The SMPS Foundation, in collaboration with Building Design+Construction magazine, conducted a survey to gauge how A/E/C firms are impacted by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The survey was designed for professionals working in architecture, engineering, construction, and related firms. The effects on marketing and business development practices are of special interest. I commend these A/E/C marketers for doing their best in a difficult situation and adapting to a changing world.
Below is a compilation of some of the themes and responses to the open-ended survey question, “Please describe a specific innovation, opportunity, or challenge.”
Increased Emphasis on Content Marketing
Many respondents cited a push to do more content marketing, which is no surprise as clients are looking for guidance and updates in these uncertain times. Many firms are holding educational webinars for the first time or increasing the frequency. Firms are also crafting more thought leadership articles and increasing their social media activity for increased brand awareness.
“With the reduction in billable work, more staff has been able to get involved in the firm’s marketing efforts and we’re actually making more progress than usual in this area.”
“This was also the kick we needed to make our e-newsletter a more regular thing.”
“We’re spending our time now gathering our expertise in written and video form for content marketing, webinar, and digital lunch & learn efforts. Everyone is participating since normal project work is at a standstill.”
“With the recent forced work environment, our business development dollars which would’ve normally been spent on travel and entertainment or trade shows and conferences are now being spent on digital marketing, webinars and paid social media campaigns.”
“This situation has led us to realize that we CAN do business development remotely – we just need to be creative. We plan on launching a monthly virtual talk series in the next two months specific to our target clients as the first step in growing our geographic reach.”
“As everything goes digital we launched a webinar series to share thought leadership.”
“Bosses are now more open to social media strategies that they would not have been in the past.”
“We have taken this time to amp up our online presence to increase branding awareness during this time. We have also come up with plans to do more once life returns to normal.”
Pivot to Virtual Training for Staff & Clients
Respondents noted that webinars are not only for current and prospective clients. Marketers are also developing webinars for internal training.
“Investing heavily in developing content and delivering video/webinar training both internally (seller-doer phone call skills) and externally for clients with technical information.”
“Our marketing team has also been utilized heavily to engage employees internally while working remotely and to conduct more virtual training for both clients and internal staff.”
Collaboration Across Teams & Offices
Now that water cooler collaboration is impossible, some marketers are seeing an unexpected upside from the move to digital communication and collaboration.
“More opportunities for Marketing team members to collaborate with senior leadership and HR on strategic communications to internal and external audiences.”
“We have been ahead of the curve for using Microsoft Teams to communicate and collaborate more effectively. Work sharing across 11 branch offices has increased 200%.”
“I think everyone working from home has created better communication because we have to work harder at it and don’t take it for granted.”
Company Culture & Morale Boosting
Social distancing is resulting in creative team-building activities to keep morale up.
“We’ve been using the team chat function to replace our office chitchat and it has actually brought our remote team closer with the HQ staff because they are hearing the fun convos that they would otherwise miss out on.”
“Virtual happy hours, several throughout the week, have really increased morale.”
“The opportunity now is to really vamp up our internal communication, which has probably doubled if not more, and as a result has boosted employee morale during this time. It has brought the employees together and showcased the importance of the marketing team.”
“Leadership here has done a great job keeping us all connected and our culture intact! Our culture is a big part of what makes us the great firm we are. We have one Principal responsible for ensuring our VPN stays up and running; we even attempted our first all-employee meeting on ZOOM. Yesterday some ladies from the office had a virtual happy hour using the HouseParty app. The office after-work workouts are now virtual, and anyone can participate from their home.”
“Our marketing team does a great job staying connected through themed-checkins, e.g., Wistful Wednesdays (sharing photos of places we miss) and Foto Fridays (sharing photos from various stages in our lives).”
Innovation & Creating Efficiencies
Some marketers are focusing their efforts on innovating and improving processes to make due with less during the crisis.
“Using this as a time to innovate and come out stronger.”
“This has given us the opportunity to take a look at the current processes and procedures and make improvements where necessary.”
Rapid Technology Adoption
In addition to the now ubiquitous video conferencing, firms are also rapidly adopting other technologies.
“Virtual collaboration has led our teams to adopt more project management softwares and conferencing tools.”
“This situation has forced management to embrace technology. While we are currently getting comfortable using it internal, I foresee this truly helping our Business Development efforts externally.”
“Actively developing new or improving existing processes to streamline CRM to improve business development targeting, especially in regards to selecting where to target efforts.”
“Leadership has begun using our CRM that was implemented a couple of years ago but not used much outside of marketing.”
Renewed Focus On Backburner Initiatives
The majority of firms reported a decreased ability to conduct ordinary/typical marketing activities. Some marketers are reapplying that new free time towards their backburner marketing projects.
“This work from home order has also given more time for the marketing team to work on other delayed projects like database cleanup, digital asset management, and producing videos.”
“The lower number of proposals has given us time to work on general marketing activities such as creating new project overview pages, updating the website, and doing strategic planning activities that are often hard to find time to complete with multiple proposal deadlines.”
“We are specifically working to vamp up our case studies for reference with new, prospective clients.”
“Now is an excellent time for firms to consider doing market research and upgrading their boilerplate and messaging.”
Shift From Hard Copy to Digital Proposals
Proposal writers are rejoicing that more clients are starting to accept digital proposals.
“We see an opportunity for more clients to make electronic proposal submission the new norm, reducing our costs for production supplies and exposure to germs while handling shared office equipment. And of course, electronic proposals are also better for the environment – no paper, no vehicle/gasoline to hand-deliver, etc.”
“This is a great opportunity for more clients to accept digital only RFQ/P submissions. Saves paper and time.”
“Many of our responses are changing from requiring 10+ hard copies to being electronic submissions. It’s great for sustainability.”
Preparation for Virtual Interviews
Marketers are helping teams prepare and succeed at conducting virtual interviews for the first time.
“We’re currently full-steam ahead on strategizing for virtual interviews, especially because we see the potential for these to become a more regular part of our business now that clients have realized they don’t HAVE to have everyone in one room to interview. It definitely presents new challenges for us and we want to be ahead of our competitors in this arena.”
“Developing and refining ‘best practices’ for virtual interviews as we participate”
“Advancing our marketing materials and transforming them into more appealing virtual presentations.”
Supporting The Healthcare Market
A/E/C firms that support the healthcare industry are in demand, but need to be careful how they are positioning themselves. Marketers are walking a fine line getting the word out about how they can help while not sounding self-promotional.
“We have been involved with several emergency COVID projects with healthcare clients because we are a trusted partner, and developed a flyer to send to our other clients to let them know. Challenge was to word it in a way that says we are here to help, not take advantage of the situation.”
“We worked to develop ways to help our healthcare clients deal with the crisis, now we are working on way to help our clients post COVID-19.”
“Our firm collaborated with a design firm to rapidly create a modular healthcare solution that directly responds to the C-19 pandemic. Strategy/marketing/sales of same has been almost overwhelming in such a condensed period of time.”
“Opportunities for our firm to work in healthcare COVID consulting. Innovations for some services to support the return back to work. Opportunities for federal/DoD projects to convert facilities to healthcare facilities.”
New Services for the New Normal
The changes in how we work and exist in physical spaces are also creating opportunities for A/E/C firms to respond to new needs now and in the new normal to come.
“Converting on site services to virtual has been successful and creates additional opportunities for virtual services.”
“Sharing research for new services to address social distancing and the post-COVID market.”
“Innovating the ‘new normal’ spaces.”
“We took the last 6 weeks of remote working to find and focus on particular challenges that our clients were also facing. Collected the research and compiled it into an info graphic for each of our markets showing how our firm could help right now.”
“We set up a Service through our Environmental Department that will test and verify that a building or school is COVID-19 free after disinfection.”
Ideas for Connecting With Clients & the Community
Marketers are exploring new ways of connecting while we remaining physically distant.
“We have invited key customers to join a COVID task force, which has helped us build ties with them and establish industry leadership.”
“We’ve created STEAM pages for parents who are teaching at home. It’s driven a lot of activity to our website, and our employees are having fun sharing games/puzzles/activities.”
“A specific innovation we are starting to explore is conducting virtual community/public meetings for project community engagement.”
“We have the opportunity to listen in new ways. We have the opportunity to utilize surveys to transcribe trends and data to bring confidence to our clients. We have the opportunity to reevaluate user experience for our built environment based on necessities for health and wellness. We have the opportunity to leverage partnership from across the world due to increased technology acceptance by clients.”
Adapting to the New Normal
Ways of working may change permanently (or semi-permanently).
“Using more video calls to check in and discuss work, rather than using the phone. The visual conversations are more productive and build connections.”
“Creating signage and safety hard hat stickers reminding crews on site to socially distance where possible and not enter jobsites if sick or around someone who was/is sick. Taking temperatures when workers enter the jobsite.”
“For us an opportunity has been that everyone in our firm, with the exception of our field staff, can work remotely and are just as productive. There is an advantage that we may not need to expand our physical office footprint in the near future.”
For More Information
You can view all the responses to the question, “Please describe a specific innovation, opportunity, or challenge” on the SMPS website in the full survey results, which also includes charts showing the responses to how the current crisis is impacting typical marketing activities, the pace of new business opportunities, the ability to secure new clients/projects, and more. The surveys are collected every two weeks and I encourage you to participate in the current and upcoming surveys that are helping track the impacts on A/E/C industry in this unprecedented time.