Architects and engineers can’t write. Okay, that was purposely harsh to get your attention. So, let me qualify what I mean.
When I look across the landscape of middle market A/E firms (those with revenue in the range of $10M – $250M), I find that the majority (based on our research: 60-70%) provide almost no educational content unrelated to their past projects. A lot of architectural websites are essentially glorified portfolio books — little to no content coupled with a collection of glamour shots of past projects. While most engineering firms provide more detailed backgrounds on their projects — what was performed and what the outcomes were — there is still little to no quality, valuable content to be found on most websites.
That said, as I talk to A/E firm marketers across the country, I find that the vast majority of them believe that they need to be producing this type of content. So, we know we need it, but it’s just not happening.
How Do We Make Content Marketing Work in an A/E Firm Anyway?
So, let me restate things a bit — most architects and engineers BELIEVE they can’t write. There are surely people in your firm capable of doing this. They just need help. This changes our role as a marketer. It’s not about encouraging them to write. It’s actually about helping them get what’s in their heads out into the market in a compelling way. To do this effectively we need a process. Ultimately, for content marketing to be successful a firm needs to do four things really well:
- Extract – The firm needs the ability to extract and identify those business challenges that are both pressing to its clients and within its ability to solve.
- Translate – Then it needs the capabilities to translate those issues into intelligent, useful content that’s valuable to the client.
- Package – It needs the skills necessary to package that content into formats that are preferred by its ideal clients (blogs, articles, podcasts, webcasts, infographics, multimedia presentations, white papers — whatever marketing may determine that to be).
- Distribute – Finally it needs the expertise and systems to disribute that content to the right people, at the right time, in the right place.
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The Four Roles You Need
Conceptually, there are four roles you need to be successful at this. Underlying each role is a set of functions. Each function may be a separate job. Or, more likely, in most firms individuals will be identified to perform 2-3 different functions and some functions will be outsourced altogether.
#1 – Editor
Just like a publication, you need an Editor-in-Chief. This person is like a steward. He or she is responsible for establishing themes, extracting ideas for content, and overseeing any research necessary to both establish the content strategy and inform the content that is produced. Ultimately, this person is the voice of the client. He or she both drives the content to be developed and filters out those topics that aren’t of use to the potential client. The best editors tend not to be subject matter experts. They tend to come from marketing and communications because they’re more likely to have an objective point of view on what’s meaningful to the client.
#2 – Generators
These are the subject matter experts themselves. They’re the billable staff, the architects, the engineers, the PMs and the leadership. They are the people interacting with your clients on a day-to-day basis that have strong opinions as to what issues are most pressing to clients and what content will prove most useful.
#3 – Creators
These are the folks whose job it is both to extract learnings from the clients themselves and the subject matter experts, translate those learnings into consumable content, and package it into formats that are most useful to your ideal clients. There are really three functions that exist here:
#4 – Promoters
These are the individuals whose job it is to get the word out. They’re tasked with figuring out how to get content distributed and shared with potential clients at the right time in the right place. For most firms, there are 3 functions you need to make this happen:
- Social media manager
- PR manager
- Online marketing manager
You Don’t Need A Whole Bunch of New Employees
Some really large firms will have individuals performing these functions in a full-time capacity. That said, in most firms this is unnecessary. In many instances, one person may perform 2-3 of these functions and elements may be outsourced altogether. Below are some examples of where you might want to look inside your firm for the skills you need and where you might need to partner with an outside specialist:
- Editor – Agency Partner or Director of Marketing — These are your best candidates to fill the role of Editor. Both bring the objective perspective you need to produce valuable content.
- Generators — Presumably you have someone with smart opinions about what matters to clients or you clearly wouldn’t be in business.
- Creators — Your creators can come from anywhere, but usually can be found in a few places:
- Marketing Coordinators — The coordinators in most firms tend to be good writers, and are capable of translating ideas and issues identified by an editor or a subject matter expert into content. Most are also very capable of developing online research studies with a little guidance from a senior person.
- Agencies / Freelance Partners — Agencies like ours are tooled with the writers and designers you need to make this work. Alternatively, there are plenty of freelance folks available to help out in a contract capacity — simply check out some of the content marketing and inbound marketing focused groups on LinkedIn.
- Promoters — Again, often you can find these folks within your team already.
- Marketing Coordinators — Most are quite saavy with social media and online marketing and are capable of learning these skills if they don’t have them. Look at the skills in your internal team then look outside for help.
- Agencies / Freelance Partners — Social media agencies, like Fathom, can manage good chunks of your social media efforts turnkey. Public relations tends to be a very specialized skill. Look to firms like Walter Communications for support. Finally, agencies like ourselves are very adept at setting up online marketing systems and executing online marketing campaigns — SEO, SEM, or email marketing.