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FINDING YOUR MARKETING VOICE | Want a seat at the table? Bring your own chair

January 11th, 2017

Featured Author

Keith Kennedy
Associate, Director of Marketing
STUDIOS architecture

Keith Kennedy

After attending this year’s THE Marketing Event—Changing the Game, it became clear to me that many marketers within our field are still looking for answers about how to get a seat at the table at their firms. Many attendees that day voiced concerns about being left out of integral business discussions or strategic initiatives where their perspectives could add great value to their organizations. Hearing so many of my colleagues’ struggles, it caused me to re-think how it is I’m so fortunate to not only be a part of these discussions at my firm, but in many cases lead them.

Sometimes it’s a game of musical chairs.

In nearly every A/E/C firm, meetings are seen by leadership as lost billable time. Consequently, they often limit attendees to a minimal number of people to fray costs rather than focus on bringing the right perspectives together to solve a specific business problem or to plan for business tomorrow. It’s important to help your firm’s leadership understand that marketers often are one of only a handful of people who aren’t a technical person—that is an architect, engineer or other professional (billable) skilled person—and therefore bring a business-focused perspective rather than a technical-focused perspective. Often times our firm’s leaders are technical personnel who have worked up to their roles so they default to what they know. We must help them understand the value of what they don’t know—the value of a new or different perspective. Adding more technical staff to the room won’t change the dialogue because they often bring the same thinking. A marketer, however, would add a significantly different viewpoint to the discussion, helping to steer toward a solution that others may not have thought about. Convince your leadership that different thinking leads to different solutions—convince them to play a game of musical chairs and change some of the players in the room if they’re not willing to add more. Innovation can’t happen with too many like-minds.

Sometimes you have to bring your own chair. 

I’m sure many people will counter that they’ve tried to explain the thinking above yet they still do not have a seat at the table. I, too, at a point in my early career had difficulty explaining this thinking. The leaders I worked with agreed with my logic but wanted proof without actually going for a test drive. It was frustrating until I one day decided that I wasn’t going to wait to be invited to sit at the table. The firm I worked for at the time had monthly marketing and business development meetings with each department. My manager manually updated Excel spreadsheets with the current leads each department was tracking and saved them to the network where they would be dusted off four weeks later for the next meeting. I saw opportunity to streamline these efforts using the existing Deltek Vision system, save countless man-hours, and make the information accessible to anyone at any time. I pitched it to my manager, stayed late to get it up and running, and then attended the next monthly meeting to show the new reports. But I didn’t just show the reports; I chimed in with my perspective on new angles to connect with the decision-makers for the pursuits we were tracking. I brought my own chair. Some of the ideas I shared were welcomed; others shot down with little entertainment. But, I was at the table from that point forward. Find an alternative way to get to the table, bring your own chair, and don’t look back.

Sometimes you’re at the wrong table.

It’s no mystery I’ve hopped around a few firms so far in my career. I stayed with the engineering firm for 18 months and then ended up leading marketing for a large architecture firm. The firm was in a position for great change—new leadership, new projects, and new people. The combination seemed ideal. I carefully absorbed the firm for my first few months, and slowly started to infuse minor changes within existing processes based on my experience and what I believed would best help the firm move forward. Some changes were accepted, some were not, and many were combated simply because they were different. It slowly became clear to me that I would have to fight for every inch I needed to be successful. It became clear to me that, while I had a seat at the table, I was at the wrong table. It was a difficult decision to leave the company—I had a one-of-a-kind relationship with the company’s COO, had made great friends with coworkers (one of whom I live with today), and respected the work the firm put out. But it was clear that my ability to impact the organization was minimal at best.

What does it all mean?

The reality is it’s up to you to decide which scenario fits you—if any—whether you have to fight for your spot in a game of musical chairs, if you have to cheat and bring your own chair, or if you’re fighting to sit at the wrong table altogether. As marketers, we each bring something invaluable to our firms among a sea of technical staff, but it’s up to us to determine if our firms are willing and able to not only recognize that value but make it a part of the way they do business. In each of the scenarios above, it was my choice to fight to make a difference or to move on, ultimately leading me to where I am today: a firm that considers marketing and business development an integral part of nearly every discussion.

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