How Lionakis creates a marketing mentality—an interview with Chuck Hack


For over 100 years, Lionakis has created environments for learning, healing, and work. These values are maintained throughout the multi-discipline firm, with offices in Sacramento, San Francisco, Newport Beach, San Jose, and Honolulu. Lionakis places great value in the professional development of future leaders and has a rich history of cultivating community and teamwork.


MARKETLINK Principal Stephanie Craft caught up with Chuck Hack, a Lionakis principal and owner, to learn more about how he and Lionakis’s leadership have created and fostered a marketing mentality within the firm.

Stephanie: As a firm principal/leader, what have you done to create a marketing mentality in your firm/office?

Chuck: One of the things we started about 15 years ago was we created an awareness around marketing and how we can use it. We provided a lot of education, and now we really tie a lot of marketing/business development-related things into our vision. We use nine metrics that relate to our vision. Four of them are related to business development—like revenue growth, client satisfaction, public relations (PR), and business development return on investment (ROI).

Stephanie: How do you get firm leaders on board for your marketing initiatives?

Chuck: It’s like pushing a boulder up a hill at first. It starts out tough, but as you get over the hill, it starts rolling on its own. I used a lot of metrics to show them how they were doing. They thought anecdotally that they were successful at certain things, and some of that was true, but some of it wasn’t. It was time to be more strategic and have a plan for each of our markets, then measure ourselves against that plan.

It’s so engrained now. It’s really a collaborative process. We brainstorm with our marketing group and discuss how we’ll tie it into our overall firm goals. We provide real data on how they are doing—their hit rates, pipeline, contracts signed, etc.—to help them put their effort where they’ll get the most value versus just being busy.

We are doing that a lot of with social media and digital marketing currently. It’s more than just posting. We want to know which stuff people will interact with and how they interact with it. Through our analysis, we’ve found that people want to see what it’s like to work with us, so our content needs to be centered around individuals, their promotions and projects, other than just winning an award. We do this type of analysis in a lot of different areas.

Stephanie: How do you show ROI of the marketing program to other firm leaders?

Chuck: The ultimate measure is whether we bring in enough work for the money we’re spending. We have standard metrics we track to fine-tune where the problems or needs are. We track hit rates; PR points, which are tallied around any activities we do that we feel position us as leaders in the industry; pipeline/ backlog; contracts signed; and digital media analytics where we check who’s reading us and where they’re coming from.

We want to know we have constant activity with potential clients. It all revolves around our client action plans. We know people are talking to other people, but are they the right people for us?

For business development specifically, we know for every marketing dollar we spend how many dollars in contracts we should get back. We want at least $30 per marketing dollar to come back to us in the form of a contract. We really drive it home.

Having good staff that aren’t just proposal-pushers but instead add value to the process also really helps us be more efficient with our efforts. They can take much of the marketing burden off the principals and do it more efficiently. We’re doer/sellers, so having people you can really trust and rely on is important to us. It goes beyond pulling in boilerplate. It’s about working relationships and bringing added value.


Stephanie: What is the best way you have found to get your technical staff involved?

Chuck: We divide our technical staff into the younger ones versus the more seasoned ones. With the younger ones, there is a lot of training and mentoring involved. We try to make marketing simple for them and start with things like client touches, maybe just asking them to call three people in the next month just to get their feet wet. We give them our elevator speech and talking points so they know what to say.

With the more seasoned technical staff, that’s where having good marketing staff comes in. We work to meet them where they are at. They’re all different—different strengths and weaknesses. It goes beyond just producing proposals. Whether it is cold-calling or putting strategies around their ideas, we play to their strengths.

Sometimes when it’s really tough with the senior staff, there is stronger nudging. We’ll show them their metrics so they can see they’re not doing so well. I think having principal leadership dedicated to marketing helps to give some clout that says, “You have to do that, it’s not a choice.” But that type of conversation is a last resort, and we usually never have to go there.

Stephanie: What are three tips you give your marketing coordinators to help them progress and evolve in their role?

Chuck: I always tell my staff to have a career plan and proactively pursue it. Don’t think anyone is going to hand it to you. You have to start out putting basic packages together and then move into the relationship building/strategic side. You move from being a commodity to being a real value-added member of the team.

I started asking marketing coordinators when they were starting a project—like a brochure—to give me a basic outline of what their target audience was and the size. That way, they’re thinking about what their strategy is for the project.

Stephanie: What marketing-related training do you provide within your company?

Chuck: We’re pretty big on training in the company. We have a BD 101 intro class to the marketing/ proposal process. And we have Interviewing 101, where they learn to strategically target a client, learn how to understand their key issues, learn about the selection panel, and then do mock interviews as well.

We have one on Client Sales Strategy where we discuss how to sell to a client and take a list of 50 potential clients down to signing a contract with someone. There’s LinkedIn learning or perhaps SMPS too, where we do virtual or seminar-based training. We will also partner the younger tech staff with the more seasoned ones so they’re not alone and can shadow them to learn.

Stephanie: Is there someone who mentored you about marketing mentality?

Chuck: Not really. I had some people early on in my career who helped me learn to network, but it wasn’t valued as a role 20 years ago. Principals were part-time marketers, and we were assisting architects.

What really turned me onto strategy was attending PSMJ seminars and others that really honed in on how you set yourselves apart from the pack. That helped more than anything.

Stephanie: Are there any books you’ve read or other media that you would recommend regarding marketing mentality?

Chuck: One I just read on product branding was Brand Management from the Harvard Business Review. I also liked Winning by Jack Welch. One more that’s specific to our industry was a really good and simple introduction to strategic planning called Plan It by Elizabeth Quebe.

Stephanie: How does your marketing team interact with your business development team?

Chuck: We do so much public work that is very process-driven. It’s pretty integrated. We follow the doer/seller model, so we work with them on strategy, doing individual capture plans and planning that upfront selling. They’re pretty intertwined.

We’ve hired principals who come from other firms where they were used to having a have full-time Business Development/Marketer handing them work. That’s not our model at all. Everyone takes part in the business development process.

Stephanie: What are the biggest hurdles your team/office/firm faces related to marketing?

Chuck: What we’re facing now is determining who that next generation of sales leadership will be and how we develop them. When we’ve had great success in marketing, the challenge is making sure the key leadership isn’t stuck in the great projects they’ve won. You can't stop marketing for a year—it has to be constant. We have to help them focus on the right things.

For example, we might have a principal who struggles to go out there in a certain area to make connections. That same principal might spend many hours doing more administrative marketing tasks. That’s where we try to refocus them on where the value activities are.
We only have so many marketing resources, so if we’re going to put time into the marketing effort, we have to put it into something that’s going to get the biggest bang for our buck.

Stephanie: What are ways your marketing could improve or reach the next level?

Chuck: I’m trying to focus us on an initiative this year where we get our younger sales talent involved earlier on in the process. It’s constant practice on the marketing/business development side. We’re working with the principals to let go of some stuff and hand it down. It’s scary, but as we grow, they have to be able to clone themselves and eventually pass the baton. We’ve all been in that situation where we think we’re the only ones who can get the job done, but we all need to be given the opportunity to grow and even the opportunity to fail.

We’ve opened up our ownership to a younger generation, and we have a good technical path for those people to grow. One of the key areas we are diving into is leadership and building a sales mentality beyond the principal level with the project managers and others. We feel this will help sustain our firm in the long run.

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