LinkedIn Logo Twitter Logo Facebook Logo Facebook Logo Instagram Logo

Posts Tagged ‘It’s a Matter of Principal’

IT’S A MATTER OF PRINCIPAL: Football and Presentations

October 29th, 2015

Featured Author

Kristin Liu, LEED AP

Senior Associate, Business Development

Syska Hennessy Group, Inc.

Kristin Liu

Did you know that half of America loves pro football? In 2013, 70 percent of TV viewers watched at least one NFL game. Around this time of year, it seems to me there’s always someone talking about a football game, even when the game isn’t real. According to a Forbes article, 32 million Americans spend about $15 billion annually playing fantasy football. In fact, revenue from NFL Fantasy Football activities is quickly exceeding revenue from the traditional football market.

Now… imagine if people loved sitting through presentations as much as they loved watching and talking about football games. Think about the last time you sat through a presentation that you thoroughly enjoyed. What was it about the presenters that kept you fully engaged? Did their stories flow logically and seamlessly from one part to the next? A successful presentation requires pre-planning, teamwork and practice.

Continue reading...

When one breaks it down to the basics, the strategies used to win over an audience’s attention and affection in a presentation are quite similar to the strategies used to increase a team’s chances in getting a touchdown in football. Like an 11-man roster on the field, each playing its role, you need to move in sync with your co-presenters. You need a quarterback to lead the charge and supporting defense/offense positions that will get you a win. You need behind-the-scenes coaches who help the “game day” players reach their full potential. In order to be successful in both football and presentations, you need to, most of all, practice, practice, and practice.

For the football fans out there, here are four ideas to keep in mind for creating a winning presentation:

It’s a team effort.
On each team, there are “game day players” and there are “preparation players” (aka coaches). Both roles are equally important for winning a game. Are you utilizing the strengths and expertise from your entire team to score a winning presentation? Do you research your competition to understand their game-day decision making? Do you call upon the practice area experts early enough to optimally incorporate their knowledge into your story?

Do you engage your marketing professionals early on for strategic input or only at the end for formatting slides? Do you engage them at all? Sometimes, especially for project interviews, clients dictate a specific outline of topics which the presentation must cover. Marketing professionals can be your helpful referees to ensure that all the required topics are covered in the right order. Furthermore, they can suggest creative approaches for delivering your message with personalized impact.

Preparation is key.
Executing a “play” is most successful when it’s based on preparation and strategy. The more familiar everyone is with your presentation play-book, the more in sync your team will be on presentation game day. How often do you make enough time for the entire team to huddle and practice the different parts of a presentation before the real deal?

What’s your offensive strategy (i.e. discussion of firm overview, similar work, approach to the project)? What’s your defensive strategy (i.e. anticipate questions evaluators may ask)? Are there “drills” that your individual team members can work on during, or even before, the “preseason”? Do each of your presenters truly understand their speaking roles in relation to each other, in relation to the project goals, and in relation to the client’s business goals?

At times, your initial game-plan may not work. NFL teams constantly change their strategy throughout the game. Make sure you have a back-up plan and know your key messages by heart in case the audio-visual equipment breaks down. As a Principal, your “teammates” will look to you as their coach, their leader and mentor; someone that they can rally behind. Help each team member play to their strengths. A quarterback may call the plays, but the whole team working together is what’s necessary to score a touchdown.

You must keep your eye on the goal to win.
Despite the tackles, fumbles and interceptions that come their way, football players always have their eyes on the end-zone. They know that their ball must cross the goal line to score. The more often they cross the line, the higher their score. To score touchdowns in your presentations, stay focused on delivering your key message. This is your end-zone. All other details and anecdotes should bring your audience back to the key message. Keep your eyes on the end-zone and take the audience across the line every opportunity you get.

Practice, practice, practice!
What do NFL players do when they are not playing football on national television? The answer is practice! Conditioning, training, studying the play-book and preparing for the regular season are all critical requirements. What if our principals and team leaders make it a habit to conduct presentation conditioning drills for the “big game”? This could mean finding opportunities to present to internal team members, developing a play-book for presentation strategies, practicing at home in front of a mirror or creating flash cards to help memorize key points. Repetition will allow you to become comfortable enough to overcome your nerves.


Here are some additional resources for creating successful presentations:

Special thanks to guest contributor Rory McMahon, Marketing Manager at Kallen & Lemelson, Consulting Engineers, LLP.



October 3rd, 2015

Featured Author

Kristin Liu, LEED AP

Senior Associate, Business Development

Syska Hennessy Group, Inc.

Kristin Liu

The August 2015 issue of the Marketer features three great articles to help you navigate the countless roads to firm leadership.

In “Finding Your Path to Leadership: Eight Actions to Shorten the Journey,” Michael Reilly, a 30 year marketing veteran and past SMPS National president, along with six other industry leaders, highlights eight areas that a person can take to establish a track record for thinking and behaving like a principal. These include marketing your achievements, learning the business side, reinventing your value-proposition and actively building revenue, knowledge, and trust.

Click here to

In “The Four Levels of Leadership: Creating your Future,” Marjanne Pearson breaks down firm ownership into four levels of responsibilities: fiduciary, enterprise, practice and project. The article can help to explain why not all principals are technical experts and not all are savvy business executives. A firm needs all four levels to continue succeeding! Which one do you identify with the most? Marjanne is a frequent Marketer contributor who has owned her own management consulting practice for over 30 years.

Finally, Tracey Gould and Tim Klabunde share insights on why and how market research can help firm leaders and marketers define more precise client pursuit strategies in “Debunking the Mystery of Market Analysis.” Although, many firms do not have a dedicated person to oversee market analysis, there is a trend that firms plan to increase market research efforts because they see the value in it. Tracey and Tim close their article with a helpful tip on how you can help your firm get started.

One theme stands out strongly to me in these three articles. It is the theme that “Anyone can lead.” No single person knows everything so we always have something to teach and something to learn from each other. Even if you are a team member who does not have an explicitly defined leadership role in your title, you always have opportunities to influence others and produce better outcomes. Whether you have an interest in market analysis, or in learning more of the business side, or in helping the project team excel at client relationship building, here are some tips for taking on leadership roles:

1. Identify opportunities for improvement that align with your interests
2. Share your ideas in a positive manner with your colleagues and your manager (i.e. don’t just complain about what’s wrong, but talk about steps to make it better, and then take action)
3. Let your manager know how he or she can facilitate your productivity increase (i.e. Are there tools you need to help you work more efficiently?)
4. Volunteer to lead employee initiatives such as joining the special events committee, the office green team or help out with an employee mentoring and support network
5. Encourage others to lead

Remember that you don’t need permission to lead. You just need to identify what’s important to you, and then take ownership.

IT’S A MATTER OF PRINCIPAL: Email Communication

June 25th, 2015

Featured Author

Kristin Liu, LEED AP
Senior Associate, Business Development
Syska Hennessy Group, Inc.

Kristin Liu

In their book, Positioning, Al Ries and Jack Trout talks about our “overcommunicated society.” “Each year,” they write, “we send more and receive less.” Our access to so much communication media is an ongoing “assault on the mind” and the result is that “only a tiny fraction of all messages actually gets through.”

Click here to

Simply put, positioning is saying the right things to the right person at the right time. It is a communication approach which taps into and reconnects your target audience’s existing thoughts and experiences. This book focuses on communication directed towards the marketplace, but it got me thinking about our use of emails at work to communicate tasks and deadlines.

How much of what we are sending and receiving to each other is actually effectively communicated?

In 2014, over 108.7 billion emails were sent and received per day for business communication.* It is typical for principals and project managers in AEC firms to receive hundreds of emails in a day. For a busy director of real estate at a global firm or a head of design and construction for an urban university campus with 30 to 40 concurrent assignments, I am sure the number of emails is even larger.

Here are some emailing tips to help assist internal and external clients, as well as your marketing team to clearly communicate.

Tips for sending emails:

•Know your audience. Be aware of their circumstances at the time you are emailing them. Do they respond better to “short and sweet” or are they detail-oriented and like to know the whole picture?

•Give your subject line a relevant title. Stay on topic!

•Identify concise, actionable items first at the top of the email. Feature any deadlines and important milestones up front. Then provide the additional background details.

•Limit actionable items and instructions to 2 or 3 in a given email to get a faster response.

•Assume the recipient is not going to read your email in its entirety. If it’s a long email and you did not receive acknowledgement, the best thing is to follow up by phone or in person.

•Speaking of acknowledgment, don’t rely solely on the automatic “Read Receipt” notification. Many users preview their emails and this could trigger the email program to note that email was read, even if it was just glanced at.

Tips for reading emails:

•Don’t assume the subject line is always relevant to the body of the email. Previewing the email helps to catch mislabeled emails.

•Read the entire email. If it is too long, it may be easier just to call the sender and discuss. At the very least, alert the sender that you have not read it all and ask about the key points.

•Send a reply to acknowledge when you have read an important message, or a message sent to a large group. This helps close the communication loop.

•When in doubt about the clarity or accuracy of the email content, pick up the phone.

•If you must delegate, read and understand the email first, then forward with a brief note. It is good practice to clarify with the sender any confusing instructions or messages. You may discover that you had the answer all along, or that you need to forward to another recipient.

*This statistic is from The Radicati Group, a market research firm for the computer and telecommunications industry.

IT’S A MATTER OF PRINCIPAL: Principals Roundtable

April 28th, 2015

Featured Author

Kristin Liu, LEED AP
Senior Associate, Business Development
Syska Hennessy Group, Inc.

Kristin Liu

In February, I participated in a roundtable discussion amongst principals and business development/marketing professionals from a few firms. The firms represented included 500-900 people firms as well as 20-60 people firms from architecture, engineering and cost consulting. The roundtable’s purpose was to share best practices and foster better collaboration between principals, technical staff, BD and marketing team members. Here are the key topics which we contemplated.

Click here to

The role of business developers took different shapes at each firm but all participants agreed that a dedicated BD function enhances the firm’s ability to forge relationships and keep in tuned with “What’s going on?” beyond the firm. An architecture firm owner relied on sustaining his firm for many years but hired a Director of BD in 2010 out of his desire to grow new business. A large engineering firm currently relies on a dedicated BD Coordinator to drive growth in business by creating opportunities for doer-sellers to get in front of clients and facilitating knowledge sharing internally.

Business development and marketing titles differ from firm to firm, so it is helpful to focus on their specific functions when discussing with folks outside one’s firm. In some cases, BD and Marketing is the responsibility of one person; in another case, a firm’s main office relies mainly on seller-doers to perform BD functions with support solely from the marketing team. In yet another firm, the marketing team reports to the BD team. This diversity of roles and titles is no surprise, because marketing and BD functions are interconnected and each rely on the actions of the other.

Another point of agreement amongst roundtable participants is that junior technical staff benefit from and are receiving some form of business development training. The “formality” or “level” of training range from mostly grassroots efforts (i.e. “individual leaders mentoring teams”), to regular BD meetings involving all client facing staff, to formal BD seminars given to more senior team members as well as on-boarding processes addressing BD/client outreach for new technical hires.

When the topic of seller-doers/doer-sellers came up, billability benchmarks were discussed. One firm expects its principals to be at least 65% billable; its senior project managers to be 75-80% billable; and its junior technical staff to be 90-95% billable. Note that the 5-10% of non-billable allotment translates to 2-4 hours in a 40 hour work week. This is the time per month that junior team members can use to network at an industry/professional organization event or take a client peer out to socialize and strengthen professional friendships. Whether or not a firm has formal billability measures, the real focus should be on the return on investment of non-billable time.

Retaining top talent was a topic that brought on a passionate discussion. In encouraging younger technical staff to build client relationships to develop business, principals must be prepared to address the question of reward. It is the question of “I got a $50K job, so what do I get?” A suggested approach to such claims of entitlement is to appeal to the team member’s sense of teamwork, pointing out that his or her colleagues are also bringing in value. Of course, there is always a small percentage of ambitious self-starters who will eventually leave to start their own business.

For the others who can be influenced, one firm modified their ownership structure to keep top talent engaged. Acknowledgment of the full team on project wins and project delivery successes is also critical. One can never say too many “Thank you’s” and “I appreciate you’s.” Several firms use the strategy of exposing younger technical staff early on to the entire project lifecycle. Allowing transparency about fees, contracts, and proposal and interview strategies will help them better understand the big picture business goals and gain a feeling of community which cultivates stronger commitment towards the firm.

Do you know what your principals are thinking?

I encourage you to grab them and some technical staff (as well as your marketing and BD team) and make time for roundtable discussions of your own. Or better yet, ask them to join a SMPS principals roundtable in the future.

Please share your experiences on this topic with me via email.


March 24th, 2015

Featured Author

Kristin Liu, LEED AP
Senior Associate, Business Development
Syska Hennessy Group, Inc.

Kristin Liu

In the fall of 2011, a newly passed New York State law, Bill S-2987/A-4581 signed by Governor Cuomo, opened up new career path possibilities for marketing professionals in architecture and engineering firms. Non-licensed professionals became eligible to own up to 25 percent of their firms. While ensuring the decision making majority still remained with licensed professionals, this law allowed for New York firms to be more competitive with firms in others states. (Read more about the law here and here).

Click here to

I first heard about this law at the SMPS-NY Leadership Lunch last November and have wondered about its impact to our profession. So I asked several SMPS-NY members who hold ownership stakes to share their thoughts on this law and on their firm ownership experiences.

Patricia Neumann, CPSM, CEO & President of Accu-Cost Construction Consultants, has held ownership for 12 years and has been with the firm since it opened in 1993. Accu-Cost has 2 principals and 9 employees. It provides construction cost consulting and estimating, feasibility studies, value engineering services and expert witness services!

Kirsten Sibilia, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, is 1 of 10 principals at Dattner Architects. She loves that her role is doing “everything but running projects.” Kirsten joined Dattner in 2010 and became an owner in 2012. Dattner provides architecture, planning and interiors services and has 105 team members!

Jennifer O’Donnell, LEED AP, is Vice President, Business Development at Array Architects, a 110-person planning, architecture, interior design and advisory firm that serves healthcare clients exclusively. Jennifer joined the firm 2 years ago as a principal. Array has a total of 22 principals!

Do you know about this law?
Patricia: I heard about this law when it was first established, (but it does not apply to cost estimators.)
Kirsten: Yes. The bill was in Albany for years. It recognizes the valuable role that allied professionals – planners, interior designers, CFOs and, of course, marketers – play in their firms. Shortly after it passed, we filed to become a Design Services Professional Corporation (DPC), and I was made an equity partner in the firm. (Dattner) may have been the first architectural firm in New York City to elevate a marketer to such a position.

Since becoming a principal, do you see any significant changes in your ability to influence major strategic moves in your firm?
Kirsten: I was fortunate to have a “seat at the table” (before ownership but)…things do change with equity. I care even more – and I had not thought that was possible…The title of principal earns me more respect internally and externally, which has allowed me to effect positive change more easily.
Jennifer: Influencing major strategic moves depends more on the culture of the firm versus the level of ownership…understanding how to incorporate feedback from others in the spirit of continuous improvement is the real secret to influencing positive change.

What key qualities help marketing and BD professionals grow into firm principals?
Patricia: (Stick close to principals and) learn about the operations of the firm…also a belief in the firm, hard work, doing more than expected, and an enthusiastic outlook.
Jennifer: Clearly show the Principals what makes you unique…demonstrate your value time and time again. Don’t wait to be told what to do. Help them understand why marketing and business development should be a part of the overall strategic vision of the firm.

What key qualities help technical professionals grow into firm principals?
Kirsten: Typically, in addition to technical prowess and experience, one must excel in other areas as well – cultivating relationships, leading people, and leveraging technology, for example.
Jennifer: (One way is to) possess a particular mastery that makes them a go-to person within the firm…being recognized as very valuable, core team members. (Second way is) being a well-rounded designer with the right temperament and charisma that appeals to clients…(be) problem solvers…understand different stakeholder perspectives along with clients’ challenges, and then provide creative solutions.

Do you have additional comments/suggestions for professionals that are interested in growing into this level?
Patricia: Holding ownership in a firm is a big responsibility. Know exactly what you are getting into.
Kirsten: Thinking like an owner is the first step. Learn as much as you can about the entire enterprise. Develop a respect for the core business (architecture, in my case) and a sensitivity to what goes into making projects successful. Understanding what it takes to run a business is also critical.
Jennifer: Don’t lose sight of the fact that you play a vital part in your firm’s success. Working closely with many smart, talented designers great at their craft, business developers often underestimate their own value. Remember, being an analytical, strategic-thinking connector is a craft in its own right! Remain confident – people are relying on you.

If you have had personal experiences with this law, please contact me contact me – I’d love to learn more.


January 27th, 2015

Featured Author

Kristin Liu, LEED AP
Senior Associate, Business Development
Syska Hennessy Group, Inc.

Kristin Liu

I recently rejoined SMPS New York’s Membership Committee. I am excited to help our Director of Membership Amy Stroud implement her vision of delivering quality membership. “Quality Membership” means that we continue to investigate and deliver additional measurable value to our members.

Click here to

An item identified for “quality check” was the area of meeting Principals’ needs. Traditionally, our organization has served – and served very well – the needs of marketers, business developers and communications professionals in the beginning to mid-level career stages. However, there seems to be a perceived lack of benefits that directly impact Principal-level members and those serving in senior management roles. I was very curious to explore this gap and readily volunteered to investigate how SMPS-NY could bring more value to the seasoned professionals in our AEC industry.

We first looked at membership demographics. As of this week, 50 out of 286 members in our chapter are principals, firm owners, or in senior management positions at their firms. That makes up 17%. Of these current members, 6 first joined SMPS in the 1980’s! And 5 of them first joined in 1990’s. Several in this group started as marketing professionals who have risen to the top of their firms. These include Sarah Hoff (Principal at Cerami & Associates) as well as Michelle Galindez Russo (Vice President at WSP) and Kirsten Sibilia (Principal at Dattner Architects).

Others in this group are technical practitioners who embrace the practice of marketing. They include respected leaders in the AEC community such as Barbara Horton (President and CEO at HLB Lighting Design) and George Miller (Partner at Pei Cobb Freed & Partners Architects). This is a group I know little about… Actually, it’s not that I don’t know OF them, but I do not know their reasons for joining SMPS, nor what benefits they gain as members. I am very curious to find out their expectations of our wonderful organization. I suspect many of you share my curiosity.

Enter “It’s a Matter of Principal.” Here, on behalf of our members, I aim to create a home for sharing anything related to a principal’s perspective, especially as it relates to marketing professional services. I propose to post principal profiles/interviews, as well as share research, links and news related to this topic.

What do you think about this idea? Are there any firm leaders whom you would like to see highlighted in a future blog entry? Do principals at your firm see value in joining SMPS? Why or why not? Please don’t hesitate to contact me – I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

Photo Galleries

Blog Archive

Maximize Your Exposure

Join the Club

Get Involved

See Us in Action

Be in the Know