford the service or they see value in the cost of that service, and, at the end of the day, we’ll have a successful project.
Enoch: Tell me, Craig, how you went from leading a technology consultancy group or working in that industry to jumping over and being the marketing director for a prominent firm?
Craig: Well, I’ve always been willing to share what I know in public venues. I looked for opportunities to publish projects.
I will tell you a short story: Back in the early 90’s, I had written internal content for newsletters for the firms that I worked with about the projects in which I worked. One of our business consultants, a gentleman you know, Pat Bell, had come to me and said, “You publish a lot internally and you write a lot of our marketing content, have you ever thought about publishing in the trade press?” I said “No.”
I looked at the magazines that I read and I saw an editor that I respected based on the content of this magazine. I wrote an article about three projects. I wrote the larger picture or the process of developing the kinds of technology-rich projects we did, and then I used three projects to illustrate the benefits and results of the work we do.
It was 2,500 words, it had pictures, and it had drawings. I sent it to the magazine with a little letter, “I thought you might be interested in publishing this article.”
A few weeks later, the phone rang and the Editor said, “Craig, that’s not the way it works. You have to look at my editorial calendar. You have to figure out where you have an article that fits in my calendar. You have to give me a paragraph about what that article is going to be about, then I’ll consider it, and then I’ll let you know, and then we’ll negotiate. Mostly, it’s going to be a 1,000 to 1,200 words because that’s how long a magazine article is because that’s all people will spend the time to read.
What you sent me is way too much, way too soon.” I’m waiting for the “Sorry, try again,” when he said, “But, it’s one of the best articles I’ve ever read, so we’re going to split it into two parts and we’ll publish it in the next two issues, and I want you to start writing for me on a regular basis.”
Craig: So, the guts to take the chance. You have to have the guts to take the chance. You’ll get lots of rejection letters. I was fortunate on my first try to hit a homerun. That’s rare. I’ve certainly been turned down in the past when I made pitches to other magazines for a similar process, but that started an idea. Then, I have a venue in which to write.
That editor, ultimately, a few years later, went to another magazine and took me with him, called me, and said, “Hey, I’m going to this other magazine. I want you to be a byline columnist. So, I don’t want you to do project articles anymore, I want you to write opinion articles. You can write about anything you want.”
This was 1996. Everybody was logging in to the Internet. We all had email addresses. We were building websites or beginning of the websites, but we were certainly communicating with those tools. I was really intrigued with the idea of collaboration across distance with multiple disciplines.
So, I wrote a column for many years called “Virtuality.” How do we perform as virtual teams? This is the way we will see each other: You’ll be doing a building project in Visalia, I’ll be the technology consultant in Omaha, we will never meet face to face, and yet, we’ll have an effective interaction, and our client will get an end result. The client might be in Costa Rica. How do we do that effectively using technology?
That became the focus of about five years of monthly columns. This spanned everything from practice (How do you communicate? How do you negotiate?), to marketing (How do you tell the story?), to leadership (How do you develop your team?).
For all of our practices, if they’re going to be sustainable… We have a group of people, as I did, as a young architect coming up through an organization, they’ll ultimately end up being in that leadership role. How do we groom those people, recognize leadership talent, encourage them to take more responsibility, and teach them how to manage others? All of those are part of the practice – not just the designing a great building, but the part of the practice of growing a firm, an enduring practice.
Those have been the themes of the book. I’m fascinated with the process of building a practice that will last beyond the founders, beyond the initial need. They are the idea that sparked the founding of the firm.
Enoch: So, let’s get back to the story about the firm. How did you make that transition? Where you getting to that, Craig?
Craig: Yeah. So, I worked in technology. I had a bad work experience. I will share that with the audience.
I’m recruited to work for a Fortune 500 company to start a design and engineering practice inside of a $500 million manufacturing company that made products for the architectural industry in technology. The CEO thought, what a great idea to have an architect leading the marketing of our products to the developer community and to the architects about getting our stuff in their projects.
The reality of working for a publicly held Fortune 500 company is they are measured by boxes out the door – sales going out of the warehouse every month. They’re publicly traded, so they’re measured every quarter with the results that they could publish in Wall Street.
As you know, many architectural projects take two to three years to develop. It would certainly take two to three years from first design to opening door. Often, they take longer to develop. That did not work in the sales cycle, the supply chain, as they would say in manufacturing, of how we do work. It became pretty clear pretty quick.
I thought the challenge to do it was really great. To me, it was a really great opportunity and I was really happy to take it on. But, I would say, nine months in to it, the people that I worked with, at the executive level, and I sat down and said, “You know? It was a great idea that no one can make work because it just violates everybody and the value chain is against us in this. We’re not able to really be successful.”So, I was fortunate that I got a six-month full-paid sabbatical at the end of that first year.
So, I’m at that point, as many of us reach, I would call that my midlife crisis moment. I’ve been a successful technology consultant for twenty-five years. I now have six months to rethink my life at a good salary where I could afford to take the time. I don’t need to go immediately back to work.
I’ve been writing and speaking on Marketing Professional Services. My friend, Pat Bell, encouraged me to have a consulting practice, much like his, where he advices firms on project management practice, leadership, and marketing. I started that in L.A. After about three months, I had eight clients. One of them was Fields Devereaux, the 200-person firm account.
Peter Devereaux, after a couple of weeks of talking said, “You know? We think your consulting ideas are really great, but we don’t want to rent you, we want to buy you. So, we’d like to create a position called ‘Chief Marketing Officer’ because we’re modeling our firm after the C-Suite model…” So, if you think of CEO, COO, CIO, CMO. That fit in the C-Suite model he was developing.
He saw that the natural evolution of the larger architectural practices was to model what corporate America was doing. So, he said, “Would you come on board to be our CMO?” Then, I said, “Well, you know, my business model was to consult to firms …” He goes, “We are. We’re perfect. We have four offices. We have three business lines. We have seven vertical markets. You’ll have the variety of the kinds of challenges of marketing that you would if you have ten or eleven clients all within a regular paycheck.”
Enoch: You’re thinking, “This sounds pretty nice.”
Craig: That sounded pretty good to me. As my six-month severance was wrapping up, I thought, now I will have a full time gig.
I continued and wrapped up the consulting practice I was doing in the other firms. I still consult as Craig Park Consulting with firms now and again, more with national associations and other things while I do some marketing advice. Most of what I do today is the kind of work we do with our clients at Sextant, but I still have a little side where I write, I speak, and I consult.
But, that was my first foray in to the formal role of a marketing leader. We were able to grow the firm in 2003 to 2006; substantially increased the amount of sales and revenue we were generating, and we had an alliance with a firm in Detroit that was interested in merging and establishing a more national practice.
So, for the last nine months of my term there, I was part of the “deal team” as they call it, putting it together. How does that merger work? What does it look like when it’s all done? How do the different share values work within the two firms? We were able to successfully complete that. Harley Ellis Devereaux now, based in Southfield, Michigan, is a well-respected national practice that does healthcare, and education, and a variety of other kinds of civic projects.
Enoch: Yup, I’m familiar with the firm. Craig, I want to dive a little bit in to the human side of that transition.
Enoch: So, empathizing with your situation, you’re going in to something new…
Enoch: It’s probably a little intimidating even if you have all these industry experience behind you. It’s something new, you’ve never done it before, you’re confident that you can accomplish it, but it’s a new road.
Would you tell me a little bit about maybe the doubts you’re having during that time and how you dealt with those doubts, and what you decided to do when you hit the ground and started to implement things?
Craig: Yeah. Well, I, you know, you’re absolutely right. It was, [Inaudible] Monty Python, “Now for something completely different.”
When you work as a project-based technology consultant, it’s project-focused. Each project is unique, you’re working on that. When you’re working on larger-case marketing strategy, you really have to have a longer horizon.
I had mentioned earlier I’m a voracious reader, so I was reading everything I could on marketing theory. People like Tom Peters and a number of others, Warren Bennis on leadership, lots and lots of different sources of inspiration, but I look for inspiration in the kinds of long term thinking.
We were [Inaudible] in 2003 until 2006, and then 2006 until about middle of 2008, in both Harley Ellis and then with LEO A DALY, with a market that was growing. We’ll talk about the recession in a little while.
I don’t know that I ever had serious self doubts. I knew that from my experience… I’ve been a member of SMPS, the Society of Marketing and Professional Services since 1985. It’s a wonderful group of cohorts who are passionate about marketing and business development.
I had developed a lot of friends in the industry. I was one of the firsts in 2003 to have the title of Chief Marketing Officer in the architectural side of the practices, but there had been other Marketing Directors, or the VPs of Marketing, or something on the equivalent level of large scale strategy. So, I knew I had friends and resources I could call on if I got stuck.
One of the things we talked about when we started this series was the whole concept of collaboration. I think no one is an island in this process of building buildings and developing client relations. It is a collaborative effort. The more you can build a strong network of cohorts, and friends, and resources that you can draw on as you need… You won’t all draw on the same resources every time, but there will be times when a resources will pop up that you know you can count on to help solve a particular problem. That, to me, gave me the confidence to make that leap to do something new.
I think, in Marketing, when you are focused as a marketing professional in a practice where, whether you’re in an architectural firm and everyone’s a registered architect or the leaderships are registered architects, or if you’re an engineering firm, they’re registered PE or Professional Engineers, Marketing is often looked at as overhead. In many ways, it’s dismissed as administrative services by a lot of firms until they recognize that if they’re not out generating new business, you don’t have anything to work on unless you’re going to take that role. I realized, that was going back to a story we told before when I was promoted in to running a small office, if the phone doesn’t ring, there are no billable hours, and you won’t be paying the rent for very long if you’re not finding ways to do work.
So, part of my role was to be the chair leader to the practice leaders in the firm that you too can go to market. It’s not just a business developer, a non-technical business developer’s role to go find work. It’s the role of everyone in the firm to be a marketer.
I had the benefit of working with Art Gensler a few times early in my career when he was still on the practice side of his now largest architectural practice in the world. He said that to me one day, he goes, “Everyone in our firm is a marketer. It’s their interaction with whoever they have a touch point with outside of the office that tells our story, from the receptionist, to the project manager, to the person interacting with the blueprint service. It’s there. How they perceive the Gensler brand is how we’re perceived in the world.
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Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.
Enoch: So, you’re going in, you have this confidence because you do have you have a network to fall back on.
Enoch: You know you’re not going to get stuck or you’ll get help. Do you remember those early days to start to grow this firm?
Enoch: Tell me a little bit about some of the specific tactics that you implemented at that time.
Craig: Well, like in any practice, I think, if you don’t have a strong, strategic plan, you don’t know where you’re going. You need a roadmap. That roadmap needs to be not top down, but bottom up. A road map that everyone agrees they want to participate in. In any practice whether you’re a one-person firm or a five-person firm, as soon as you have more than you, everyone needs to be engaged in the process of where we’re going or you’re not likely going to have all those oars rowing in the same direction.
So, in both the firms I worked as Chief Marketing Officer, my first goal was to establish a planning process that engaged a wide… You can’t get everyone in a 600-person firm or a 300-person firm, but you can get a cross section across the firm about what are the projects we’re successful at in terms of…
Architecture is unique in the fact that we can pursue a project that is a one-time design challenge. But, if that one-time design challenge cost you many more hours than it pays you, ultimately, that’s not the way to make a successful living.
I learned early on that the bottom line is important and there is a business of architecture – as you have so often titled your own practice – that is important for firms to understand. We’re not taught business very much in school. I had a business 101 class in Cal Poly.
Enoch: You were the lucky one, I guess.
Craig: Yeah. There are lots of great references to strategic planning. I think you interviewed with Ray Kogan early on in one of your series. Ray is an author on strategic planning, and one that I have worked with in the past as a planner, and a good one, and has published a couple of books. His former partner Ellen Flynn Heapes was another one that was a mentor to me when I was a young man about the planning process.
So, implementing a plan… I know this would get shown in the web. Once this is on the web, it’s forever, right?
Craig: When I joined LEO A DALY, I asked the Executive VP what it would take to be successful, and he said two things to me. One is, “We’ve never had a strategic plan.” I had asked, “Where’s the plan?” He said, “We never had one, so if you want one, you need to write one.” I said, “I’m not going to write it. We’re going to write it.”
The other thing he said, and I think it was really insightful was, “You need to become best friends with the chief Operating Officer because marketing can go sell anything, but if operations doesn’t want to do it, or doesn’t know how to do it, or can’t do it well, we will fail.” So, we need to be respectful of the skill sets and the technical talent we have. We have to sell in to those skill sets to allow them to grow, but also to allow them to be successful – finding projects that will give them the opportunity to be successful. Ultimately, that drives profits and gives the best result.
So, both firms was building a plan, sharing that plan, and communicating that plan to everyone, and then keeping that plan updated on a regular basis. We did a three-year plan, three-year look ahead, but we did an annual update. So, we’re always looking: What do we need to change that we now know that’s different? What’s the new three year look ahead, what’s the horizon look like now?
That allowed us, in 2008 at LEO A DALY, to start to make adjustments for a recessionary economy we saw coming. We could see the downtrend in the subprime market, in the residential market as the subprime lending started to fail. That started to trickle up in to the commercial lending market, so you can see the commercial market start to get softer and softer. When the commercial markets got softer and the economy was starting to slow down, the public sector trough get smaller so the public… and it just feeds on itself.
Now, no one could have predicted the bank failures and the severity of what happened, but we saw a trend line. I’m a big believer in trend lines. I look at, and I learned this from Peter Devereaux when I was with Fields Devereaux, twelve-month average look aheads, look back and look aheads. So, you look back on what they call a trailing twelve-month average, which we’re able to project that forward reasonably on a linear basis, on about a three-month reasonable look ahead, so you can start to see a direction.
I would call it a barometer instead of thermometer, so you could see the direction that it’s going. When your barometer says, “Rain,’ and you look out and it’s blue skies, it means it’s going to rain tomorrow. We use that barometric dashboard…
I use it now at Sextant as well to help look at how we’re doing, where we’re going, and are we on the right path. If we start to see a dip, then we start to look in to the details of that: Where’s the dip happening? What is causing that change? What do we do to address it? Do we need to move in to another market?
We see, as we talked about in our previous show, a lot of work in public higher education. That’s about 75% of the Sextant Group’s work. We are currently shifting our focus more in to the corporate sector. The recession, I want to say it’s over. Architects are a trailing indicator. We were last in and last out of the recessionary economy. Many firms are just starting now to feel the benefits of billings that looked like 2008 now at 2014.
Corporate is getting better, so we’re investing time in building corporate that will help us to… The reality of higher education is, the demographics of students is declining, so the amount of students coming in to higher education is a number that’s going down every year.
Craig: So, the demand for higher education buildings will go down in the next five years. We need to backfill. We’ve created a really terrific expertise in that area, but we want to be able to look at the growing healthcare market.
I am a generation of the baby boomers. I am going to be demanding more and more healthcare services. You’re a healthcare architect. The demand for healthcare buildings is going up, so there’s an area for us to play in to, technology area.
We’ve gone out and recruited staff with strong healthcare technology expertise so we can go and position to get ahead of that curve that we see happening in the next ten years. So, the really big next boom is in healthcare architecture.
Enoch: Excellent. Well, you answered my question. I was going to ask, “What is the barometer saying?”
Enoch: You pre-empted me.
Craig: Yeah. I just wrote an article for SMPS for the December issue of their Journal on what 2015 looks like. My conclusion was 2015 looks a lot like 2014, but a little bit better.
But, 2014 was the first year where we could say, in the last five years, that it really felt better. We saw notable increase in visible opportunities. We track the clients that are building buildings and look like what they’ve approved, what their capital budgets are, where buildings are going to be built. That number has gone up markedly. As a result, our long-term client development and relationship development has generated more leads, and more leads ultimately leads to more work. We’ve seen that number grow as well.
I talked to my friends in architecture and engineering firms. Almost everyone in the, [Inaudible] first and second tier cities are all seeing similar trends. It’s a better year, 2015 will be better still. No real canaries in the coal mine, as they say, as there was in 2008. You’ve already seen the subprime lenders go bankrupt, that was a canary that lead to the commercial lenders starting to really tighten down on financing.
Financing is still tight. If you’re in the developer business, it’s still a bit of a risk, but there’s been a lot of A and B class office space built. Government is still suffering a bit, if you’re in the Federal sector, and in a certain amount of the state and county sectors as well for lack of tax revenue to drive new buildings. If they can get a bond passed, they can do new buildings, but, generally, the Federal is a little more of a [Inaudible] right now.
International, if any of the audience has international work, emerging markets are the big trend. Stable markets like Europe are still suffering there a little bit, trailing to our success. I would say Europe’s probably another couple of years away.
The challenge I see, and I’ve been, as you know, in the industry since the… I interned in the early 70s and I’ve started my practice in the late 70s. The 2009/2010-11 recession was my fifth. You see them, on average, about once a decade. If that’s true, then, in theory, bad theory, we might be looking at one in 2016 or 2017. So, how do you prepare for the next downturn?
A good friend who’s an economist said, “In any downturn, there is always work. It’s just less work than there was before.” So, you really need to be positioned with an expertise, and a strong client relationship, and a strong network of collaborators to solve client’s problems when they have fewer dollars to spend and they need to make sure they spend them wisely.
Enoch: Excellent. You answered my other question I was going to have, which was: How do you guard against the future recession? Good job.
Craig: Well, there’s a Russian economist from the 20s, 1920s, Nicolaus Kondratieff, who developed something called the Long Wave Theory. You can Google “Long Wave Theory” and see this graph that he created. He was fascinated with Capitalism. So, the Russians threw him in the Gulag.
Enoch: Of course.
Craig: So, he has all this time doing Economic research. He studied the United States’ economy from its founding to that point and then projected forward. We have, sort of, a fifty-year big cycle, this long wave of up and down, and up and down. Unfortunately, his prediction is right. The next, down is going to be triggered by World War III. So, you know, I think, maybe fox holds or bomb shelters might be the next big architectural practice model to focus on. (I’m not being serious here).
But, I think we have become much more of a global economy than ever before. The emerging nations are buying our products and services. I’m seeing more firms reach out internationally to do work.
So, the more that we can spread our wings in a larger arena… I know that’s hard for a lot of your audience that are small, one and two-person practices, most of the architects in America are small practice. My advice is to make sure that you’re conscious of what’s going on in your local and regional economies. Be part of your economic development forums in your communities, in your Chamber of Commerce, areas where you can get information about trending stuff, so you can get ahead of that too and find some niche practice opportunities.
Enoch: I love it. Craig, you just brought something… I’ve got an email the other day from a friend of my who listens to the show Randy Sovich who practices out in Maryland, I believe. He does own a smaller firm, and he was telling me that he now has landed a project over in Africa, a government contract doing some cool housing.
Enoch: So, he’s going to come on the show, but I think that just brought to mind your example of how the opportunities may begin to increase as we get more globalized.
Craig: Absolutely. It’s only your appetite, as a practitioner, where you want to reach. I counsel, through SMPS, we have an annual, I call it a “counseling session” at AIA ,where you can sign up for a 15-minute marketing review. I sat with a half a dozen firms this year in Chicago and talked about where their practices were going.
Almost all of them were less than ten people. The advice was consistent and their reaction was consistent. It was, you know, “You need to get engaged in your community. You never can sit and wait for work,” as your own marketing academy tells this story. “You need to have an outreach program, you need to be visible, and you need to share information that’s valuable to those clients. If you can do that and invest your time, it pays back in spades, as they say, with work opportunities.”
Not all those will make sense, but you never know when that African… I just got one this week. An architect we do education work for in Minnesota has a project in Costa Rica.
Enoch: You volunteered for that one?
Craig: I got my passport ready, yeah.
Enoch: Bust out the old surfboard?
Craig: Well, I would tell you, it’s nine degrees in Omaha. Costa Rica sounds really good right now.
Enoch: That sounds very nice. What part of Costa Rica the project is in?
Craig: It’s in San Jose.
Enoch: Right there. San Jose is beautiful.
Craig: It’s a university project being developed near San Jose – still very early in the development cycle.
That’s the other part, if I have to give advice in marketing, it’s: this is a long process – the successful development of a relationship that leads to a building.
A number of studies, Gilbane Construction out of Rhode Island, a very large national constructor did studies in 1990, 2000, 2010 on public sector and private sector clients about the firms they hired. What were the characteristics of the firms they hired to do their work? In every case, consistently, all three, over thirty years and twenty years of surveys was: Clients who had nine to twelve-month relationship with someone from the design practice, with a key decision maker at the client side, that was unrelated to the project itself, but had provided information and value over a nine to twelve-month period, 80% of the time, that was the firm that’s hired.
Enoch: So, you’re saying, if the architecture firm has a contact who is not necessarily involved in the actual selection, that still was the case?
Craig: No, it has to be somebody who’s influences are in the selection position.
Craig: So, typically, if I’m an architect I want to talk to the person who hires architects.
Enoch: Of course.
Craig: Regardless of who that is. Now, it may be an administrative person or it might be a facilities person, depends on the organization. It Might be the owner of the house. So, where are they going? Are they going to the home shows to look for what we’re saying?
I think an interesting, sort of, side note on this is that I’ve observed as an outgrowth of the recession is that everyone got hungry. The amount of volume of work for both us, as practitioners, our clients and their work got smaller. We all got hungry, we all got smarter, and we all got more focused.
So, some peripheral folks in our field in AEC, like the big commercial furniture manufacturers, now they’re offering design services. Residential general construction… I was talking about this and a friend sent me a picture of a billboard on the side of a general contractor’s site sign for doing a residential multi-unit project. Underneath the sign? “Free Architecture.”
How do we educate the clients about the value of the professional service provider as opposed to someone peripheral to that, someone who has a product to sell, or someone where design is not their core competency? What’s the difference? What is the value we bring? It goes back to the whole idea of innovation, and sustainability, and all of the things that are one of the hot buttons in the client’s eyes that we can speak to, not just that we can create a pretty building.
Enoch: I think you’ve opened up another can of worms there, Craig, which is the shifting nature of architects and the value in the industry.
Craig: Oh, yeah.
Enoch: Since we’re talking about trends, let’s put this out here. It seems I’m seeing, in developing nations, a little bit of upward mobility. They’re wanting to bring in outside expertise.
Enoch: For instance, I was surprised at the AIA Convention to see a large contingency from Nigeria of Nigerian architects who have a lot of money right now in their country because of the oil and gas petroleum industry, but they don’t have that long history of having trained architects who are experienced in healthcare, who are experienced in industrial projects. They’re basically just like a sponge looking for these expertise.
You mentioned Costa Rica brought up a similar idea there. So, these developing nations are demanding more expertise. Are there going to be more opportunities for architects to outsource their expertise to some of these nations? Do you see any trend there?
Craig: Yeah, I do. I think you’ve hit it on the nose. As the emerging markets, the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China), as they call them, continue to grow, and we see now in Africa, and Central America, Argentina as well is growing, my position, as it’s been with the firms I worked with, is if we’re going to be successful internationally, the easiest way to get there is on the coattails of a domestic client who is working internationally. That allows us to work with a client we know, we’ve been successful with domestically, and then we can work on their facilities internationally.
When we’re over there doing their work, we can do some outreach in to who else wants to do buildings like this, or who else is doing a building like this, and start to make global connections. You can leverage those relationships you build at an AIA conference with someone… I didn’t talk to the architect about how he built or got the relationship in Costa Rica. You need to ask that question, it’s a good one.
I know, in our case, we are taken overseas a lot based on domestic experience. We’re currently working for large nationals and technology companies on their domestic facilities, they’ve already said we want to replicate what we’re doing in the United States in our Brazil and Argentina offices, so be prepared to send a team down to work on that. When we’re there, we will spend some time.
I will tell you, proactively, the other side of that is we just spoke at two conferences, one in Columbia and one in Buenos Aires on healthcare technology. So, the other way to do it is to find the audiences of buyers and go present.
Enoch: Put yourself in front of them.
Craig: You need to be confident in what you say. If you can tell not just a theory story, but a true story, we talked about stories before, showing features, benefits, and proofs, and all the results, then that resonates. Guaranteed, you will get enquiries and have opportunities.
Cost of doing work oversees is a challenge. Most of those firms that have been work internationally for a long time will say, “How do you get your money out?” “Is there currency exchange issues?” In China getting money out altogether is a challenge. It has to be reinvested in order to get it out back to the United States. It’s not an easy process. So, be careful what you wish for.
Places that are risky. There is a lot of rebuilding going on in the Middle East. High-risk areas to go to, but corp engineers needs architectural services to go over and rebuild airports, and build hospitals, and build schools, are you putting your staff at risk when you do that? So, there are pros and cons of that.
Craig: I think we’re at a really nice place right now, at least for the next year for sure, that we’re seeing growth domestically at a level that there’s work here. If you’re big enough to have an appetite to go internationally, there’s work there too.
Enoch: Yeah. Well, I appreciate it, Craig. My takeaway from our conversation, and everyone’s going to get something different, that’s the beauty of these kinds of conversations.
Enoch: It’s that there are plenty of opportunities and they’re only increasing, but to take advantage of them, we need to be focused, and we’re better off nicheing down and focusing on a specific opportunity as they increased as opposed to trying to go with the shock and approach, and chase after everything that comes across our desk.
Craig: Absolutely. You don’t have a relationship with a client at all just responding to an RFQ or RFP. For my mind, it’s a waste of money. You’re better off spending the time and money to go take that client to lunch to be positioned for their next project.
Craig: Lunch, and lunch, and lunch, and a round of golf.
Enoch: There you go. Craig Park, thank you for joining us.
Craig: Thanks, Enoch.
Enoch: Craig Park is the leader of an independent technology consultancy firm. He leads their Midwest operations from his Omaha, Nebraska office, the Sextant Group. You can find out more about Craig Park or connect with him over at http://www.CraigPark.com and http://www.TheVirtualCMO.com.
So, Craig, thanks for joining us on the Business of Architecture.
Craig: Thank you, Enoch. It was a pleasure.
Enoch: You bet.