Engineering A Strategic Foundation For Your RFP Program
Neglecting your public relations, marketing, and social media, so you can focus on responding to RFPs, is like constructing a building without the architect’s plans or engineering’s review. You’re missing out on a foundation that can push you ahead of the competition.
For many in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (A/E/C) industry, the marketing department’s primary responsibility is to crank out responses to RFPs. Because the marketing department staff isn’t normally billable on client projects, their worth is based only on the number of RFPs they respond to and if they help the company get new business. Thinking about this scenario strategically is interesting, because the job function of responding to RFPs, which really isn’t “marketing” at all, quickly takes away from branding and the firm’s overall awareness in the marketplace as a top choice.
The idea for this blog came about when an acquaintance asked if I thought it would be helpful for his firm to do some media relations in his hometown where they are currently responding to a RFP for a multi-million dollar project. Since he has been reaching out personally through email, phone calls and LinkedIn to the decision makers and county commissioners, it just made sense to continue to build his personal brand and the firm’s through a small, but effective and targeted, media relations campaign. However, the marketing department’s approach to this was inhibited because the demand of responding to RFPs was so great that it became difficult to find time to even develop and distribute an individual press release.
I told my friend that he was actually thinking strategically about new business development, while his marketing department is only thinking about its day-to-day job function.
There’s a big problem when media relations, public relations, marketing and social media take a back seat to RFPs. The two should function together to increase the firm’s brand and those that do it well see the benefits.
One firm that I believe is balancing both of these functions right is Baskervill. The company is a national architectural, engineering, and interior design firm headquartered in Richmond, VA. The firm is not a client of ours, but I have watched as they effectively, and consistently, pepper the market with announcements about new clients, awards, recognition, and the achievements of its people. Because of this, I reached out to Tracey Gould, director of marketing for Baskervill, to gain some insight into the balance of marketing and responding to RFPs and to justify my position that neglecting one works against the other.
“Marketing in the A/E/C industry is unlike most industries, and unfortunately, marketing staff generally don’t have the benefit of specializing in any particular discipline, unless they work for a large firm. They are usually generalists,” Gould said. “Some come from an administrative background, moving up in their firms, while some have marketing degrees and experience who find themselves in an industry that historically has been slow to embrace proactive marketing strategies. With the core function of an A/E/C marketing department’s staff supporting the firm’s pipeline, by reactively responding to Request for Proposals, and hopefully making it to the shortlist, interview, and ultimately, winning the projects, most marketing departments find little time to proactively market the firm.”
Gould went on to say that in the A/E/C industry, the rule of thumb traditionally has been that proposal and interview deadlines trump all other deadlines, but when many firms only staff up enough to handle the reactive side of marketing, the proactive efforts suffer.
She believes Baskervill has achieved an advantage by establishing a sizable and successful business development team, which positions their firm well for opportunities with owners before the RFPs are released. This is done through networking, strategic teaming, intelligence gathering, and offering value to the owner during their due diligence process.
“On the flip side, a marketer’s role ideally should be equally supportive of the business development team’s positioning efforts,” she added. “In fact, a skilled and trained marketer can (and should) add tremendous value before an RFP is released through market research, competitor research, establishing teaming relationships, direct marketing to the owner, securing positive and relevant media placements through strategic media relations, and more.”
This is thinking strategically about how you approach both marketing and responding to RFPs. However, Gould’s last statement during our discussion really helped to wrap up my original thought, and headline of this post, that firms in the A/E/C industry can in fact ‘build a strategic foundation for their RFP program.’
“In my opinion, the more proactive marketing and public relations your firm engages in, the less time your marketing staff and firm will need to respond to formal RFPs,” Gould said. “Some clients may be more apt to forego the RFP process and directly hire you based on their awareness of your firm and reputation as a direct result of proactive marketing strategies. At a minimum, your firm will be familiar, more ‘qualified’ in the client’s mind, and more likely to make it past the first round of reviews.”