Eric Stratford, Director of Business Development & Preconstruction Services at R&O Construction, shares his experience in working as a team with leadership, business, and marketing to create a cohesive and supportive approach.
As a firm Principal/leader, what have you done to create a marketing mentality in your firm/office?
For a period of time, we assigned our executive team to be in charge and responsible for various marketing tasks and activities. When our previous marketing leader, Dale Campbell, passed away, we felt a huge void in our company both personally and professionally. Dale was so influential in the company, and his team oversaw all the marketing activities. We realized in his absence that we needed additional help. We decided it was best to put our executive team in charge of our individual marketing tasks. This also was an effort to introduce our executive team to the responsibilities of the marketing department. When you have a chance to walk in someone else’s shoes it really gives you a better perspective of everything it takes to get the job done. We divided up events and told them to make sure to coordinate with the marketing team to help and support in any way, but they were responsible to get everyone—and everything—organized. This approach ended up having a huge impact on all of us. Suddenly the executive team, who previously would tease the marketing team about how their job was all “fun” at golf tournaments, realized the amount of work, coordination, and effort it takes to make these “fun.” They saw all the behind-the-scenes efforts that happen with everything the marketing department must do. To this day, the executive team is the biggest supporter of the marketing team, and they really appreciate the efforts and encourage our marketing staff.
Why do you think marketing in our industry is so important?
In my mind, marketing is all about presence. For example, R&O was founded as a retail construction company. When I started, I had construction experience and worked on the estimating side of the business. After a while I was thrown into the marketing role and didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t have an understanding and appreciation of what benefits marketing provides. In our re-branding process, we wanted to tell people that we work in other markets beside retail. We decided that through our marketing efforts we would work on getting our name and logo out to all of our project sites to make people more aware of where we are doing work. We invested in a fleet of trucks with our logo and project signage. Suddenly everyone told us that they saw our trucks everywhere. This small marketing effort helped us create a presence that backed up our other more direct business development efforts and kept our name in the minds of the community and clients.
Is there someone who mentored you about marketing mentality?
I have two types of mentors that have helped me learn the industry so much. I was fortunate enough to have Dale Campbell and Barbara Taylor internally at R&O. Barbara on marketing side and Dale with business development. Both of them were mentors for me and helped me learn how to represent R&O and develop relationships that have been long-term. The other way that I was able to get mentoring was by getting involved with the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS). I learned so much that I didn’t know. I could learn from the meetings as well as learn from others in the industry
How do you show ROI of the marketing program to other firm leaders?
ROI is the hardest thing to track because a lot of what we do is intangible. It’s hard to know if an ad or online presence or social media has any real value. It is a seed that gets planted and supports to our business development efforts. I think the best way I’ve found to show ROI to the leadership group is to tell the whole story of a project win. It’s always more than just a project bid or proposal. I like to tell the story of the behind-the-scenes, reasoning we got the opportunity to bid because we met the client at an industry event or through a referral of another client. We had an example of finding out about a project we wanted to pursue while we were supporting a non-profit organization at their golf tournament. Dale and I went and played in the tournament and everyone was teasing us that we were “marketing” while golfing. We ended up landing that job because years later when we went to the interview and the influencers that we golfed with were on the selection committee, we already knew them. They remembered us and had a relationship with us that started years before. Dale always taught me that getting involved and serving on boards on various committees was so important in developing relationships with people of influence. Over the years I have made some relationships that have helped me “tell the story” of our intangible investment in a project win.
How do you get non-marketing staff involved in/excited about supporting marketing efforts?
I would say that it’s a lot of encouragement and reminding. It is not always easy to get non-marketing people to learn the skills they might need, but it’s so important. We have a superintendent training meeting every year. As part of the overall training, we always try to have a marketing and business development track for them. We are aware that a superintendent is one of the most important people to the client on their project. One of our superintendent’s biggest concerns is wondering where they are going to be assigned for their next project. We help them see that if you are marketing to the client and doing a good job on the project by taking care of their needs, they will request you on their next project, and they will have more control of where they will work. We also stress to all of our employees that marketing is always a resource for them. We tell them they can ask us any questions or ask for any support they need.
What are three tips you give your marketing coordinators to help them progress and evolve in their role?
1) Remember that buy-in for marketing starts at the top. Executive leaders need to be your advocate, and sometimes that can be frustrating. If you recognize this and work hard to get management on board with your ideas, you will be successful.
2) Always remember that the hardest sale is sometimes internal. Recognize that you must help internal people see your vision, and they will be on your team. Explain why and what benefits you hope to receive with any idea you propose to them. Show them the vision and outcome and how it will help the company.
3) Don’t get stuck in a rut. You will always be doing the same thing and be unable to grow if you don’t make an effort to get a variety of experience. You might have to ask for those opportunities, but you should decide where you want to take your career.
How does your marketing team interact with your business development team?
We have a very symbiotic relationship. We are one team. We meet weekly together and we talk daily. I don’t know how you can be successful if you don’t work together. It is a relationship where every week we are communicating and supporting each other.
What are the biggest hurdles your team/office/firm faces related to marketing?
Budget is always our biggest hurdle. We have big ideas and sometimes those don’t fit in the budget. We overcome this by being creative in our planning and spending, and we find out where we get the most exposure. We are a conservative company, and it’s hard to compete against some of the competitors that seem to have unlimited funds. But we have really innovative people and do the best with what we have to make a big impact.
What are ways your marketing could improve or reach the next level?
I have had my eyes opened as I have been going through the hiring process for a new marketing person. I have been talking with a lot of candidates that are outside the industry. I have learned so much from them and gained an understanding of what they have done outside the industry that could bring new thoughts and ideas outside of the norm. I would like to use some of these concepts and have learned that it’s okay to have a 3rd party outside of your firm to suggest ideas.