Spill The Ink

Michelle Calcote King

Welcome to Spill the Ink, a podcast by Reputation Ink featuring growth and visibility experts from professional services firms, including law firms and AEC firms. read less
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Episodes

Legal marketer spotlight: A servant leadership approach to law firm marketing
Apr 9 2024
Legal marketer spotlight: A servant leadership approach to law firm marketing
Law firms are relationship-driven businesses — and not only in terms of attorney-client relationships. Aricia Gallaher’s recipe for success is to approach marketing with an understanding that nurturing connections is kingpin, both internally and externally.  Aricia is the marketing director at Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel, a full-service law firm in Chattanooga. In this episode, Aricia reflects on the lessons learned during a two-decade career and the role her servant leadership approach has played in the firm’s growth. Host Michelle Calcote King also talks with her about facilitating thought leadership, marketing technology, LinkedIn for attorneys, and maximizing industry networks like Meritas. Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn Who Aricia Gallaher is About Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel How to capture a distinctive brand on your firm’s website Ideas to facilitate content development with attorneys How strategic partnerships can benefit a firm’s presence The benefits of thought leadership as a long-term strategy Why law firms need to prioritize marketing automation LinkedIn’s vital role in growing law firm business The ways industry networks like Meritas can bolster a marketing strategy About our featured guest With over two decades of experience in marketing operations, communications, public relations, event management, business development, and client relationship management, Aricia stands as a seasoned and versatile professional adept at navigating the intricacies of today's dynamic business landscape. Throughout her career, Aricia has consistently demonstrated a remarkable ability to drive impactful results and foster enduring connections. She has collaborated with a diverse range of clientele, including some of the nation’s largest health systems. She has leveraged her comprehensive knowledge to orchestrate successful marketing campaigns, spearhead innovative communication strategies and execute high-profile events that resonate with target audiences. As a visionary leader, Aricia has played a pivotal role in shaping the growth trajectories of numerous organizations, utilizing her strategic acumen to identify and capitalize on emerging opportunities. Her keen understanding of market trends, coupled with her exceptional interpersonal skills, has enabled her to cultivate strong client relationships and foster long-term partnerships built on trust and mutual success. Aricia's passion for innovation and process enhancement is evident as she diligently uncovers business opportunities, executes strategies with precision and champions customer service excellence. Her relentless pursuit of innovation and her ability to adapt to evolving industry landscapes make her a driving force in any team or organization she is a part of. Aricia consistently pushes boundaries and delivers unparalleled value in each project, showcasing her enthusiasm and commitment to excellence in marketing and business development. She holds a proven track record of achievement and a reputation for excellence, making her a trusted advisor and leader in her field. As she continues to make strides in her professional journey, she remains dedicated to driving positive change and shaping the future of marketing, communications, business development, and — most importantly — the client experience. When offering advice to aspiring professionals, Aricia emphasizes the importance of seeking out strong mentors. She underscores the value of cultivating connections with individuals at various stages of their professional journey to gain invaluable insights and guidance. Resources mentioned in this episode Check out Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel Follow Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel on Facebook and LinkedIn Connect with Aricia Gallaher on LinkedIn Say hello to Michelle Calcote King on X and LinkedIn Sponsor for this episode This episode is brought to you by Reputation Ink. Founded by Michelle Calcote King, Reputation Ink is a public relations and content marketing agency that serves professional services firms of all shapes and sizes across the United States, including corporate law firms and architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) firms.  Reputation Ink understands how sophisticated corporate buyers find and select professional services firms. For more than a decade, they have helped firms grow through thought leadership-fueled strategies, including public relations, content marketing, video marketing, social media, podcasting, marketing strategy services and more. To learn more, visit www.rep-ink.com or email them at info@rep-ink.com today.
Architecture marketer spotlight: Winning AEC business with tailored proposals
Mar 26 2024
Architecture marketer spotlight: Winning AEC business with tailored proposals
Professional services buyers want to see more than simple boilerplate to inform their decision about why they should hire you. Marketing needs to be tailored as much as possible to address their specific needs and concerns. Derek Goodroe, marketing director at Ashley McGraw Architects, talks about why he invests time and resources into carefully tailoring each request for proposal (RFP) — even if it takes hours to get it right. He and host Michelle Calcote King discuss the evolution of the architecture industry and the marketer’s role. They also cover the tools Ashley McGraw uses to expand reach and impact, including email marketing and industry conferences. Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn Who Derek Goodroe is About Ashley McGraw Architects and the Vaysen Studio How competition for architecture services has intensified over time The challenges marketing departments, especially small teams, face when writing proposals What elements make an RFP response more competitive Best practices for crafting a tailored proposal that sells Tips for collaborating with architects to elevate the quality of your RFP responses How to leverage conferences as a business development and marketing tool Better ways to use email to connect with clients and prospects The marketing department’s influence on firm culture and employee engagement About our featured guest Derek Goodroe is the director of marketing at Ashley McGraw Architects. He has been with Ashley McGraw since 2010 and cumulatively has over 19 years of marketing experience, including 16 years in professional services.  His strategic vision and approach to marketing and business development have been pivotal in steering Ashley McGraw Architects' growth and presence, particularly within the firm's Syracuse, New York, and Washington, DC, offices. While overseeing the development and delivery of a fully integrated marketing strategy for the firm, Derek is also dedicated to driving business development, fostering a culture of collaboration and ensuring the firm's values are reflected in every marketing message, client interaction and proposal pursuit. Derek is a member of the Upstate New York chapter of the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS). Resources mentioned in this episode Check out Ashley McGraw Architects and Vaysen Studio Follow Ashley McGraw on Facebook, LinkedIn, X and Instagram Connect with Derek Goodroe on LinkedIn Say hello to Michelle Calcote King on X and LinkedIn Sponsor for this episode This episode is brought to you by Reputation Ink. Founded by Michelle Calcote King, Reputation Ink is a public relations and content marketing agency that serves professional services firms of all shapes and sizes across the United States, including corporate law firms and architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) firms.  Reputation Ink understands how sophisticated corporate buyers find and select professional services firms. For more than a decade, they have helped firms grow through thought leadership-fueled strategies, including public relations, content marketing, video marketing, social media, podcasting, marketing strategy services and more. To learn more, visit www.rep-ink.com or email them at info@rep-ink.com today.
Why a DEI strategy is a competitive advantage for law firms
Mar 11 2024
Why a DEI strategy is a competitive advantage for law firms
The legal industry isn’t known for its trailblazing progress on the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) front — but it is improving. Many law firms are integrating DEI strategy into their core business model, and the benefits of this shift are touching nearly every area, from prospecting and marketing to recruitment and talent development. In this episode, Lee Watts joins us to talk about her new role as Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Bass, Berry & Sims. She discusses the firm’s strategy and reflects on how DEI influences a firm’s brand, reputation and competitive advantage. Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn Who Lee Watts is About Bass, Berry & Sims How DEI has changed over the years DEI’s influence on law firm brand and reputation How to be a DEI advocate within your own circle of influence The importance of analyzing all business matters through a DEI lens The potential impacts of emerging lawsuits targeting firm DEI initiatives About Bass, Berry & Sims’ active programs, including its affinity groups and educational partnerships About our featured guest Lee Ashby Watts is the Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) at Bass, Berry & Sims. She works to advance diversity, equity and inclusion and to support the recruitment, retention and advancement of underrepresented lawyers and professionals. Lee has over 20 years of experience in the legal industry, helping law firms, attorneys and legal professionals develop and implement strategic plans. Lee brings a keen understanding of communications and client service, having worked in legal marketing and business development for most of her career. Prior to joining Bass, Berry & Sims, she led a consulting firm where she coached, trained and consulted with hundreds of leaders. Previously, she served in a variety of roles within law firms, including as the chief marketing officer at global law firm Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP for nearly a decade. Lee is a certified business development coach as well as a frequent facilitator and speaker, addressing personal branding, public speaking, marketing, diversity and inclusion. She sits on the board of the Legal Marketing Association Southeast and the nonprofit organization Kate’s Club. She is also a member of the professional women’s network CHIEF, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated, Junior League of Atlanta and ColorComm. Lee is an Ohio University graduate and earned her MBA from Georgia State University. Resources mentioned in this episode Check out Bass, Berry & Sims Follow Bass, Berry & Sims on X, Facebook and LinkedIn Connect with Lee Watts on LinkedIn Say hello to Michelle Calcote King on X and LinkedIn Sponsor for this episode This episode is brought to you by Reputation Ink. Founded by Michelle Calcote King, Reputation Ink is a public relations and content marketing agency that serves professional services firms of all shapes and sizes across the United States, including corporate law firms and architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) firms.  Reputation Ink understands how sophisticated corporate buyers find and select professional services firms. For more than a decade, they have helped firms grow through thought leadership-fueled strategies, including public relations, content marketing, video marketing, social media, podcasting, marketing strategy services and more. To learn more, visit www.rep-ink.com or email them at info@rep-ink.com today.
Architecture marketer spotlight: Insights into strengthening a firm’s identity and positioning
Feb 26 2024
Architecture marketer spotlight: Insights into strengthening a firm’s identity and positioning
Jill Davis leads the marketing department at Cline Design, an interdisciplinary architecture, planning and interior design firm in North Carolina. She recently guided the 35-year-old firm through a successful rebrand and website redesign and is constantly re-examining Cline’s marketing strategy to meet evolving client needs. In this episode, Jill and host Michelle Calcote King discuss Cline’s marketing strategy through the years, including its 2023 rebrand. They also cover how to encourage architects, designers and other subject-matter experts to contribute to marketing initiatives that showcase the firm’s expertise and culture, such as thought leadership and social media. Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn Who Jill Davis is About Cline Design Why Cline decided to do a rebrand and how the marketing team approached the project  Which marketing tools are the most impactful to Cline’s strategy and why Why invest in thought leadership and examples of common challenges Tactics for engaging busy subject-matter experts in content creation and marketing initiatives, including thought leadership and social media When to use your internal team to produce video content versus hiring a videographer How to integrate a public relations strategy into your communications plan The benefits of professional organizations like the Society for Marketing Professional Services About our featured guest Jill Davis has over two decades of expertise in marketing, including over 10 years of specializing in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry. Her journey in this sector began in 2013 with HOK in St. Louis, where she played a pivotal role in securing high-profile projects nationwide thanks to her innovative strategies and collaboration with both regional and senior leaders. As a Principal and Marketing Director at Cline, Jill spearheads marketing initiatives and strategic planning. Her focus is on nurturing growth and exploring new opportunities that promise a bright future for the firm. At Cline, she finds daily inspiration in the creativity and insight of her colleagues, a talented team of marketers, architects, designers and branding professionals. Jill's commitment extends beyond her professional sphere. In St. Louis, she actively participated in the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS), taking on various leadership roles. Her dedication to SMPS continued through her moves to Raleigh and Charlotte, where she serves as the 2024 President-Elect of the Charlotte chapter. Additionally, her alma mater, the University of Missouri-St. Louis, benefited from her contributions as a member of the marketing advisory board, where she mentored students and engaged in the Midwest Digital Marketing Conference (MDMC) scholarship committee. Resources mentioned in this episode Check out Cline Design Associates Follow Cline Design on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram Connect with Jill Davis on LinkedIn Say hello to Michelle Calcote King on Twitter and LinkedIn Sponsor for this episode This episode is brought to you by Reputation Ink. Founded by Michelle Calcote King, Reputation Ink is a public relations and content marketing agency that serves professional services firms of all shapes and sizes across the United States, including corporate law firms and architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) firms.  Reputation Ink understands how sophisticated corporate buyers find and select professional services firms. For more than a decade, they have helped firms grow through thought leadership-fueled strategies, including public relations, content marketing, video marketing, social media, podcasting, marketing strategy services and more. To learn more, visit www.rep-ink.com or email them at info@rep-ink.com today.
How law firms are using videos to generate and nurture leads
Feb 12 2024
How law firms are using videos to generate and nurture leads
You don’t need to work in an extremely visual industry to create video content that drives revenue and brings in new business. You don’t even need to hire a fancy, high-tech production team. Philip Fairley helps law firms and attorneys craft and execute video marketing strategies that resonate with target audiences and yield ROI. He and host Michelle Calcote King discuss how to get started, including equipment, where to find regular content ideas, how to set up a shooting location, and the best distribution channels. They cover how law firms can use videos to create touch points with prospects and explain the different strategies behind lead nurturing and lead generation videos. Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn Who Philip Fairley is About The Rainmaker Institute and Rainalytics® The types of videos that work (and don’t work) for law firms Different methods to shoot, use and distribute short-form and long-form videos Essential video equipment to get you started How to find content ideas Best practices for scripting, recording and distributing videos About our featured guest Philip Fairley is president and owner of The Rainmaker Institute, the nation’s largest law firm marketing company that focuses exclusively on client generation, lead conversion and data analytics. During his time at Rainmaker, he co-developed Turbine®, the only software platform that automates the intake process, and Rainalytics®, the only tool that automatically measures all law firm data. Philip holds degrees from Northwestern University, Wheaton College and Keller Graduate School, is an NCAA Division I National Debate Champion, and is a recognized expert on intake, lead conversion and innovative video marketing. His and Rainmaker’s expertise have been noted and quoted in the ABA Journal, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, Harvard Management Update, Business Advisor, Chicago Tribune, Crain’s Chicago Business, and Attorney at Law. Prior to owning Rainmaker, he was the founder and CEO of two successful companies that specialized in legal tech, cybersecurity and communications. He is married with three children and enjoys the Arizona lifestyle, mountain biking and coaching youth sports. Rainmaker has helped more than 23,000 attorneys and law firms grow their businesses by learning and implementing its proven marketing and intake strategies. Resources mentioned in this episode Check out The Rainmaker Institute Follow The Rainmaker Institute on YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, TikTok and Instagram Connect with Philip Fairley on LinkedIn Say hello to Michelle Calcote King on X and LinkedIn Download The Rainmaker’s YouTube Optimization Guide Sponsor for this episode This episode is brought to you by Reputation Ink. Founded by Michelle Calcote King, Reputation Ink is a public relations and content marketing agency that serves professional services firms of all shapes and sizes across the United States, including corporate law firms and architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) firms.  Reputation Ink understands how sophisticated corporate buyers find and select professional services firms. For more than a decade, they have helped firms grow through thought leadership-fueled strategies, including public relations, content marketing, video marketing, social media, podcasting, marketing strategy services and more. To learn more, visit www.rep-ink.com or email them at info@rep-ink.com today.
Advancing diversity, equity and inclusion opportunities in AEC
Jan 30 2024
Advancing diversity, equity and inclusion opportunities in AEC
The architecture, engineering and construction industry is severely lagging behind in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Black workers represent 13% of the industry’s workforce but only hold 7% of its jobs. Meanwhile, white workers comprise 77% of the workforce and hold over 80% of all AEC jobs. AEC Unites, a nonprofit membership organization, was founded in 2023 to advance DEI in the industry. The organization seeks to be a resource for Black talent to identify career paths and leadership opportunities and to create sustainable opportunities for Black-owned businesses to grow and thrive. In this episode, Michelle Calcote King invites AEC Unites Executive Director Tia Perry to discuss the organization’s mission and ongoing initiatives to help workers and businesses and reflect on the challenges AEC firms face in closing diversity gaps. (Editor’s note: This interview was recorded in November 2023 and published in 2024. When Michelle and Tia say “this year” and “next year,” they’re referring to 2023 and 2024, respectively.)  Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn Who Tia Perry is About AEC Unites and the organization’s mission AEC Unites’ ongoing initiatives, including for Black talent, Black-owned businesses and student populations DEI issues that are prominent in the AEC industry  What resources exist for workers and businesses How diversity gaps can impact a company’s safety culture How to improve hiring, advancement and retention practices Impacts of unconscious bias on hiring and promotion practices, including during succession planning About our featured guest A diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) leader with over 17 years of association experience, Tia Perry is tasked with bringing the vision for AEC Unites to life by driving equity and inclusion for Black talent and Black-owned businesses in the architecture, engineering and construction community. Tia led DEI initiatives as a director at Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), providing consultative support and leadership to ABC chapters and member companies. Perry began her association career in 2015 with the Transportation Intermediaries Association. Tia is an enthusiastic mentor, volunteer and training partner in skilled trades education with the D.C. Construction Trades Foundation and is a youth basketball coach. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Old Dominion University and recently completed the diversity, equity and inclusion certificate program at the University of South Florida. Perry is also a certified unconscious bias trainer through FranklinCovey. Sponsor for this episode This episode is brought to you by Reputation Ink. Founded by Michelle Calcote King, Reputation Ink is a public relations and content marketing agency that serves professional services firms of all shapes and sizes across the United States, including corporate law firms and architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) firms.  Reputation Ink understands how sophisticated corporate buyers find and select professional services firms. For more than a decade, they have helped firms grow through thought leadership-fueled strategies, including public relations, content marketing, video marketing, social media, podcasting, marketing strategy services and more. To learn more, visit www.rep-ink.com or email them at info@rep-ink.com today.
How to run a better law firm business
Jan 16 2024
How to run a better law firm business
Running a business is hard. Now try being a lawyer on top of it all. Having spent 20 years helping law firm owners and senior partners implement strategies that turn their firms into thriving businesses, Gary Mitchell has a treasure trove of knowledge and advice to share about the subject. He and host Michelle Calcote King discuss the many facets of running an effective law firm business, including best practices for efficient management and streamlining operations, leadership excellence, succession planning, and employee engagement and retention. Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn Who is Gary Mitchell  About OnTrac Coach and its coaching programs Advice for managing partners on how to amplify their impact Why standardized processes and systems are crucial to law firm growth, scaling and profitability Common challenges law firms face with employee engagement and how to overcome them When is the best time to think about succession planning How to successfully transition lateral hires (and mistakes to avoid) Common onboarding mistakes that can decrease legal talent retention About our featured guest Gary is a highly regarded author, business coach and consultant specializing in professional service firms and small businesses. With over 18 years of experience, he helps his clients unlock their full potential and achieve personal, financial and professional freedom. Gary's approach leads his clients to unparalleled success in growth and profitability using proven strategies that encompass business development, HR, leadership, management, marketing, processes, systems, and time and organizational management. He continues to contribute to several business publications and journals and is frequently called upon to guest appear on business podcasts. Gary hosts his own podcast, “The LawBiz™.” He can be reached at gary@ontraccoach.com Resources mentioned in this episode Check out OnTrac Coach Follow OnTrac Coach on Facebook and LinkedIn Connect with Gary Mitchell on LinkedIn Say hello to Michelle Calcote King on Twitter and LinkedIn Listen to Michelle answer questions about PR for law firms on The LawBiz™ Podcast Gary’s book recommendation: “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones” Sponsor for this episode This episode is brought to you by Reputation Ink. Founded by Michelle Calcote King, Reputation Ink is a public relations and content marketing agency that serves professional services firms of all shapes and sizes across the United States, including corporate law firms and architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) firms.  Reputation Ink understands how sophisticated corporate buyers find and select professional services firms. For more than a decade, they have helped firms grow through thought leadership-fueled strategies, including public relations, content marketing, video marketing, social media, podcasting, marketing strategy services and more. To learn more, visit www.rep-ink.com or email them at info@rep-ink.com today. Transcript [00:00:00] Gary Mitchell: If growth is important, if profitability is important and you do nothing else, do this well.  [00:00:07] Announcer: Welcome to "Spill the Ink," a podcast by Reputation Ink, where we feature experts in growth and brand visibility for law firms and architecture, engineering and construction firms. Now let's get started with the show. [00:00:24] Michelle Calcote King: Hey everyone, I'm Michelle Calcote King. I'm your host and I'm also the principal and president of Reputation Ink. We're a public relations and content marketing agency for law firms and other professional services firms. To learn more, go to rep-ink.com.  As we all know, running a business isn't easy, much less when you do it alone. And with so many plates to juggle, managing a law firm can leave many law firm leaders stretched very thin. And the industry is evolving so quickly that many law firms find themselves falling behind even as they're working to catch up. So we're going to talk to the perfect person to discuss this topic. His name is Gary Mitchell. He's an author, business coach and consultant specializing in professional services firms. Gary Mitchell. And he also hosts “The LawBiz Podcast," which I've been very lucky to be a guest on. Gary offers several coaching programs for law firms through his business, OnTrac Coach. We're excited to pick his brain today. So welcome, Gary.  [00:01:18] Gary Mitchell: Thank you, Michelle. It's great to do this reciprocally. [00:01:20] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah it's fun. I'm excited about this.  Well, let's start with telling me a little bit about what you do at OnTrac Coach and your background.  [00:01:27] Gary Mitchell: Michelle, well, it's interesting how I got started with coaching lawyers — initially lawyers. I've always kind of been predicated to a career helping people. I found myself being a campaign manager for a lawyer. I had a lot of political experience and background, and I got a call one day and this lawyer candidate needed some help. And so I went and met with him and he was green. I mean, a coach's dream, really, because blank canvas and he was very eager to learn. And so I ran his nomination. He won the nomination, which in the U. S. is kind of like a primary, right? To get to be the candidate. This is on a federal level. So I became his campaign manager reluctantly for the federal campaign. And I swear I had the greatest 'Aha' moment of my life. Instead of being the person, now I was the person behind the person. And to watch him grow and evolve and become an amazing candidate partly due to what I gave him was like, "Wow!" And during that experience, one of his friends came up to me after a campaign meeting and — a former lawyer — and said, "Gary, I've seen what you've done. You have this ability to help highly intellectual people with skills they're not accustomed to. You should look at the legal industry." And after I picked my job off the floor, I began about nine months of research. I'm in Vancouver. There wasn't anything going on here. So I looked at what was going on in the U. S. and business coaching was already a fact of life back in 2006. Not so much in Canada. But then serendipity came in and the first chapter of the Legal Marketing Association outside of the United States was formed right here in Vancouver. [00:03:10] Michelle Calcote King: Oh, very cool.  [00:03:11] Gary Mitchell: Yeah, it was. I mean, it just fell into place. I'm in the midst of my research. I went and met a number of people who I'm still in touch with. In fact, many colleagues, and then I got on the board and then a couple of months later, my first article written for a legal publication. And we spoke about this when you guested on my podcast. My first article was about media relations and lawyers. So it all just came into place. So then I started coaching lawyers and I haven't looked back.  What I do at OnTrac in a nutshell, I help my clients get more freedom. More freedom in their career with fulfillment and control, more financial freedom, more life freedom. And I do this through helping them with BD, HR, leadership, marketing, and growth and profitability. That's in a nutshell what I do.  [00:03:59] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah, that's great. I know a small business owner myself, and I know law firms have very unique challenges they face.  On your website under your managing partner growth program, you mentioned small yet strategic and targeted improvements. Can you walk me through what that means and give me examples of that?  [00:04:19] Gary Mitchell: Well, first of all, what I do in the Managing Partner Growth Program is it's really focused on the managing partner. His or her role, and what impact they can have within the whole firm. So I start out with a SWOT analysis with them, not the firm. With them individually. So we look at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. And I've been around long enough to remember when the old school of thoughts around SWOT was, you know, you pick up your socks with your weaknesses, you improve them.  And then along came a gentleman by the name of Steve Jobs and turned that theory upside down. His philosophy was forget about your weaknesses, focus on your strengths, become a master and build a team around you that fill in the holes left by your weaknesses. This has been a very successful approach.  So I help law firm leaders identify what are their strengths, then help them build a team around them. Right? So that's leadership. And to fill that out, building the team is critical. And also very important is balancing their time and efforts between managing the firm and managing their own practice. In most cases, these people are still serving their own clients, not to mention growing their own practice. It's like they have two full-time jobs. So that's a big part of it.  Small improvements. My philosophy has always been, it's incredible what you can do when you make small, incremental improvements because they compound. When we think of change, and people fear change because "Oh my God, it's so much, so big." It all happens at once. Most effective change happens slowly, methodically, strategically, in small steps. And I remember having one client tell me after we worked together, and I think he posted in a testimonial, "Gary showed us how to make these incremental steps, which had a profound impact once they were compounded." So those are on, like, leadership, team building, delegating, client management, and communication, and workflow and process. Those are some of the areas making just simple tweaks, like team communication and workflow. When there's a team of lawyers and paralegals working together, [who are] meeting regularly and during that time, it was still Zoom because we were still in the pandemic, right? But meeting, communicating regularly, where are we at with this file? What are next steps? So everybody's, you know, talking together. And it's not just law firms, it's in general business, communication can be one of the biggest challenges, and it isn't that difficult. The solutions are simple. So those are some of the things, and those all impact culture ultimately.  [00:06:56] Michelle Calcote King: I love it.  [00:06:57] Gary Mitchell: Yeah.  [00:06:57] Michelle Calcote King: Well, I'm glad you mentioned processes because I wanted to ask, what are some of those systems and processes that you see in law firms that might hold them back from growing the business?  [00:07:08] Gary Mitchell: Well, actually, that's a funny question, I think, because it's the lack of the processes that hold them back in business. So instead of focusing on negative, let me turn it around and focus on positive. It's part of my DNA. I guess maybe how I found myself to be a coach. And I'll use a client example. Two co-founders, two women co-founders of a firm, now it must be 15 years back. I worked with them just after their first year. So they're still in startup, but they made some mistakes. They got some successes. They got some wins. I helped them with some small systems and processes, and then they took what little I, and I mean little, what little advice I gave them, and they actually were guests on my podcast recently, they systemized everything, templated everything, processes everything, streamlined everything. So workflow, you know, when you're doing a task over and over again, and this has been-- they've been talking about this since I started coaching in 2006, is create templates and systems so you can plug-and-play. New employees come in, new people come in, whether they be lawyers or paralegals, and there's a system and a process, and everyone's doing the same thing. Well, lo and behold, COVID hit, and then both of them went on mat leave, and one had a very serious health scare. And because those systems and templates were in place, they not only survived through these challenging times, they've continued to thrive. And, talk about freedom, they're both parents, they're both moms, and they leave their office every day at 4:30, and they don't work weekends. That's because of the systems and processes, right?  When I'm working with clients, I ask them, "Have you ever seen the movie, The Founder?" It's the story about McDonald's. It's the story about the guy after the founders came along and put the systems and processes in place, which allowed them to grow in scale. So it's not only, yeah, I know everybody talks about growth, it's simplifying things for everyone. For the lawyers, for the paralegals, most importantly, for the clients.  [00:09:09] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah. McDonald's is that great example of how systemizing things and, you know, developing those processes can really boost a business. You go into a McDonald's anywhere and you know exactly what you're going to get. [00:09:23] Gary Mitchell: I definitely have had pushback with lawyers over the years. "What are you comparing us to hamburgers?" No. Your product, your widget is you, the lawyers, the paralegals, your people, your talent. So yeah, okay. I'm kind of comparing you to hamburgers because that's their widget, that's their product, but I think to date they are still the most successful franchise on the planet and it's because that's what they did better than anyone else. And then everyone who came after them copied them, right? And it's making sure that everyone's on the same page, right? I don't mean creating robots. We tell people to have personality and their own styles, right? But when you're doing something over and over and over again, and people are recreating the wheel every step of the way, no one wins, especially the clients. If your clients aren't happy, if your clients aren't really over the moon with your services, you're not going to stay in business very long. You know, I get pushback, but when I use analogies, Michelle, I try to keep things where people can relate, right? Everybody knows McDonald's. [00:10:27] Michelle Calcote King: Well, the example I often use when I get that pushback from attorneys about, you know, highly customized and things like this is sort of I think there's a book out there called "The Checklist Manifesto," and it's surgeons. So these are surgeons who stabilize their success rates, their infection rates went down, their success rates went up when they just used checklists. So yeah, no profession can't be improved with some sort of process and templates and checklists.  I noticed that you also help firms with employee engagement. Can you tell me a little bit about the issues that some law firms face around engagement?  [00:11:06] Gary Mitchell: I'm not going to call out lawyers as being the only demons in this area. It's humans. It's humans.  [00:11:12] Michelle Calcote King: Very much so. Yeah.  [00:11:13] Gary Mitchell: We all want to press the easy button. We want the one-size-fits-all, right? It's easier. No. There is no one-size-fits-all. There's two things I would say: no one-size-fits-all and no sink-or-swim. And this is where they drop the ball and all businesses drop the ball. Like, when you put a puzzle together, Michelle, not one piece is exactly the same. And yet some people will still try and force those pieces in to make the puzzle come together. That's HR, that's team building, that's organizing any group of people beyond one. Once you go beyond one, you've got to look at individual strengths. And another thing is empowering and engaging. I'm going to give you an example. A senior partner I worked with recently was coming back to the practice after leave, and he was looking for more fulfillment in his career. And it's ironic what happened because through — I spoke about delegating earlier — through the constant, constant broken record of me on coaching calls telling him about delegating and he got it and he built a reputation within the firm as the partner to go to. The associates talk, right? He engaged them, he empowered them, he mentored them, he got them involved in the client relationships, he took them to client events. So, now the associates, instead of being, you know, in the corner at their desk, doing just the grunt work, never having any face time with clients, never having any part of the relationship, are now fully engaged. Well, how hard do you think it was for him to build his team after that?  [00:12:53] Michelle Calcote King: Right. [00:12:53] Gary Mitchell: He was like a magnet. And that is, again, that's not rocket science. That's pretty simple. And fortunately, his firm remunerates for that. For leadership, for mentoring. And so, while his individual numbers declined, his group numbers flourished. And of course, because he's spending more time. Now what happens there, clients are getting better value because you've got a second-year, third-year or fourth-year associate doing the work that previously might have been done by a partner hoarding the time and hours. So the client's happy. You've got an associate who is learning and growing in their career and in a part of the process, so they're winning. And the leader, the partner's winning because his group is winning. So the firm is winning, right?  [00:13:42] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah, absolutely.  [00:13:43] Gary Mitchell: So, I mean, I just think there's a couple of simple things. Employee engagement is, I'd say, in the top five where improvements made to have astronomical positives and that's large, large or small firms. I've seen it in both. [00:13:57] Michelle Calcote King: I can definitely understand that. And it's not a lawyer's fault. Often it's due to the nature of how firms are structured, the traditional nature of workflow within a law firm. It doesn't lend itself to collaboration very well there. So yeah, that's really important.  [00:14:13] Gary Mitchell: Part of what I do sometimes is encourage people to follow their own instincts. And his own instinct was this is where he wanted to go and I kept telling him, "That is the most successful business model." Okay, you're here — and this could be a practice group, or industry group, or the entire firm. You're here, and then you build your organization and team wide and deep, right? And so, gradually in that process, you're doing less and less of the actual legal work. You always want to be doing some of it, right? Be frontline working with clients, but less and less and focus more on the training and grooming of your people and the client management as well, making sure the clients are happy. But he had an inclination to go that way. So that helps. And as you say, most firms are not structured that way. So it's a kind of tug-of-war, right? Another challenge.  [00:15:08] Michelle Calcote King: You know, the other challenge that many law firms are facing today is succession planning, and I noticed that you help firms with that, which I can see as a critical area and something they would need help with. So when is the right time firms should be thinking about succession planning?  [00:15:25] Gary Mitchell: I'd say it's never too early to start thinking about succession planning. It should be a perpetual, constant motion. Let's use a large firm, for example. It's more bureaucratic. You've got more owners, more voices, more. But there should be a timeframe and a revolving system, in my opinion, where, you know, a managing partner is coming in for a set mandate. Because from my experience also, it's rare that a managing partner wants to stay in that position for the rest of their career.  [00:15:56] Michelle Calcote King: Right.  [00:15:57] Gary Mitchell: I've actually worked with managing partners where they transitioned back to just managing, growing their own practice after several years at the helm. Again, there is no one-size-fits-all, but consider a time limit or a term everything's flexible and the process is always moving so that when that managing partner is at the helm, they're already starting to identify and groom upcoming leaders that demonstrate the skills, demonstrate the willingness and interest in taking on leadership — not everyone does, not everyone does, right? Again we're not all the same. Firms, especially, again, they try to do everything the same for everyone. And it's like, they don't spend enough time working with the individual strengths of people, and that's how you build the most successful teams, right?  I could use all kinds of sports analogies, but there's probably a lot of people maybe listening that are not that into sports so I'll spare them. But it's like putting a sports team together, right? Not everyone is the goalie. I'm using hockey. Hockey is going on right now, but the biggest mistake is not planning at all. That's the biggest mistake. And you know, in smaller firms, I remember one time-- Like you say, when is the right time? I would say for a smaller firm owner, when you start to be thinking about your next phase of your career whatever you want to call that. You might call it retirement. You might call it next phase. You might call it semi retirement. Again, your choice. When you start thinking about it. That's the time to start planning. I remember having a client years ago and she approached me and we got started and she said, "Well, I have applied to become a provincial court judge." In Canada, you don't get elected. You apply through the process. "But that's not going to happen. So let's get started on this." Well, nine months later, it happened and there she is. And we had just begun that process. Now, she didn't walk away empty-handed. She was able to sell some of her book but had we started working, say, three years prior to that, she would have increased the value of the firm, she would have been able to put all those systems processes in place, templates to make the firm more profitable, scale it up, make it more attractive for an outside buyer, and what we were doing at the time was actually grooming from within for someone to take over succession. In her case, it wasn't bad news. She wanted to become a judge. So she became a judge. But like really, I mean, I look at so many situations where the small firm owners walk away. And like, they haven't planned ahead long enough to put those systems-- What somebody is looking for as an outside buyer is a turnkey business. As much as possible, they want to come in and take over, do the client work, and it's already a well-oiled machine. And if you're just starting to think about it Tuesday and you want to retire next month, that doesn't leave you enough time. [00:18:56] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah. And that all ties in with the systemizing the processes. That's all critical.  [00:19:04] Gary Mitchell: Everything does. Growth. Profitability. Everybody's talking about revenue. Most business owners focus everything on revenue. What about profitability, right? If you keep growing your revenues, but your profitability is not increasing, where are you going wrong? Well, in most cases, you don't have those systems and processes and templates right there.  [00:19:26] Michelle Calcote King: Exactly. [00:19:27] Gary Mitchell: They're checks and balances, right? They help people at all levels of the firm do their jobs better, which in turn makes the clients happier.  [00:19:36] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah, absolutely.   So we've been talking about transition in the selling process with firms. What are some of the things firms need to think about if they're looking to sell?  [00:19:45] Gary Mitchell: First of all, I'm glad you asked that the way you did because that is not my area of expertise. So, when it gets to that point, or before that point actually, I will introduce them to a firm broker and that firm broker will really help them with the negotiation part. My job really is to get their firm to the place of being a well-oiled machine, turnkey operation, profitable. And in turn by doing that, I help that lawyer or the team increase the value of the firm. But then I pass it off to the broker on the negotiation side. I'm still involved in the transitioning, right? Working with the leaving owner and the incoming owner, but the negotiation part I will leave up to other experts.  [00:20:31] Michelle Calcote King: Well, I think what you're doing is the real critical part, which is getting it ready for it to be a sellable product. Without that, you know it's hard to even talk about a sale. You used the word transition and I wanted to talk about transitions with lateral hires. Why is thinking about lateral hires and how to transition them into the firm important?  [00:20:52] Gary Mitchell: Wow.  I think it's the number one missed growth strategy out there right now and has been for some time. If you look at how much firms spend time, money, energy, money — I'll repeat it again, money — on marketing and trying to get new clients, it's astronomical. When you are able to attract a high level lateral partner with a book of business — a solid book of business — it makes no sense to me why you would let them sink or swim and flounder away when they arrive at your firm.  There was an article recently written about this. I wish I remembered the name. It was actually the most amazing kind of play on when you see firms who get this right, their profitability increases, like, incredibly at a much higher rate. And the rep for recruiting and retention, which goes back to recruiting, which goes back to growth. I mean, it just, again, like, I see it as an incredible growth opportunity.  Let me tell you this funny story. I was working with a client and I worked with him years ago when he ran his own firm and then he got eaten up by a major national firm, and then he moved to a new major national firm. And we were out for lunch one day and he was telling me about his onboarding experience, his first day — and this goes to what law firms are not getting right. This was a high-profile partner with a million-dollar book. Okay? A million. Coming over and his clients were extremely loyal. They stayed with him from his own firm, moved to the national firm, and they were following him to the next national firm. So that was like a guaranteed million added to the revenues of the firm. That's not shabby, right? And he knows what he's doing. You don't have to provide any training in his field or his lawyering, all of that. But they just let him show up and find his own way around his office.  He said that his assistant was one floor below him. No one, you know, even showed him-- and he has a really good sense of humor. He goes, "No one even showed me where the washroom was." And I mean, that... "Wow" is right, but that happens all the time. So what do you do? The opposite of that. The managing partner greets that new partner at the front door. Day one. "Welcome to the firm." [The managing partner] walks them around the office, introduces them to the other influential or, you know, higher-ranked partners. "This is Bob. This is Sue. It's their first day. We want to welcome them to yada, yada, LLP." They take them to their office, they introduce them to their support staff. These are simple things, right?  That's one thing, but the most critical thing that will also shorten — and this is why it's so important for growth — when that person comes in, it usually takes about two years — this is statistics that have been out there. I don't know where they are, but they have been out there for a long time — almost two years to make them profitable because the large investment-- When you're looking at that high-level, what firms are investing in recruiting, the recruiting fees that they pay to get that, signing bonuses, whatever else it is, the outlay before any money starts coming in is astronomical. So to leave them alone and sink or swim, doesn't make any sense to me at all. Provide support for pennies on the dollar, get them building those internal relationships from day one. Their other partners, the associates, their team, right?  This analogy I think everyone can relate to. Think about if you ever moved when you were a child and you had to go to a new school. [00:24:29] Michelle Calcote King: Right. Yeah. Right.  [00:24:32] Gary Mitchell: New teacher, new classmates, new curriculum, new policies, new procedures, new everything. That's a lawyer coming to a new firm. So you let them just go or you make them feel a part of it from day one. And again, what I do and work with those lawyers is, step one, is those internal relationships. Theoretically they've already done some well enough to be able to bring some or all of their book with them. So current clients wouldn't be the priority. The new internal relationships with the partners and associates is step one. And then, you know, getting to know the policies, procedures, things like that. And I've had some amazing stories about transitions. Positive, very positive, where those two years has been cut to less than one year.  [00:25:19] Michelle Calcote King: Oh, that's huge.  [00:25:20] Gary Mitchell: And they're not only profitable, but they're becoming leaders and practice group leaders.  [00:25:24] Michelle Calcote King: Oh, wow.  [00:25:24] Gary Mitchell: It's amazing what's possible, right? Like, if growth is important, if profitability is important. And you do nothing else, do this well. I think that's what the article says, too. Do this well. You know, we can't do everything, right Michelle? Like, you know as well as I do being a business owner, we'd like, we have a likable, like to-do list. Check, check, check, check, check, check, check. [00:25:47] Michelle Calcote King: So long.  [00:25:48] Gary Mitchell: Right? And it's like, okay, strategically if I can only do one thing, what would it be? I would say, especially because the craziness that we've gone under the last few years with the pandemic, with the great resignation, generational changes, and the--  [00:26:05] Michelle Calcote King: The rise of AI and tech.  [00:26:09] Gary Mitchell: Exactly.  [00:26:09] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah. It's just such a disruptive time. Yeah.  [00:26:12] Gary Mitchell: It's a hugely disruptive time, but remember what this is all about. Law firms are people. People are the most difficult part of any business. Technology's easy. Easy peasy. Press a button. Learn a new app. Blah, blah, blah. I don't want to get into AI. Again, I am not an expert. I don't know if there is one yet, but I'm definitely not. But the people part, if you focus on this one area for growth, you know, and you get a rep, guess how many unhappy lawyers are out there.  [00:26:41] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah.  [00:26:41] Gary Mitchell: And you make it a warm and fuzzy place? Lucrative. The culture is amazing, people supporting each other, they collaborate, the clients are over the moon? The impact and repercussions are incredible.  [00:26:56] Michelle Calcote King: That's fantastic, yeah. And I can see how that would be a very underlooked area for firms. So, yeah, the upside would be great.  Well, I love to end conversations with sort of a bigger question. So, tell me, are you reading anything interesting right now? [00:27:12] Gary Mitchell: As a matter of fact I'm listening to...  [00:27:15] Michelle Calcote King: Oh yeah. I do a lot of audiobooks, too. Yes.  [00:27:18] Gary Mitchell: Well, it's like, I don't know about you but having time to just sit and read.  [00:27:24] Michelle Calcote King: Very hard.  [00:27:24] Gary Mitchell: And I think there's a lot of people out there [like that]. So the new audiobook that I'm listening to is called "Atomic Habits."  [00:27:31] Michelle Calcote King: Ah, good one. [00:27:32] Gary Mitchell: It's interesting that you asked me because everything we've talked about is about new habits. And remember when you asked me at the beginning of this, what do I do? That's such an open question and it's like, well, I do a lot of things, but what does it come down to? It comes down to me teaching my clients new habits and then holding them to account to keep them up long enough where they become second nature. And those new habits sometimes are uncomfortable at the beginning, as clients will tell me. But they do them long enough, and they not only become comfortable, they can become part of their day. And so I'm loving this book. Everyone should read this book.  [00:28:12] Michelle Calcote King: It's a great one.  [00:28:12] Gary Mitchell: I mean, the analogies-- Yeah. The analogies he uses it's brilliant. And I love recommending books to other people. So that would be one I would recommend: "Atomic Habits."  [00:28:22] Michelle Calcote King: Same to me. That's my go-to. If I have a problem, I'm like, there's a book to solve this somewhere.  [00:28:27] Gary Mitchell: And it's funny because since I've posted about that everyone, all of my colleagues that have heard of it, "Oh my God. I've read it. It's such a great book. You might also want to listen to this one."  [00:28:37] Michelle Calcote King: Love it.  Well, thank you so much. We've been talking to Gary Mitchell of OnTrac Coach. So Gary, if people want to get in touch, further this conversation with you, what's the best way for them to do that? [00:28:48] Gary Mitchell: I'm on LinkedIn. I'm on social, mostly LinkedIn, but you can email me directly at gary@ontraccoach.com. But happy to be with you, Michelle, and I look forward to continuing our conversation at some point down the road.  [00:29:05] Michelle Calcote King: Yes, absolutely. Well, thank you. [00:29:09] Announcer: Thanks for listening to Spill the Ink, a podcast by Reputation Ink. We'll see you again next time, and be sure to click “Subscribe” to get future episodes
Building genuine connections as business developers and marketers
Dec 13 2023
Building genuine connections as business developers and marketers
Angels sing when marketing and business development (BD) work in harmony. Together, the departments highlight the business’s value at every stage of the buyer’s journey.  Michelle Hamilton, VP of Business Development at Vessel Architecture, talks about how BD and marketing complement each other and how to make genuine connections that go beyond transactional interactions. She and host Michelle Calcote King discuss industry trends, including artificial intelligence (AI) and LinkedIn videos. Hamilton also opens up about her background as a glass sculptor and her recent ADHD diagnosis.  Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn Who Michelle Hamilton is About Vessel Architecture and the architecture firm’s work Trends in business development and marketing How business development and marketing intersect and complement each other Tips for meeting and connecting with architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) professionals How to use social media to deepen business relationships and create talking points How Hamilton balances her glass sculpting passion and her work at Vessel Architecture How Hamilton navigates ADHD in the workplace as a C-Suite professional About our featured guest Michelle Hamilton is Vice President of Business Development at Vessel Architecture, a commercial firm renowned for crafting spaces where people flourish. Michelle's dedication to connecting people, places and ideas through creative, collaborative solutions has been a driving force throughout her 29-year career. As a leader in business development, she expertly manages strategic deployment and national relationships for senior living, multifamily, church and corporate sectors. Her skill set includes strategic planning, marketing, contract negotiations and account growth, all in pursuit of her mission to create architecture that deeply enhances the bond between spaces and its users. Beyond her professional accomplishments, Michelle is an active contributor to her community. She serves as a local board director for CREW St. Louis, an international commercial real estate organization. Michelle's commitment to empowering the next generation of professionals is also evident in her mentorship of young women embarking on careers in commercial real estate through service as the board liaison to the Young Professionals Committee and Lindenwood University Women's Leadership Board. In her downtime, Michelle channels her creative spirit as a glass sculptor. Her works are featured in books, museums, and private and public collections nationwide. See them on her website, Zaximo Studios. An energetic mother and wife, Michelle balances her artistic pursuits with her passion for health, including pilates, vegetable gardening, an appreciation of bourbon, and the practice of transcendental meditation. Reach out to her at mhamilton@vesselarchitecture.com. Resources mentioned in this episode Check out Vessel Architecture Follow Vessel Architecture on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram Connect with Michelle Hamilton on LinkedIn Say hello to Michelle Calcote King on Twitter and LinkedIn Sponsor for this episode This episode is brought to you by Reputation Ink. Founded by Michelle Calcote King, Reputation Ink is a public relations and content marketing agency that serves professional services firms of all shapes and sizes across the United States, including corporate law firms and architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) firms.  Reputation Ink understands how sophisticated corporate buyers find and select professional services firms. For more than a decade, they have helped firms grow through thought leadership-fueled strategies, including public relations, content marketing, video marketing, social media, podcasting, marketing strategy services and more. To learn more, visit www.rep-ink.com or email them at info@rep-ink.com today.
AI for law firms: The good, the bad and the future
Nov 30 2023
AI for law firms: The good, the bad and the future
Many businesses have spent the past year navigating the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace. Law firms are especially cautious due to lingering questions about the legal implications of using AI, particularly related to confidentiality and privacy concerns. Meanwhile, many professionals are exploring how AI might enhance their expertise and simplify workloads.  Jessica Aries is one of them.  Jessica is a seasoned legal marketer and founder of By Aries, a digital marketing agency specializing in the legal sector. She frequently talks about how law firms can use AI tools to enhance their operations, sharing her insight on social media and at various conferences. In this episode of “Spill the Ink,” Michelle Calcote King invites Jessica to reflect on the evolution of AI tools for legal marketers. They discuss the risks and best practices professionals should keep in mind when using them. They also talk about their favorite AI tools and analyze how AI is changing before our eyes. Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn Who is Jessica Aries and what is By Aries The evolution of AI tools, particularly for law firms How your firm can strategically leverage AI to improve workflows The risks and drawbacks of using AI as a legal professional Best practices for AI writing prompts Why smart legal marketers make the AI to ask them questions The implications surrounding watermarked AI content  A shortlist of Michelle and Jessica’s favorite AI tools About our featured guest Jessica Aries, J.D., LL.M., is a lawyer turned digital marketer who helps lawyers simplify their digital marketing to build consistent visibility and profitable practice. A former in-house legal marketer at some of the largest and fastest-growing firms in the world, Jessica understands the pressures lawyers face and strives to help them perfect their digital presence to build relationships, develop new opportunities and transform their approach to marketing in an easy and approachable way. Resources mentioned in this episode Check out By Aries Follow By Aries on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube Connect with Jessica Aries on LinkedIn Say hello to Michelle Calcote King on Twitter and LinkedIn Sponsor for this episode This episode is brought to you by Reputation Ink. Founded by Michelle Calcote King, Reputation Ink is a public relations and content marketing agency that serves professional services firms of all shapes and sizes across the United States, including corporate law firms and architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) firms.  Reputation Ink understands how sophisticated corporate buyers find and select professional services firms. For more than a decade, they have helped firms grow through thought leadership-fueled strategies, including public relations, content marketing, video marketing, social media, podcasting, marketing strategy services and more. To learn more, visit www.rep-ink.com or email them at info@rep-ink.com today. Transcript [00:00:00] Jessica Aries: AI is gonna amplify the type of marketer you are, going to amplify the type of lawyer you are. So if you're one who's going to cut corners, it's going to really exacerbate that. But if you're someone who's really going to push the tool and challenge the tool, it's going to amplify that, too, and make you a better marketer. [00:00:21]: Welcome to "Spill the Ink," a podcast by Reputation Ink where we feature experts in growth and brand visibility for law firms and architecture, engineering and construction firms. Now, let's get started with the show. [00:00:38] Michelle Calcote King: Hey everyone. I'm Michelle Calcote King. I'm your host and I'm also the principal and president of Reputation Ink. We're a public relations and content marketing agency for law firms and other professional services firms. To learn more, go to rep-ink.com.  As everyone knows, artificial intelligence has been the topic of conversation in 2023. We're all sort of navigating what it means for our jobs and how best to leverage these tools. For law firms, it can be somewhat of a tricky conversation. But some people in the field have taken a lead on this and have embraced AI and are doing really interesting things with that. Jessica Aries is one of those people. I was really fortunate to attend a session of hers at the Legal Marketing Association Midwest Regional Conference, and she was full of useful tips. Welcome to the show, Jessica.  [00:01:28] Jessica Aries: Thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here.  [00:01:31] Michelle Calcote King: I know you're a former attorney and you started your agency after a decade of working in-house at law firms. So let's start with you telling me a little bit about who you are and your firm.  [00:01:41] Jessica Aries: By Aries launched really in the pandemic when, like many, I was furloughed and had to figure it out in a hot second. I actually put up a LinkedIn post that went semi-viral within our industry where I basically just put up like a headshot and said like, "Hey, I'm a COVID-19 job seeker." And it resulted in this influx of leads to my now agency. At the time it was me working in digital marketing because there was a real gap in the market at the time. As you remember, many firms hadn't quite fully embraced digital, maybe not social media the way that they had, and social media really built my business. So a lot of what we do is social media strategy and social media marketing. We focus predominantly on LinkedIn, but we have migrated into video marketing lately and doing a lot more around new platforms, emerging platforms like TikTok and Reels and Facebook Reels. So really exploring those areas. And with that has come this need for really learning what AI can do to kind of advance and make simpler the the workflows that we had in our agency.  That's really how I got into AI. I was just looking to make things faster for us and find a way to really elevate what we were already doing and I thought, why not test it out? That's another algorithm. We're playing with the algorithms all the time. Why not test another robot? So that's how it came about. And so my agency predominantly does that. We work with lawyers and law firms to enhance and perfect their digital brands online using social media strategies and video marketing strategies. [00:03:10] Michelle Calcote King: I love that. I follow some of your videos. We do the same thing. We like to walk the talk and really do what we do for our clients for ourselves and when people ask me how we've grown, I say, "Well we do the same kind of marketing that we do for our clients," and that's really built our reputation and helped us grow, but I think you do a really good job of that. I followed you on LinkedIn for a while and your videos are especially very good. I know the law is a more conservative industry, but the way people communicate is very much so driven by a lot of these kind of trends from TikTok and things like that. My employees forced me to get on TikTok and to learn the styles more and understand, you know, cause videos are really kind of taking over social media. So yeah, love that.  So let's talk about AI tools. I know AI has been around for a while, right. And I think that was a point you made in your presentation. This stuff isn't new. It's actually, you know, being more and more incorporated, but it sort of feels like it came out of nowhere this year. How are you seeing the industry take on AI? What have been the reactions you're seeing? [00:04:11] Jessica Aries: Well, I think like anything new, there's always a lot of fear, a lot of trepidation. Like, "Am I going to get myself into trouble with my bar license?" I mean, I actually have people who ask me, "Do you write policies for firms?" And I'm like, "Actually, I try to avoid that," just because I worry about the risk of it looking in some way, shape or form in the future like I'm giving some sort of legal advice. So I'm very cognizant of the fact that in our industry in particular we have to be careful on what we're adopting and what we're taking on and how we're using client data, how we're using firm data. For me in particular, I really wanted to explore just how we internally in my agency could better leverage AI because I saw a huge opportunity. But beyond that, I saw the kind of evolution. I had played around with some of the tools that were predecessors to ChatGPT before. I'm blanking on the one right now that I use the most, but I had played with a lot of them before, had seen how some of them were-- [00:05:04] Michelle Calcote King: Like Jasper?  [00:05:05] Jessica Aries: Yes, Jasper I had played with! I saw kind of how it worked, where it had issues. And so when ChatGPT launched, which I think is really what most people think of GenAI now. Their first immediate response is ChatGPT and that's because when it became available to us, it was like taking that functionality of Jasper and giving it to us all for free. So for us, a lot of it was me trying to understand and kind of break it. I'm one of those people I love to play with it until I break it. So it was kind of challenging. What could I put into it? What would it give me back? What kind of prompts resulted in the best responses? And then how far could I take it? So I think that's where firms in particular haven't yet tested it as much and someone like me who loves to break it first is probably kind of refreshing to them to say, "Hey, I've already broken it. Here's the boundaries. Here's the pitfalls. Here's the things you don't want to step in and here's the ways to protect yourself from that."  That's really how I got into it and how I've approached it. And the way I'm seeing people in the industry now look at it is they are really wanting to understand what it can do for them, how it can impact their existing workflows, especially now that some of the kinks are getting worked out. As well as they better understand the terms of service, they better understand what kind of information they should and shouldn't be putting into it. As well as there's new tools and new advancements and even the different tiers of offerings that now allow for you to keep some of that information that would be confidential, truly confidential. There's this evolution I think right now of firms now being more interested in it and wanting to understand how they can leverage it, knowing that they don't have to jeopardize their bar license to use it.  [00:06:42] Michelle Calcote King: I do want to get into the risks, but let's start with the opportunities. What are the best opportunities for law firms and their marketing professionals with AI? What can AI do for them?  [00:06:53] Jessica Aries: Well, streamline a lot of the work we used to do in our marketing departments. I came from in-house in a marketing department where I always felt like there was more work than there was time to do all of the work. You could literally work 12-hour days and still never be done because there was another lawyer who needed your help with something. And so where I see the biggest opportunity is taking those things that are huge time sucks from our day and simplifying them. Something as simple as I have a client alert that's going out via email, I can simplify the process of creating the social media post that's going to go, the subject line, the lead in to the actual article of the client alert that I might post on our blog or somewhere else. All of that can be simplified and leveraged with ChatGPT to just make things easier and speed up that process.  But then beyond that, I think it's a great auditing tool, especially when you're asked to create a new campaign or a new idea for, let's say an office launch or the opportunity of a new industry group that's joining your firm. You can use it as a great brainstorming tool and just something to kind of verify that you didn't miss anything. It's a great way for you as a great marketer to just enhance what you're already doing. So I think there's just a lot of opportunities there, but I do like to say, too, the one negative drawback of ChatGPT or using something like that is you really have to already have those marketing skills before you start using it, because I think it amplifies the good or the bad. So if you're a great marketer, it's going to amplify that you're a great marketer. If you're not a strong marketer, it's going to amplify the fact that you don't really know your stuff. And so you've really got to spend that time honing those skills to be a great marketer first before you can really use the tool to its full advantage. That's how I'm seeing firms really leverage it and I'm seeing the great marketers get even better using it.  [00:08:46] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah, it's interesting when it first came on the scene, everyone had this like immediate fear that it would replace them, you know? And I sort of likened it to — cause I'm old enough to remember, you know, when social media came on the scene and Google and I was working back before there was an Internet — and it really just is an evolution in our work and learning how to use the tools available to us to be better at what we're already doing. I mean, surely it will replace some of those very mundane tasks that, honestly, most of us graduate out of and we're going to skip that level now. So absolutely.  Let's look at best practices when using AI. In your presentation, you kind of went through a case study and you actually had AI ask you questions. I loved that thought. But let's talk in general, best practices for using AI in your day-to-day work.  [00:09:38] Jessica Aries: My first best practice is to give AI a job. So before you sit down and just start asking it questions, I think it's important to tell the robot who it's supposed to be because sometimes we sit down and we'll just write a question to it and so it's going to pull from all over, you know, it's database of language when it responds and sometimes that's when you get the worst responses. So if you can help the robot understand what role it's supposed to be playing in this conversation, that helps you a lot. So I love to start with saying like, "Hey, you're a marketing expert at a law firm." So you're not just a marketing expert in e-comm. You're now a marketing expert at a law firm. And I think helping it set the stage of understanding what role it's supposed to play.  And then I, as you mentioned, like to have it ask me questions about me or my business or my client or whoever I'm trying to solve the problem for. And that's where I think you really get into understanding do you know enough information as a marketer to really utilize this tool? Because it's going to ask questions like, "Who is your target audience? What geography are you trying to target? What are their pain points? What are the issues? What are the objections they have when they're talking to you in a consultation?" And I think as marketers, we don't always have access to all of that information unless we go back to the lawyers and say, "Hey, so what were the objections that someone gave you the last time you pitched them in a meeting? What were their reasons why they didn't hire you?" And that makes you actually be a better marketer to say, "Why haven't I ever asked these questions before and thought about that when creating content or when creating messaging for our firm?” [00:11:12] Michelle Calcote King: I'm a big fan of being a good questioner. I did a lot of speaking for a while on the art of knowledge extraction because I do think that is a critical role as a marketer because we can't know what we don't know. Being good at drawing out the right information is a skill. A lot of people on my team are former journalists. And I find that a really important skill. So being able to utilize AI to help with that, to help that process is a really cool functionality.  Well, let's talk about risks. We talked about best practices. What are those things to avoid and risks to be aware of? [00:11:44] Jessica Aries: Anytime you're putting anything confidential into something that has a terms of service that says it's discoverable: Red flag. Like anyone who's worked in legal marketing long enough, that's a red flag, right? Understanding the terms of service of anything that you're using. Making sure you understand who owns the IP rights of the output, that's an important part, too. I did IT and privacy law. As someone who worked in that area, privacy, is a huge concern too, right? Are you putting information in there that's private information that shouldn't be shared? Names of clients? Beyond just confidential, but also things that your clients wouldn't want you to have put into something that's discoverable, for whatever reason. So there's a lot of risks in that sense and so I think having a good understanding of what should be put into the tool, what's allowable, what's not allowable, but then beyond that, also just using your brain, right? If you wouldn't broadcast it across social media, then you probably shouldn't be broadcasting it within ChatGPT, especially if you're using the free version. If you don't have the enterprise version, or you're not using one of the other tools that's a closed system.  I know a lot of firms right now are building their own systems for that exact reason, or using tools like I heard of one called Claude that's more closed. Those are ones that, from my understanding, have that ability to kind of protect that data. So if you're wanting to use some of these tools and you're not ready to pay for the enterprise level of ChatGPT to have that production, maybe look at some of those like Claude or even building your own or partnering with someone who already has built one that will close it down for you.  [00:13:15] Michelle Calcote King: And can you talk a little bit about the fact that they are basically watermarking any content created by ChatGPT? What does that mean?  [00:13:23] Jessica Aries: I actually saw that that first came to light in an article I was reading-- so we write a monthly newsletter that talks about the latest things that are happening in social and digital media and marketing. And I saw a New York Times article that was talking about how these systems, they are created by a library of content that's uploaded into them and then digested, basically, and spit out. Well, that content has to be written by humans. And so the system doesn't want to have, you know, the people who created ChatGPT OpenAI, they do not want their system to be filled with AI-generated content. So what they're doing is they're watermarking the outputs that they're putting. They're putting the words in a certain order to be able to scan and be able to see, "Okay, this is AI-generated content," so they don't input back into the system content that was GenAI created. They have to preserve the integrity of their systems.  And so, you have to be really careful of representing that this content is something I wrote and is my intellectual property and yada yada yada without realizing that this is happening on the back end. They are watermarking this data, they are using it, certain word structures, so that it signifies to the system that that is not something that's human written, and thus doesn't corrupt their system; and could be used later in the future, it wouldn't surprise me if there's tools to be able to scan and tell us, then everyone, all of us, and out you, if you're claiming something's written by you, and is really AI-generated. [00:14:52] Michelle Calcote King: Fascinating. Which has implications then for copyright, I would assume.  [00:14:56] Jessica Aries: Oh, yeah. Copyright. Also, if you're claiming you're not using GenAI with your client's work, and you are, big, huge issue there. Your privacy policies, too. And, "Hello, privacy lawyer over here," is always very conscious of what you're saying your policy is and then how you're actually executing your workload. So you have to be really careful with all of those areas.  [00:15:20] Michelle Calcote King: So let's talk tools. What are some of your favorite tools that you recommend? So let's say you're a marketer at a law firm and you really haven't gotten into AI yet and you want to improve your workflow. What would be some of the tools you'd recommend they check out? [00:15:35] Jessica Aries: Well, so I always recommend that if you're a marketer working in-house, you ask if you're, first of all, allowed to use any firm data when creating marketing materials. If there's a policy, follow that.  Beyond that, if your firm's very strict and is like, "You can't use ChatGPT at all," then that's where I'd say, go to your personal profiles and things like LinkedIn and experiment with tools like ChatGPT. You know, test it out when writing your own LinkedIn bio and see what it gives you. Test it out with writing some LinkedIn posts to see what the outputs look like. Things like that.  If your firm allows you to use firm data, then there's a lot of different tools I would recommend playing with. The first one, obviously ChatGPT, which is the most popular, but I do recommend upgrading to ChatGPT-4. The outputs are so much better and it has a much larger memory. What that means is it can iterate on itself. You can have it ask you those questions, you can respond to those questions. It will recall what you had said in response to those so that you can get a better response in the iterations of your inputs and outputs. Which if you haven't used ChatGPT, go play with it so you can understand what I mean by that. It basically responds like you're chatting with someone. And so if you want a more sophisticated output, ChatGPT-4 has a better memory to be able to actually give you better outputs.  Beyond that, the other tools that I'm really loving, I love AI for data. So I'm a big user of wanting to analyze data and slice and dice it in different ways and I used to be one of those people who sat for long periods of time in pivot tables, slicing and dicing data to better understand what strategies are working for my clients, what aren't. And even the reporting that I'd get from some really advanced tools was never enough for me, so that's where something like ChatGPT with its plugin with I think it's code interpreter* will allow you to upload data and slice and dice it in different ways. So ChatGPT for sure. Beyond that, we do a ton of video content. So I'm using a lot of video tools like Video.ai is my favorite by far. If you have, you know, a lawyer who makes a lot of webinars and you want to slice and dice them into smaller snippets that can be used on LinkedIn, on Instagram, on wherever, whatever platform you want to put them on, Video.ai is my, my favorite tool. It'll add captions, it'll highlight the places that are, you know, best for potential engagement for you. So that's a tool I really love. And we use Descript a lot as well because we do so much video editing.  [00:18:08] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah we use that for our podcast and video as well. Yep.  [00:18:11] Jessica Aries: It's just so easy and it basically takes your video content and makes it like a Word document. And so you can edit your video content like a Word document whereas before having to open something like Adobe Premiere-- I mean, I have a multimedia design team that would do that, but it's still, like, just the opening of the application itself is a heavy lift on your computer. So to be able to use something like Descript is really the way to go if you're trying to edit and can even help do voiceovers and things like that. Those are some of my favorite tools and tools that I probably use every single-- actually I use them every single day in some way, shape or form, even though I'm not supposed to be editing my own videos, I'm always like, "Oh! I just want to adjust this."  [00:18:51] Michelle Calcote King: Right. You mentioned one that I played +around with, which I loved. I think it's called Crystal AI. I love personality tests and assessment. I just find them fascinating. And I stumbled upon Crystal a couple of years ago and just ran it on friends and a few of my employees and the accuracy was scary. Can you talk a little bit about that?  [00:19:11] Jessica Aries: Yeah, so that's part of the like LinkedIn tools, the business development side. In that presentation, I tried to think for the marketing and the BD side, cause I also used to work in business development. I actually managed BD tech for a global firm. And I just remember how I always craved more information. And so, some of the AI tools I had showcased, one was Crystal AI, which basically scans public LinkedIn profiles and gives you a high-level DiSC assessment on that person so you know how to approach communicating with them. If you haven't played with DiSC, anyone here who's like, "What's a DiSC assessment?" It's basically a personality assessment that will tell you how to have better conversations, what kind of information is going to resonate with people when you're talking to them. I'm a very visual person, so it always comes back with all these cues that when you're talking to me, visuals work better. But for others, it might be data, or it might be, you know, paragraphs, or it might be case studies. So tools like Crystal give you insights into the people who you're potentially pitching, which is very powerful.  Another tool that I love and use almost every day that I can't believe I didn't mention already is Taplio, which essentially works with LinkedIn and it's a tool that it has a lot of capabilities, but my favorite lately that it's launched is the ability to create content for you. GenAI-generated LinkedIn posts for you based on your past content. So it scans your past content and suggests different LinkedIn posts to share, and I use that one almost every day for idea generation. Now I do have to edit them. They're not perfect, but it's a great starting point and it saves me a ton of time. And they actually now just released a carousel generator, which is amazing. So if you've written a blog post or something and you don't have a graphic design team or you don't have-- graphic design doesn't have the time to create a carousel post for you, you can take the URL from your blog post, your article, whatever it is, and paste it into Taplio and it will generate a carousel post for you in your brand colors instantly, and then upload it to LinkedIn for you. It's crazy.  [00:21:13] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah, that's wild. I remember Taplio from your presentation, especially the carousel functionality. That's fantastic.  Well, this has been fantastic. Is there any final thought around AI that you'd like to leave our listeners with?  [00:21:29] Jessica Aries: I think my biggest reminder and the thing that I actually started the presentation off with that you attended, but the thing that I'm becoming most known for is saying that AI is like makeup and the sense that it should enhance what you have. It shouldn't cover it up. So remember that AI is going to amplify the type of marketer you are, going to amplify the type of lawyer you are. So if you're one who's going to cut corners, it's going to really exacerbate that. But if you're someone who's really going to push the tool and challenge the tool, it's going to amplify that, too, and make you a better marketer. So use it to enhance what you're doing. Use it to enhance what you're doing in your legal work. And, you know, don't fall afoul of any of those confidentiality rules for your firm or those privacy rules for your clients.  [00:22:15] Michelle Calcote King: So we've been talking to Jessica Aries of By Aries. So if people wanted to get in touch with you and learn more, where's the best place for them to go?  [00:22:22] Jessica Aries: Well, I'm always on LinkedIn, I feel like every day. So please reach out via LinkedIn or my website's a great place. You can find my TikTok there, my reels, all my video content and YouTube is another great place. I make long form videos there, too, on different topics. So if you're someone who really likes to get gritty and digest a topic in full, check out our YouTube channel. That's @ByAries marketing.  [00:22:43] Michelle Calcote King: Thank you so much.  [00:22:45] Jessica Aries: Thank you. [00:22:45]: Thanks for listening to Spill the Ink, a podcast by Reputation Ink. We'll see you again next time and be sure to click "Subscribe" to get future episodes.
How AEC firms can use employee phone videos to fuel connection and engagement
Nov 15 2023
How AEC firms can use employee phone videos to fuel connection and engagement
Architecture, engineering and construction firms are increasingly integrating video content into their marketing strategies. Thanks to smartphones, AEC firms don’t need expensive equipment or large production crews to create high-quality videos. Field professionals can now use their phones to capture on-site perspectives, resulting in authentic and engaging behind-the-scenes content. Jessica Whitlock, a studio leader at RS&H, was one of the trailblazers in her firm’s video initiative. She shares her experience launching the initiative in this episode of “Spill the Ink.” Michelle Calcote King interviews her about the role of employee-generated videos in supporting RS&H's brand and marketing efforts. They discuss how to get started, offer tips for shooting and editing great videos, and explore how to get buy-in from employees and clients. They also touch on must-have equipment and ways marketers can enhance collaboration with field professionals. Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn Who is Jessica Whitlock and what is RS&H Why RS&H started creating videos for social media How they earned buy-in and rallied support from employees and clients to shoot on-site videos How to get busy field professionals to participate and contribute content How to train employees to shoot high-quality videos on-site  What equipment and apps are needed to shoot and produce videos How employee videos contribute to building RS&H’s company culture and brand Tips for enhancing collaboration between marketing and field professionals About our featured guest Jessica Whitlock, NCIDQ, CHID, IIDA, is a Healthcare Studio Leader at RS&H with over 11 years of experience in healthcare interior design, architecture and project management. She is a seasoned design professional with a bachelor’s degree in interior design. Jessica is NCIDQ Certified and holds a Florida Registration in Interior Design. She is also AAHID certified and a member of the International Interior Design Association, Women in Healthcare and Association of Medical Facility Professionals. Jessica’s experience ranges from acute care, outpatient care, behavioral healthcare, women’s specialty care and oncology care. Resources mentioned in this episode Check out RS&H Follow RS&H on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram Connect with Jessica Whitlock on LinkedIn Say hello to Michelle Calcote King on Twitter and LinkedIn Check out the videos mentioned in the episode: “A Day in the Life” and “Live On-Site with RS&H” Sponsor for this episode This episode is brought to you by Reputation Ink. Founded by Michelle Calcote King, Reputation Ink is a public relations and content marketing agency that serves professional services firms of all shapes and sizes across the United States, including corporate law firms and architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) firms.  Reputation Ink understands how sophisticated corporate buyers find and select professional services firms. For more than a decade, they have helped firms grow through thought leadership-fueled strategies, including public relations, content marketing, video marketing, social media, podcasting, marketing strategy services and more. To learn more visit www.rep-ink.com or email them at info@rep-ink.com today. Transcript [00:00:00] Jessica Whitlock: We are a society that's looking for quick information and digesting it quickly. So how do we get them to stop scrolling? And it's really those 'Wow' moments in a very quick and digestive way, but also authentic. I really believe that the next chapter of marketing is showing things in a very authentic way. [00:00:20]: Welcome to "Spill the Ink," a podcast by Reputation Ink, where we feature experts in growth and brand visibility for law firms and architecture, engineering and construction firms. Now, let's get started with the show. [00:00:37] Michelle Calcote King: Hi, everyone. I'm Michelle Calcote King. I'm your host, and I'm the principal and president of Reputation Ink. We're a public relations and content marketing agency for professional services firms, including architecture, engineering and construction firms. To learn more, go to rep-ink.com. One of the great and unique things about the architecture, engineering and construction industry is that there are plenty of marketing visuals to work with. You know, there's schematics, construction sites, finished buildings, you name it. And with today's advanced technology in-the-field employees are one of your best resources for capturing pictures and videos that help us marketers tell the story that we need to tell. And really all your employees need is the smartphone in their pockets.  Today, we're talking to Jessica Whitlock. She's the Orlando studio leader at RS&H, and she's here to share a little bit about how her team is using employee videos to generate great content for the firm, and we might pick her brain on a few other topics, too. Thanks for being here today.  [00:01:36] Jessica Whitlock: Thank you. I'm excited.  [00:01:38] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah. Well, let's start with, just tell me a little bit about your role at RS&H and your career.  [00:01:43] Jessica Whitlock: Yeah, absolutely. So, I am the Orlando Studio Leader for RS&H, and RS&H, we are an architecture, engineering and consulting firm. We're nationwide with headquarters in Jacksonville, Florida. We've been in business--  [00:01:54] Michelle Calcote King: that's where I'm based.  [00:01:55] Jessica Whitlock: Yeah, perfect. Yes. So, and we've been in business for over 80 years. So we really have that history and that trust with our clients. My background is actually in interior design, and then as I got to RS&H, it started to kind of flourish and go into different markets, which I'm super excited about. And then our Orlando office actually we focus most of our attention on healthcare. So my attention and for a majority of my career has always been healthcare, specifically for architecture.  [00:02:23] Michelle Calcote King: That's great. Yeah. Let's talk about getting employees engaged, and using their own footage for those marketing initiatives. Like I saw you've done a lot of, I think you call it "Live Onsite with RS&H." Just tell me a little bit about what you're doing and how it's been working so far.  [00:02:39] Jessica Whitlock: We've started this journey really recently and it sort of became a very organic way of how we kind of fell into it. So I was actually on-site for one of our projects that we were finishing up, and any architect or designer knows that as you go into the end of your project, you're pretty much on-site for multiple days in a row for about two weeks or more. And I was on-site during that time, and I was taking, of course, all my calls and marketing meetings from the site.  And one marketing meeting I had, I was on-site and I shared my camera and so they could see, you know, all the commotion and all of this stuff going on in the background, and they were just super intrigued. "Where are you? What's going on?" And so I actually picked up my laptop and just started to walk them around the project. In that moment was when we had this like, "Aha." This moment of, "Hmm. Well, we are this interested in it. I bet everyone else would be, too." And we started to talk about how we really don't see that kind of dynamic type of content from other architecture firms and how we could really use this to set ourselves apart. You know, RS&H we've also started kind of at the same time, some other initiatives around a very similar content and one is called "Mentor Minute," which is another content series that another one of our associates is creating. Just really quick videos on mentorship within the architecture and engineering industry to younger associates coming up. [00:04:00] Michelle Calcote King: Very cool.  [00:04:01] Jessica Whitlock: Yeah, and then RS&H also rolled out recently "A Day in the Life" where they follow their different associates around in different markets. You could be in buildings or you can be in transportation. And it's a really quick video. They let them know this is basically the day in the life of an engineer or an architect. So, we've recently started to see really good positive feedback from this type of, kind of, content movement on social media.  [00:04:23] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah, it really is. Well, one, it's amazing. I just returned from a bucket list vacation in Egypt last week.  [00:04:29] Jessica Whitlock: Oh my gosh! That's amazing!  [00:04:31] Michelle Calcote King: It was amazing. You know, talk about like amazing visuals and everything, but it really is amazing to go on these vacations now and just use your phone, you know? There's no need for another camera. Because I'm old enough to remember, you know, having a bigger camera, and taking film to get printed and that kind of thing.  [00:04:48] Jessica Whitlock: And just hoping it turned out good. You're like, "I hope I got that picture I wanted." [00:04:51] Michelle Calcote King: Right. Yeah. Yeah. And not being able to check it, you know, right in the field. So what was your experience getting buy-in? Were there any concerns from either the marketing team or leadership? [00:05:02] Jessica Whitlock: So I think when it comes to buy-in, my experience has been based on relationships. The stronger your relationships are, the easier the buy-in is going to be, and that's for external and internal purposes. So I have a really strong relationship with our marketing team. Our marketing team is amazing. They don't silo themselves. They make sure they work with all of our different teams. And then when it comes to the client, we have really strong relationships with our clients. So getting buy in from them is also a really simple task. And this may not be the case for every single project or every single client, especially some of those projects that, you know, the information they don't want it to be public until later on. So there's only very specific projects we can, you know, make sure we do it with; make sure we're not breaking any type of NDAs or anything like that. But it's really more based on relationships than anything. [00:05:48] Michelle Calcote King: Got it. Yeah, that's smart. Well, and also having someone in your role who respects marketing, seems to really understand marketing and work well with them. That's critical to something like that.  [00:06:00] Jessica Whitlock: And typically the clients, you know, they're just as excited as we are. And so they're excited, they're usually like, "Yeah, let's do it!" And they want to push it through as well. So, we tend to have pretty good support in that aspect because we're all in the, you know, sharing the same boat and we all have the same outcome and value around it.  [00:06:20] Michelle Calcote King: That's what I always tell clients. I always say, "You'd be surprised at, you know, until you ask, you don't know." We have some clients that really want to protect that client relationship at all costs, which I understand. And so they might be a little fearful of asking, you know, "Can we shoot video? Can we do this?" My advice is you'd really be surprised how much they, too, want to share the story. And obviously there is a time and place when confidentiality is key. It might be some proprietary technology you don't want to show that kind of thing, but yeah, it's having that conversation. Do you give your team or have you done any kind of training to kind of make sure they're capturing the right thing? How do you kind of make sure you're getting what you want and they're delivering the kind of content that you want?  [00:07:03] Jessica Whitlock: That's an interesting question. When we first started this, you know, I'm not savvy when it comes to making different videos and things like that. But when marketing asked me to kind of start this campaign and this endeavor, I kind of went in full headfirst into the deep end because I was really behind it.  I started to work with them to learn how to quickly make these videos, which apps are going to be the most beneficial to me, which is going to be the best ones for editing. And they really helped me with that so that I could create these, honestly, on the spot, push them through my channels, and then we share them together through both my personal channels on LinkedIn, as well as the company channels. So they kind of worked with me on how we share that content, and they've also showed me a lot of cool tips and tricks I wouldn't have known before. And so it was kind of a really collaborative effort and learning to put those things together that you know, I'll admit I'm now personally using in my own personal different Instagram posts and contents and things like that.  [00:08:01] Michelle Calcote King: That's awesome. Can you share some of those apps or tips that have been particularly helpful?  [00:08:07] Jessica Whitlock: My first content I pushed through after we had this 'Aha' moment, I was very nervous about it. And so I was like, "I don't know. I haven't really done this before." So I created a video and I just sent it to marketing like, "You guys just make it look good." And when I got it back it looked amazing and so they were able to kind of like point out the different things of how they cut it and what to look for. The biggest thing I've learned is making sure your video really shouldn't be over a minute and a half. If it's over a minute and a half, you just lost your audience. And so that was something I learned through them. Also making sure that the music you set behind it and your captions and things are going to be something that as people are scrolling, because we're a scrolling generation, what's going to make them stop, even if it's just for a few seconds and pay attention to your content? They were able to kind of give me tips around that. I was able to download like a film app where it actually allows me to take the video, put it into that app, make all my cuts, apply the music, and make it a little bit more customizable instead of just using, you know, reel templates that you would see on Instagram or Facebook. Actually being able to create it the exact way you want it to be able to show the content in the way that you want people to perceive it.  [00:09:24] Michelle Calcote King: That's great. And do you use any tech other than your phone? Are you thinking about lighting or lapel mics, that kind of thing?  [00:09:33] Jessica Whitlock: That's like a good thought. We actually only use our phones and we do that on purpose. We've thought about what would we do if we took it to the next level? And then I kind of was like, "You know, I really don't want to." Not because it's more work or it's more equipment, but it starts to make it kind of less authentic.  [00:09:49] Michelle Calcote King: Right, a little too polished. [00:09:50] Jessica Whitlock: It's a little too polished. And if we think about what our different generations are really craving these days, they are really craving essence of connection, but in a very authentic way. And so if you go on to different architectural firm social medias, you'll start to see a lot of it's static and a lot of it is either post-project professional polished photography or it's polished renderings. But what about that in between? What about the process? What about the construction? The thing that everyone wants to see and be a part of? How does it get built? What does that look like? And so being able to go in with just a phone and really show the authentic environment of that process is, I think, really unique and it's what people are really wanting to see is something different. It's quick and it's dynamic.  [00:10:45] Michelle Calcote King: Mm-hmm. Yeah, absolutely. So how are you expanding this? So you talked about the mentor videos. Are there other folks like you in similar roles that you're now going, "Hey, you know, if you're going to be at this site, here's what we're doing." How are you kind of rolling that out?  [00:11:02] Jessica Whitlock: Our marketing team and myself and some of the other people who started to take on this initiative, even though they're not labeled 'marketing,' it's all about how do you encourage the associates to stop and take content? And I think a lot of it is streamlining the process. How do we streamline this process? So if we want our associates to really get involved and taking a lot of this, how do we as a company provide them with templates and resources, as well as instructions to make it easier on them?  I'm the type of person who loves to do it myself and I find it fascinating, but not everyone's like that. So our company is actually taking a deeper look into creating a program and creating resources on our own to provide to our associates so that when they're on-site, you know, here's a quick little template. If you want to take photos or a video, just put it in this app or this system that we've already pre-created for you with all the branding needed and you can just spit it out. Or if you get content, just send it to marketing and they put it together for you and they push it out.  And so it's giving them different types of resources, so it makes their lives easier because what's going to happen is if you try to encourage associates to do those things, it takes time. You know, it takes time putting content together. So how do we streamline that process? And that's what we're working on now. And we're really excited about it.  [00:12:22] Michelle Calcote King: Do you find that, and this is kind of a loaded question because I know how I've found it with clients, that it kind of it empowers people-- It makes them feel good about themselves to kind of be the person to have kind of visibility on social media with regards to their job or have their job share the content that they're creating? Especially younger people who are used to this and have grown up with this kind of life where social media is kind of central to everything. Do you find that it's kind of empowering and almost like an HR tool?  [00:12:53] Jessica Whitlock: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. Because everyone likes when they post on Instagram and they tag a restaurant and then they see that restaurant, you know, share it in stories, your heart just bursts. And it doesn't matter if two people looked at it or if a million people looked at it. It was the fact that they took notice and they really liked how you were promoting them and they were supporting you. It's not only very uplifting and encouraging to our entire associate team, but it's also, you know, how do you encourage them to want to be a part of the face of the brand? [00:13:30] Michelle Calcote King: Right.  [00:13:30] Jessica Whitlock: You know? They want to be a part of that vision. They want to be a part of that brand. And it also shows to our clients our entire breadth of our team. And they get to see all these different faces that maybe they don't get to see every single day, but they get to see it through social media. It really kind of opens the door of like, "Wow their team is really expansive. I had no idea." Or, "I didn't know that person was, you know, an aerospace engineer." And get to see a little bit more about our company that maybe they're only seeing a little bit of part of, but now they get to see, you know, everything that we can do and what we're capable of. [00:14:05] Michelle Calcote King: I love that. That's really fantastic.  This is a podcast on marketing for AEC industry. Since you do collaborate so well with your marketing team, how have you been able to build that great relationship so maybe if there's a marketer out there that's trying to build better relationships with studio leaders like yourself, what's been the kind of key to you working effectively with them? [00:14:27] Jessica Whitlock: I would 100-percent say, do not work in a silo. We are a connected community and we seek that out. And so when marketers are, especially in the architecture and design industry, when you're trying to put together content, your designers and architects will know exactly what the clients are wanting to see and needing to see from a branding perspective as well as project styles. Everyone tends to have their style when they put out their content showing brand and different types of projects and your designers and your architects will be the ones that be able to tell you, "Okay, we know what they're looking for. This is the way that it needs to be." And working together and collaboratively from an early stage — that's always key, from an early stage — really creates a strong partnership and so when you put out these different contents, you're able to ensure that what you're putting out is exactly what your audience is looking for.  [00:15:25] Michelle Calcote King: Fantastic advice.  Would love to hear just as a final note before we go, and I know you're not a marketer, but since you are involved, what's the future for architecture, engineering firms, you know, building brand visibility, engaging with audiences? What trends do you see happening? [00:15:42] Jessica Whitlock: I do think that architecture marketing has always relied on relationships and those 'Wow' moments to really capture and convey the expertise that we're really trying to get out there, and that's not going away. It's not going to go away. However, these tactics evolve into these quick, digestible, authentic moments. It's kind of like guerrilla marketing. And I'm not sure if you're familiar with guerrilla marketing. It started in the early millennium and it really grew in popularity as social media started to gain in popularity. And it's these really interactive and innovative and unconventional marketing tactics to grab the attention of our audience in a very quick way. Again, going back to the comment I made about the scrolling, we are a society that's looking for quick information and digesting it quickly. So, how do we get them to stop scrolling? And it's really those 'Wow' moments in a very quick and digestive way, but also authentic. I really believe that the next chapter of marketing is showing things in a very authentic way. If you're on Instagram, you'll see, you know, these stories where it's like the Instagram moment, but what actually really happened?  [00:16:52] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah. Yeah.  [00:16:53] Jessica Whitlock: What's grabbing you is not the Instagram moment. What's grabbing you is what really happened. Because that's the authentic lens is pulling back the curtain and showing, "This is reality." And people want that connection to that. They're done with the polished, you know, kind of overexposed content. They want to have real authentic connections with people. [00:17:16] Michelle Calcote King: I've seen a lot of writing about that, especially with AI and deepfakes and filters on pictures that we are kind of coming a little full circle to people going, "But what's really real?" That's a really fantastic point. So, yeah.  Well, thank you so much for joining me to talk about this. We'll probably put up a few links on the podcast page to some of the videos you've done, because they are really great examples of how to do this well. But if anybody wants to reach out to you and talk to you a little bit more about this, what would be the best way for them to do that? [00:17:47] Jessica Whitlock: I would say right through my email, which is jessica.whitlock@rsandh.com.  [00:17:53] Michelle Calcote King: Awesome. Well, thank you so much.  [00:17:54] Jessica Whitlock: Thank you.  [00:17:57]: Thanks for listening to "Spill the Ink," a podcast by Reputation Ink. We'll see you again next time, and be sure to click 'Subscribe' to get future episodes.
Architecture marketer spotlight: Building client experience into a firm’s brand
Oct 30 2023
Architecture marketer spotlight: Building client experience into a firm’s brand
Jennifer Sebranek helped shape GBBN Architects’s marketing into a vibrant, creative and attention-grabbing masterpiece — much like the buildings the firm’s architects design. Their success truly cemented as the firm focused on building a client-first brand, which Jennifer refers to as GBBN’s “You, not us” approach. It captures GBBN’s unwavering commitment to prioritize the client experience and foster lasting connections with the built environment, clients, project partners and each other. Michelle Calcote King invites Jennifer to share insights into GBBN’s marketing approach and the trends shaping its future. In this episode of “Spill the Ink,” they underscore the significance of an authentic brand identity and personable writing. Michelle and Jennifer also explore how GBBN integrates video, public relations and email marketing into its overall strategy. Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn Who is Jennifer Sebranek and what is GBBN Architects GBBN’s “You, not us” approach How GBBN’s brand has transformed over the years How GBBN uses social media to give audiences a “peek behind the curtain” The role of video in architecture marketing The benefits of public relations for an architecture firm How GBBN leverages email marketing to stay top of mind with prospective and current clients Why architecture marketers should invest in elevating the client experience How to get the most out of professional associations like the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) About our featured guest Jennifer oversees GBBN’s award-winning marketing department and directs communications and public relations initiatives across all markets and offices. She’s a flexible and patient consensus-builder who works with her team, firm leadership and a growing workforce in the United States and China to ensure that GBBN’s diverse, creative voices share an authentic and cohesive brand message. Her ability to listen, empathize and consider multiple points of view is informed by all the places she’s called home—from her rural roots in North Carolina to time spent living in Chicago, England and Cincinnati. Jennifer is a past president of the Greater Cincinnati chapter of the Society for Marketing Professional Services, where she has also been recognized as “Marketer of the Year.” She was named a 2023 Cincinnati Business Courier's “Women Who Mean Business,” and she is frequently invited to present her marketing insights at conferences, including the SMPS Pinnacle Experience and the Cincinnati Public Relations Society of America Media Day Conference. Resources mentioned in this episode Check out GBBN Architects Follow GBBN on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram Connect with Jennifer Sebranek on LinkedIn Say hello to Michelle Calcote King on Twitter and LinkedIn Check out The Reel GBBN Sponsor for this episode This episode is brought to you by Reputation Ink. Founded by Michelle Calcote King, Reputation Ink is a public relations and content marketing agency that serves professional services firms of all shapes and sizes across the United States, including corporate law firms and architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) firms.  Reputation Ink understands how sophisticated corporate buyers find and select professional services firms. For more than a decade, they have helped firms grow through thought leadership-fueled strategies, including public relations, content marketing, video marketing, social media, podcasting, marketing strategy services and more. To learn more, visit www.rep-ink.com or email them at info@rep-ink.com today. Transcript [00:00:00] Jennifer Sebranek: We have had a time period where firms were so busy, backlog was at the highest it's ever been, we also had the COVID pandemic where people weren't able to meet face-to-face. So you've got busyness and you don't have that one-on-one time. And I think in that time period, it was really hard to connect with your clients and to build these relationships that help get you that next project or help them become advocates for your brand. So for us, we are really focused on going back to the basics of the client experience.  [00:00:33]: Welcome to "Spill the Ink," a podcast by Reputation Ink where we feature experts in growth and brand visibility for law firms and architecture, engineering and construction firms. Now, let's get started with the show. [00:00:51] Michelle Calcote King: Hi, everyone. I'm Michelle Calcote King. I'm your host, and I'm also the principal and president of Reputation Ink. We're a public relations and marketing agency for architecture, engineering and construction firms and other professional services firms. To learn more, go to rep-ink.com. Is there such a thing as a right way to market an architecture firm? Which strategies work? Which don't? What's up and coming for the industry that we should all be talking about? That's what we'll talk about today as we continue our series of interviews with leading architecture firm marketers.  So I'd like to welcome Jennifer Sebranek to the podcast. She's the principal and chief marketing officer at GBBN Architects. So excited to have you here today, Jennifer.  [00:01:33] Jennifer Sebranek: I am so excited to be here as well.  [00:01:35] Michelle Calcote King: Awesome. And I hope I nailed your name right?  [00:01:38] Jennifer Sebranek: Perfect. It was perfect. Yes. Yes. Yes.  [00:01:40] Michelle Calcote King: Well, let's start off, just tell me a little bit about your career and you know, sort of how you ended up in this field and at GBBN. [00:01:47] Jennifer Sebranek: Sure. I have been in the AEC industry for 15 years now. It's amazing how quickly that ticks up on you. And I ended up here after relocating to Cincinnati. And I didn't really know about this as a specialty in marketing. I had a marketing background, had been in the furniture industry, but I found myself working for a developer. And then after a couple of years there, jumped over to the architecture side.  And why I love architecture is because at the end of the day, you get to see a physical manifestation of the work that you did. It comes out in a building or a space or revitalization. Whatever it is, you get to see it, you get to touch it, and it really represents all the work that not only the architects and the construction companies did and engineers, but it also represents all the work that the marketing teams and the business development professionals did to make that happen.  I've been at GBBN for ten years now, and we have really been focused on sharing our story about how we are positively affecting our clients. How are the things that we do as architects making our clients more successful, helping them hit their goals? And we're focused in higher education, community development, healthcare, as well as the arts, and we have a technology team.  [00:03:08] Michelle Calcote King: That's great. I've got some specific questions, but if someone were to say, you know, "Tell me, what's your approach to marketing and business development for GBBN?" Could you sum that up for us? [00:03:19] Jennifer Sebranek: Yes. I like to talk about us being focused on, "You, not us." So our marketing and business development approaches are always centered around our clients, our potential clients, our partners, and how we're helping them surface their issues and find solutions through space.  At our firm, we do have two separate marketing and business development approaches. Marketing is all about awareness, making sure that everybody is able to learn about us and think about would we be a good partner for them. And then, of course, business development is all about relationships, right? How are we cultivating those relationships?  Both are really centered on the voice of our clients. What are they up against? How can we help them? How can we make them look good to their bosses? What's really working for us is really focusing on them and their issues versus us as architects and what we're doing.  [00:04:16] Michelle Calcote King: I got to tell you, I love your brand and also just sort of your brand voice. You're kind of like a little bit edgy. It's different. Can you tell me a little bit about the brand and the brand voice and sort of how you developed that? Was it hard to kind of be able to push the needle a little bit with that?  [00:04:33] Jennifer Sebranek: Yeah, so our brand is five years old this year. And it was about a journey of about eight years to deploy that new brand. We are very fortunate at GBBN that our leadership, we believe in the value of marketing and business development.  [00:04:48] Michelle Calcote King: I could tell, yeah. You can really tell that. Yeah, absolutely.  [00:04:52] Jennifer Sebranek: And it's very rare sometimes to have your CEO that absolutely — and our CEO, Matthew Schottelkotte — he understands that, "Hey, we're architects and we do that well, but we need people to really help us tell our story because we like to geek out on butt glazing and facade system, and our clients probably don't want to geek out about that." So we said, "How can our brand really reflects who we are and what we do for our clients?"  So we started first with really making sure that we were aligned as a leadership about who is GBBN, what do we stand for. So, we rewrote our guiding principles. We rewrote our mission statement. We really aligned on that. And then, the next step that we did was we created what is called a brand plan, and that is really starting to surface how are we different? What are the adjectives that describe our firm? How do we like to communicate with our clients? We went through that activity, and then we turned it over to an external agent feed to help us really bring those words to life. That didn't only mean just the visual, the logo, the brand look, but also what are the words that we're using so that we're making sure at the end of the day, we're connecting with the clients and what they care about.  So the brand has been really fun. So, five years and we've really tried to make sure that we evolve it to stay current with what we're learning about our clients, learning about what's working and not working. We have the most incredible marketing team here. When we rebranded, we made the strategic decision to hire a writer to help us surface those issues. It has been so successful that we hired another writer. We also have two graphic designers, a marketing manager, a marketing coordinator, and then myself. And the team really works together day in and day out to do proposals, but also to think about what is our social media campaign, how are we doing video? What are we doing to really connect to today's client and tomorrow's clients?  [00:06:47] Michelle Calcote King: Love that. Yeah, you can really tell. We work across professional services firms and our other market that we work a lot with this law firms. So architecture firms tend to push the needle in creativity, but I felt like yours really stood out. And as I was kind of reading through your social media, you often find this very stuffy, overly formal, corporatey language, and you don't have that. You have a very personable, "We're people here," kind of talking, kind of feel to it. Was that on purpose?  [00:07:17] Jennifer Sebranek: That's very intentional. It's very intentional.  We like to describe our social media as, "A glimpse into the firm." Our two major audiences are potential talent as well as clients that are using social media. And we wanted to make sure that it felt like a peek behind the door. What does it feel like to work at GBBN? And also what does it feel like to work with GBBN? I think sometimes in our industry, we get so focused on that beautiful architectural final photo and if it's got a trash can in it and everybody gets really upset. What we wanted to do with our brand is to really peel back and show the thinking behind the making. How are we using digital fabrication to work with contractors to be able to get that perfect angle in that building that looks amazing in the final photo, but is messy behind the scenes? So that is always the goal is to really make it just a little bit of a behind the curtain of what's happening today.  [00:08:12] Michelle Calcote King: The other thing I noticed is you've got some really cool content. You know, I saw "The Reel GBBN." Tell me about the strategy behind producing that.  [00:08:20] Jennifer Sebranek: So we're always looking at how our users are consuming content. And I think as all marketers know is that what works today doesn't work tomorrow. So we have been over the last few years really thinking about video and how do we integrate it more? And I think in our industry, I mean, marketers, man. We wear so many hats and then you just throw in this request for proposals on top of it and we're busy all the time. So we had to figure out a way to do videos, A, with no budget, because again, marketing AEC. And two, with a thousand other things on our plate. So what we did is we set a goal for every year we do about two to three project stories, and we realized that we're also doing still photography and everybody that's been on a photo shoot knows that there is so much time where you're just standing around waiting for people to fluff pillows, waiting for people to move. So what we did was we said, "Okay, while we're on site, let's just get our Samsung video camera, cell phone, and let's record. It's a low buy in, we bought a really basic microphone, and then our graphic designer interviews our project team to get the story behind it. And then we edit it all in house, and then it all comes together as a story about our project that helps supplement our case studies and other materials to tell the story. That was so successful that then we said, "What other stories can we tell? Let's interview our employees and find out why they like working here. If we do something fun, let's do a video on that to really help people see what it's like to work here."  [00:09:57] Michelle Calcote King: That's great. There's a time and place for that beautifully scripted, high-end video, but then just getting out there with your iPhone or something like that, you can really, really produce great content. I think people like that kind of less scripted and produced content many times. There's different means for it.  [00:10:17] Jennifer Sebranek: Yeah, it's, it's, especially with the trends of the TikTok, which we have not ventured into yet. When I see our partners that do video for us and they put these beautiful stories together and I feel like for like a professional firm, you need both. You need those that can tell the story in this beautiful produced way, and then you need this kind of gritty, kind of you figure out a way to do it internally. So it's a good combo to have.  [00:10:39] Michelle Calcote King: The other thing I noticed is that you are regularly published in a lot of publications, a lot of trade publications. What's the benefit you've found behind the PR that you're getting and how do you approach PR?  [00:10:51] Jennifer Sebranek: One of the major reasons for our rebrand was that we were ready to signal to the world about the elevated design that we've been doing over the years.  We're a 58-year-old firm. We've been around, people knew us as a good technical architect. But over the past years, we had really been investing in staff that had worked in New York and San Fran and Chicago who are coming to our cities. And we had also been developing our staff to that next level of design. So we had all this amazing work that was winning awards, but we hadn't really been sharing that. So that was a big point of the rebrand was to be able to share that story.  We are organized into market sectors. For example, our healthcare team. What I did is I sat down with each of the leaders of those market sectors, and I said, "What is your marketing plan?" And we developed a speaking, a writing, a publishing, a present strategy for each of those and we realized that, "Hey, we really needed this third-party publishing to help credential us and to help validate." It's so much easier to go to the client and say, "Well, we've been published in the New York Times, we've been published in Healthcare Design and in Behavioral Health, because they instantly like, they're like, "Okay, that's credible." And I think we started to see like with that, it just started to raise our awareness. And then there's nothing better than having someone else share your content on social media cause it gets to their audiences. So that success just really started to build, and that's the reason we needed that second writer, we needed that second graphic designer to keep up with the demand that was out there. [00:12:24] Michelle Calcote King: Love that. Yeah. And that's exactly it. It's the credentialing, the validation, and third-party sharing your story. And yeah, like you said, on social media, it just sort of amplifies it because those outlets know what they're doing and are building audiences that you want to be in front of. Let's talk trends. So we talked about what are you guys doing, but where do you see things headed? What, what are you kind of keeping an eye on right now in terms of what's the next thing for you guys marketing your firm?  [00:12:52] Jennifer Sebranek: I mean, we're absolutely keeping an eye on technology and what's happening with websites. We have an office in China. We use WeChat a lot to communicate. So we're trying to make sure we know that nothing stays the same and once you have success somewhere then it's time to pivot.  But I have to say, in our industry, one of the most important things that I think that we have to focus on is the client experience. So, lo-fi, but I think what happened in our industry is we have had a time period where firms were so busy, backlog was at the highest it's ever been, we also had the COVID pandemic where people weren't able to meet face-to-face. So you've got busyness and you don't have that one-on-one time. And I think in that time period, it was really hard to connect with your clients and to build these relationships that help get you that next project or help them become advocates for your brand. So for us, we are really focused on going back to the basics of the client experience and making sure that we're reminding ourselves what it was like to connect with each other before we all went remote. We're making sure that we're really thinking about, "How do we make a special experience so we can help our clients differentiate between us and another architecture firm?"  Oftentimes architecture firms, we all speak the same language. We've had interviews where clients have been like, "You all say the same words, but how are you different?" And I think how you're different is how you show, and how you work with somebody. How you build that relationship. I mean, we all have vendors that call us and ask us for things and we don't like that because they're asking us to do something for them. But those people that you love to pick up the phone and work with are ones that are calling you to really help you. To really say, "I know you're thinking about this in your business and here's how I can help you or here's how we can work together to accomplish your goals and make you look good to your boss." So that's really what we're going to be focused on is really making sure our project managers, people working with clients day-to-day are focused on cultivating that amazing experience to help us be different in the competition.  [00:15:01] Michelle Calcote King: I've seen a lot of people talking about how, you know, obviously, AI is the big topic right now, but one of the interesting points somebody made was that the more that AI becomes prevalent, I think the more people will revert back to wanting to deal with humans and want that human touch and want that real relationship. I can 100-percent understand that because you start to not trust a lot of what you see. We went through this whole digitization phase with the pandemic and I think we're going to get back to a little bit more of "Okay, you know..." And you've got to be there. You've got to have that digital side of it, but that more human element is going to, I think, going to be the thing that a lot of firms are focused on.  [00:15:38] Jennifer Sebranek: You're so right. You've got to have both. You've got to have both to stay relevant. You have to have the digital to be relevant and then you've got to have human touch to stay connected. [00:15:47] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah. And I think people will crave it the more tech takes over a lot of our lives.  I noticed that you're a former Greater Cincinnati SMPS president — and SMPS for any of our listeners, it's the Society for Marketing Professional Services. It's the main association for marketers at architecture, engineering and construction firms. You're a member of the Board of Directors. Can you talk me through how has SMPS helped shaped your career? And, you know, if younger AEC marketers are listening, would you encourage them to get involved? What are some other avenues that have helped you develop in your career?  [00:16:21] Jennifer Sebranek: Oh my goodness. Absolutely get involved with it. There are very few people that understand what it's like to have five proposals on your desk, have three e-blasts that have to go out tomorrow, and a thousand other things on your plate. Marketers and business development professionals in our industry, we are a special group of people. SMPS is not only a crucial resource for me to learn about the trends that are happening, also to connect with people across the country, but it's also a way to have a group that really understands what you're going up against every day in your life and not only commiserate, but to help you have strategies.  One of my closest friends works for a competing architecture firms and we're not sharing competitive intelligence, but we are working together to figure out how we all navigate through these crazy environments that we work in. It's deadline-driven, it's high-pressure, it's different, and I think that having that network out there, it has just been so beneficial for not only my mental health, but to actually help me get to the C-Suite in this firm. Knowledge is power and being able to take to my CEO and the other members of our strategic team, trends that we're seeing, being able to say, you know, "My SMPS friends in other cities are seeing this and I think it's coming to our city next." It really starts to validate your information. And the best way to get involved is to be on a committee in your local chapter and then to make sure you go to the conferences because that's just where you get other opportunities to connect.  [00:17:52] Michelle Calcote King: I agree. I'm pretty involved in the Southeast. Even as an outside consultant, one, it just helps me understand what my clients are going through, you know. Gives me that kind of intelligence.  And I hate to back up to tactics, but you mentioned email and I'd love to know your approach to email. What are you putting out over email? Is it a priority? What are some of the ways that you're using email within your overall strategy?  [00:18:15] Jennifer Sebranek: Each of our markets, part of their marketing plan is e-blast. We made the move about three years ago to go away from the monthly newsletter. We were not seeing open stats, engagement stats that really showed. And then we realized, "Hey, if our brand is about 'Focus on them, not us,' we're just sharing information about us." So we pivoted from that, put our resources into thought leadership and doing e-blast. So each market then segmented their audiences and to specific ones. So we have our developer and then we have our healthcare and our higher education because we didn't want to be noise. We don't want to communicate noise to other people that aren't interested.  So we do use it to ship out insights, market-specific, and we try to only do it quarterly. Just not to be noise. But each market, they each have touch plans, so if they have a quarterly newsletter, then there might be other business development touches that they're following up via email for a client saying, "Hey, I know you're really struggling with making your sustainability goals by 2030. Here's an example of what our other clients are doing." Just trying to have touches in between those to make sure we're staying on their minds and being relevant to what they're up against. [00:19:31] Michelle Calcote King: I appreciate you kind of diving into those different tactics because I'm always interested to see how people are using different tools. Some marketers favor some versus others, but yeah, segmentation and making sure that you're not annoying your, you know. They don't see your email in their inbox and think, "Irrelevant," you know. [00:19:48] Jennifer Sebranek: MailChimp makes that so easy. I mean, there are others too, but it's just, it's so easy just to keep it all separate and update.  [00:19:55] Michelle Calcote King: I like to kind of end our interview with a final lesson. Is there a lesson you would say is one of the most valuable lessons you've learned over the course of your career in architecture marketing that you think other marketers would benefit from hearing? [00:20:10] Jennifer Sebranek: I think at the end of the day, everybody wants to help everybody. And I think a lot of times we can be embarrassed or a little hesitant to reach out to someone and say like, "Hey, I see you're doing this and it looks great. Can you help me?" I feel like in our industry, marketers are so wanting to help each other. So I totally recommend build your network, be bold and ask people, "How are they doing that? Can they give you some advice?" Because I think a lot of times people think, "Well, they're not going to share their process." But I can tell you my process, but the end of the day, you're going to interpret it in your own unique way. We're not making widgets. We're creating experiences and that means that we're all gonna be doing it differently and you can't copy me because you're not me. So, be open to sharing information, be open to connecting and taking the time to meet others that you really look up to and they will always be willing to share some advice or help you be successful 'cause in this industry, it is the most collaborative sharing group I've ever worked with and it's just phenomenal.  [00:21:15] Michelle Calcote King: It's fantastic advice. Took me a while to learn, but, once I did it's a game changer. So we've been talking to Jennifer Sebranek of GBBN Architects. If people want to get in touch and form a relationship with you, what's the best way for them to get in touch?  [00:21:28] Jennifer Sebranek: Oh, you know, I've got to pitch our Instagram or LinkedIn feed for you to be able to get that peek behind the scenes of what it's like to work with and at GBBN. We're at @GBBNArchitects and feel free to direct message me through any of those platforms. I get copied on all of those inboxes, so I'm happy to reach out and connect and talk more about the awesome things in this industry.  [00:21:50] Michelle Calcote King: Awesome. Well, thank you so much.  [00:21:54]: Thanks for listening to "Spill the Ink," a podcast by Reputation Ink. We'll see you again next time and be sure to click "Subscribe" to get future episodes.
Architecture marketer spotlight: Knowledge management and marketing in harmony
Oct 17 2023
Architecture marketer spotlight: Knowledge management and marketing in harmony
Extracting, capturing and communicating knowledge from project team members are fundamental responsibilities of an architecture firm’s marketing department. LS3P, an architecture, interiors and planning firm, has honed these processes over the years to drive its success, elevate its marketing efforts and provide greater value to its clients. In this episode of “Spill the Ink,” Michelle Calcote King interviews Katie Robinson, LS3P’s chief marketing officer and a principal in the firm. They discuss the firm’s marketing evolution, including how Katie helped refine LS3P’s knowledge management efforts and the positive effect it had on the firm’s departments. They delve into conversations about how to engage subject-matter experts in marketing efforts as well as podcasting, social media, career development and artificial intelligence. Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn Who is Katie Robinson and what is LS3P How to engage busy architecture professionals in marketing efforts How LS3P captures and leverages employee knowledge Why LS3P centralized its data and information in a custom dashboard and how it streamlines communication across the organization How architecture marketing is evolving The role of social media and technology in today’s marketing landscape The importance of career advancement opportunities for marketing professionals What is LS3P’s approach to artificial intelligence About our featured guest Katie Robinson joined LS3P, an architecture, interiors and planning firm with offices throughout the Southeast, in 2004. She serves as a principal and the firm’s chief marketing officer, playing a pivotal role in driving the firm's practice and business processes. With a keen focus on supporting the firm's vision, Katie works closely with the Executive Committee to ensure comprehensive support across marketing, knowledge management and strategy. With her extensive expertise in marketing and communications, Katie has spearheaded a transformative journey at LS3P, turning the marketing department into a dynamic creative agency. Under her guidance, the team has excelled in managing both internal and external communications while offering responsive and proactive marketing and creative services. Katie's strategic leadership has been instrumental in the successful creation and implementation of innovative marketing collateral and brand management strategies, with a specific focus on fostering brand trust. Beyond her contributions to marketing, Katie assumes a vital role within LS3P's business team. Her responsibilities extend to leading the knowledge management efforts within the firm, collaborating closely with the practice team members to prioritize data collection on all projects. Notably, she was instrumental in the establishment of LS3P's pioneering Data Manager Program in 2013, which has solidified her position as a leader in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry. Katie's acute understanding of the profound connection between knowledge and creativity enables her to bridge the gap between data-driven insights and exceptional design. Resources mentioned in this episode Check out LS3P Follow LS3P on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram Connect with Katie Robinson on LinkedIn Say hello to Michelle Calcote King on Twitter and LinkedIn Check out LS3P’s “Human Scale” podcast Sponsor for this episode This episode is brought to you by Reputation Ink. Founded by Michelle Calcote King, Reputation Ink is a public relations and content marketing agency that serves professional services firms of all shapes and sizes across the United States, including corporate law firms and architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) firms.  Reputation Ink understands how sophisticated corporate buyers find and select professional services firms. For more than a decade, they have helped firms grow through thought leadership-fueled strategies, including public relations, content marketing, video marketing, social media, podcasting, marketing strategy services and more. To learn more, visit www.rep-ink.com or email them at info@rep-ink.com today. Transcript [00:00:00] Katie Robinson: I will tell anybody in leadership the key to success is hire people far more creative and smarter than you are.  [00:00:09]: Welcome to "Spill the Ink," a podcast by Reputation Ink, where we feature experts in growth and brand visibility for law firms and architecture, engineering and construction firms. Now, let's get started with the show. [00:00:27] Michelle Calcote King: Hi everyone. I'm Michelle Calcote King. I'm the host of this podcast, and I'm also the principal and president of Reputation Ink. We're a public relations and content marketing agency for professional services firms, including architecture, engineering, and construction. To learn more, go to rep-ink.com. We're going to continue our series talking to architecture firm CMOs. And we're going to just kind of dive into a discussion with one of the leading CMOs at a regional firm about what they're getting right, what are some of their challenges, how you go about building a thriving marketing department. So yeah, I'm excited to jump into that. Our guest today is Katie Robinson. She's the principal and chief marketing officer at LS3P, an architecture, interiors and planning firm. Welcome to the show, Katie.  [00:01:14] Katie Robinson: Thanks so much for having me, Michelle.  [00:01:16] Michelle Calcote King: I called you all a regional firm, but I don't know if that's correct. How would you describe the firm?  [00:01:21] Katie Robinson: Absolutely. We are a regional firm. Some of our clients and projects take us beyond the Southeast, but our commitment truly is to this area, which is why our 12 offices are lumped throughout the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida. It truly is where our heart lies. [00:01:40] Michelle Calcote King: Fantastic. Well, tell me a little bit about yourself first. How'd you get into architecture marketing?  [00:01:45] Katie Robinson: I fell into it by chance. I was living in Atlanta straight out of college and working for a publishing company. And it was a very exciting industry. It was the paper industry, so really good content. They moved their operations over to Brussels, Belgium. So, I was looking for a job and back then we didn't really have Google to search. So I got the phone book out and found architecture and found that a wonderful firm, TBS in Atlanta was hiring for a marketing coordinator. So, I kind of stumbled upon it by chance and was lucky enough to get hired there and join their team. So, that's how I kind of found my way into this industry.  [00:02:34] Michelle Calcote King: Love it. It just kind of stuck. I tell my employees some of those stories about before the internet. I can tell there's always this look of disbelief on their face. [00:02:42] Katie Robinson: I know. It's like this just glaze and it's like, "Really?"  [00:02:47] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah, we had to do things differently back then.  Tell me about your department. I think I saw on your LinkedIn profile, you kind of talked about turning the marketing department into a dynamic creative agency. So if you can kind of describe for me the team you've built and the specialties that you have in-house.  [00:03:03] Katie Robinson: Of course. This is my favorite thing to talk about because my team is amazing. I will tell anybody in leadership, the key to success is hire people far more creative and smarter than you are, and then you look really good. And that's what we've built with the marketing team here.  I'll kind of back up. When I first started with the firm in 2004, we had two offices at the time. So we've grown from 2 to 12. Marketing existed, but we were really very reactive in marketing. You know, "Here's a proposal. We need to do it," and that was pretty much it. I think we had a two-page website, no social media, obviously then. So, my career with LS3P has been interesting because none of the positions that I've been in existed before I was able to show there's a need for it, "Let's try it and let's evolve." So what's happened is I've been able to also build different marketing positions along the way. We used to be very office-centric where there was a marketing individual, we call them coordinators at the time; we've since ditched that title because we don't like it. But in different offices, and they would basically do the responsive stuff, the proposals and interviews. And then if there was an ad that needed to be done, we would throw that together, but there really wasn't a focus on building brand trust and brand awareness or even proactive marketing in general.  We made a small step in around 2015 by putting together a communications team that started to push some of these efforts. But, honestly, it wasn't really until 2020 when we decided to make marketing a firm-wide team instead of office-specific that we really saw a huge change. We did that in the beginning of 2020. The buy-in wasn't great because the office leadership was like, "This is my marketing person. I don't know." Then we all went home to work during the pandemic.  [00:05:17] Michelle Calcote King: Right.  [00:05:18] Katie Robinson: So it was actually perfect timing. Something we thought would take us a year or so to get buy-in had almost immediate buy-in because your person wasn't local anymore. [00:05:28] Michelle Calcote King: Right. Right. You kind of had to think less in that way. You had to put your framework that way.  [00:05:34] Katie Robinson: Absolutely. Absolutely. And what we found was we had such great collaboration amongst our team members. We were able to put lane processes in place so when you worked with anybody in marketing, you knew what to expect. It was the same process for everyone. That also helps us jump in and help one another and pick up. You know, if somebody gets pulled away for an emergency of any type, somebody can swoop in and help. So we did that and then it kind of helped us to escalate the offerings that we were able to do within marketing. So our group created sub-teams. We have individuals who were really passionate about video and podcasts; individuals passionate about design award submittals; individuals that really like to do booklets and layouts and story crafting, and things like that. So we developed these sub-teams where our marketing specialists can jump in and out. And so they can build their skills; they can do what they're passionate about; they can have a break from all those responsive efforts, the churn and burn of our industry. And then it started escalating from there. We had an individual in the firm, within the marketing team who was very interested in doing experiential graphic design. So now our department offers experiential graphics. So we're able to work with the practice team members, be a little bit billable, which is also nice.  [00:07:02] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah, neat.  [00:07:04] Katie Robinson: And then from there clients started approaching us saying, "Can you help with our brand?" "Yes, we would love to." So we've really started to model our team more as a creative agency rather than your typical architectural firm marketing. [00:07:18] Michelle Calcote King: I love that. Marketing is becoming more complex and having the ability to access a variety of specialists I'm sure is incredibly valuable to your firm.  Tell me about the role of thought leadership in your firm.  [00:07:32] Katie Robinson: Well, it's essential for, actually, both of my loves because I do lead the marketing group. My brain doesn't know boundaries, so the left side and right side just mesh together a lot. So, I also lead the knowledge management side.  [00:07:46] Michelle Calcote King: Okay. Great. Yeah.  [00:07:47] Katie Robinson: Our Foresight blog that we have on our website, it's awesome. It's a great place where we display our thought leadership, and what's so unique about it is it's voices from all over our firm. From student interns all the way to the CEO. That's kind of, you know, a really fun outlet that we have going on with our website. And right now, I would say, and this is probably not a challenge that's just for LS3P, but I think from our industry alone is capturing that thought leadership, especially from the individuals who are getting ready to start their next journey into retirement, and making sure that we can disseminate all of their knowledge and their expertise. And not only being a leader, but, you know, how they put together a C proposal for a client or you know, wall sections or, you know the little things we don't think to ask people. So how do we, as the knowledge management team, extract that knowledge? And then how do we, as the marketing team, communicate that internally as well as externally? That's kind of the balance that we find ourselves in right now, and I know it's something that a lot of firms within our industry and other industries are looking at as people start looking into retirement. [00:09:13] Michelle Calcote King: A hundred percent. And yeah, the two go really hand in hand. And I love that you use that term knowledge extraction. I use that all the time. It's basically what we're doing, right? We're really kind of pulling knowledge out of these experts' brains and then as marketers, we think, "Okay, what can I do with all this?" But you've also got that dual approach of, you know, just setting the firm up for the future.  I also saw that you guys have a podcast. Tell me a little bit about that.  [00:09:36] Katie Robinson: We do. We do. We have a podcast that recently launched. I was just joking to our fantastic marketing director, Meredith Ray, how I have not been a guest on the podcast yet. But it's okay. She assures me that I will be invited. But our podcast is called "Human Scale." And it's really fun because it's where we sit down with any and all members of LS3P. And we talk about the different facets of what we do, how we do it, but more importantly, who we are as humans. So you get a little bit of what they're doing in their professional life, but you get a whole lot of what makes them who they are. So it's incredibly fun. Meredith, who I mentioned, hosts along with one of our practice team members, Patrick Cooley, and they have such a fun dynamic together as well. So, I believe we have three external episodes right now and we've recorded our fourth right now. So it's really fun and it's, as you know from this, it is such a great way to connect with people.  [00:10:43] Michelle Calcote King: It really is. Yeah. I've made so many connections, and the way I position it when I talk to clients about it is it's a new way of networking and making relationships. It's just so focused. There's so many benefits you get from it, but you have a focused conversation versus that, you know, happy hour or networking event where you might not get to have that kind of deep dive with someone. You really get to do that in a podcast in a way that I'm not sure you could do in any other way. And it just helps so much with the way people consume media nowadays. And as marketers, we're always looking to repurpose content, and it's just such a great tool for that, for generating that content. You know, one of the challenges we run up against, especially in a professional services firm, and the reason I transitioned to this is because I think podcasts are a great way to do it, is getting your busy architects — so these are the fee earners, these are people that are billing clients who participate and share their knowledge and be part of the thought leadership. What have you found some ways to engage them, and that kind of gets them involved in ways that integrate with their work life well?  [00:11:54] Katie Robinson: So this is like the million dollar question, right? If anybody had an easy button for this, they would be set on. We're a participant of the Large Firm Roundtable through the American Institute of Architects, and I serve on the marketing subcommittee of that group. This is a conversation we have all the time with my peers in other large firms. And it's the hard one, you know, because you do need the practice team members. And it's not only that you need their time for the proactive stuff and to do things like podcasts, maybe some videos and things like that. You need their time for the responsive stuff, like letters and scopes of work for projects and pursuits. So it's a delicate balance. I think what we've been able to do really successfully is the fact that, as I mentioned before, we do have processes in place. [00:12:48] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah.  [00:12:49] Katie Robinson: We also have a lot of pre-existing information that we can pull from; a really extensive text library, for example. So when we do need to engage the expertise of some of our practice team members, they're not starting from scratch. We're giving them something. I think also remembering that it doesn't necessarily have to be so polished. I mean, we want everything to be perfect. We're perfectionist in marketing, but, you know, having just a casual conversation like we're having right now that you can record and then extract tidbits from later is fine. It doesn't have to be set up in a studio somewhere with perfect lighting and perfect sound and everything. Taking those opportunities to have just those casual connections with some of our subject matter experts, and then taking it and saying, "Okay, what can we do with it?"  [00:13:47] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah.  [00:13:48] Katie Robinson: You take a little bit and make a lot. You know, what little tidbits can we pull? Is there a Foresight article in this? Is there maybe an extended podcast in this subject? Maybe we can just write a social media blog on the content. Or is it just internal? You know, so trying to make a lot from a little definitely helps.  I think another thing that is really important to do is explain the "why" to the practice team members and and the billable folks of why we're doing this. You know, a lot of times the reason we're asking for their expertise is because we want to position them to be speakers at industry conferences or conferences our clients are attending. We want to help get them published. So, essentially, we want to help you advance in your career, but you got to help us by telling us what you know.  [00:14:44] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah, you're speaking my language with all that. I think, especially with AI emergence, I think the more human we can get, the better people are going to be craving that more and more. So, when you're talking about, it doesn't have to be polished, it can be this kind of conversation, that's what I love about podcasting. There's not this pressure. There's not a, "Hey, write an article, you know, that looms over your head." It's really sitting down and talking about things you know for a half an hour. But I do think, we talk a lot about the skillset of knowledge extraction. You know, that is a real skillset that I'm sure your team has. We shouldn't overlook that, but that's a real key. Like you said, things like showing them that you're not asking them the same information twice. You've done your homework, you're repurposing it, educating them, all those things. So, I love that.  The other thing I want to make sure and ask, cause you've said, a vital aspect — this is in your bio — is the firm's custom dashboard that serves as the communications and data hub for the firm. Tell me a little bit about that.  [00:15:44] Katie Robinson: A long time ago, we developed a LS3P Dashboard, and essentially we did this because at the time there was not an internet solution that we felt really served our needs in terms of being a one-stop-shop for resources, but also allowing us to communicate with one another and share the knowledge that we were collecting. So we created our own. Essentially, the benefit that came from that is it really helped to propel our knowledge management efforts within the firm because if you create something like that, you better have content for it or it's just going to become static.  [00:16:23] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah.  [00:16:23] Katie Robinson: So for a number of years, our dashboard has been amazing. We're actually in the process of converting to a new internet system that is developed for our industry, and we're really excited about that. But, again, what the dashboard taught us is the importance of things like strategic reporting in order to make really sound decisions about the future of our firm. Sharing resources, like codes. "Where do I go to find codes?" "Well, you go here." So people aren't spending their time reinventing the wheel over and over. And then we have a lot of project data that we have gathered through our data manager program. We put it in our database, but we needed a place to be able to kind of disseminate it, and what does this really mean, you know?  [00:17:09] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah.  [00:17:09] Katie Robinson: So we were able to put in, and again, that's where I'm able to totally geek out on all of the knowledge management, data and analytics side, but then also say, "Okay, we're sending this to a group of creatives. It needs to be marketed in a way that creative individuals are going to be able to absorb it." [00:17:29] Michelle Calcote King: Well, and I think that becomes even more important as a lot of people are remote, you know, with the inundation of information nowadays. You know, you kind of have to, you have to take information, make it very digestible for really anyone, make it very visual, so that's critical. I'd like to talk about architecture marketing as a whole. So you've been in this for a long time, what have been the big changes and what changes are you kind of looking toward or anticipating?  [00:17:57] Katie Robinson: Yes. I would say proposals are getting more complex. The questions that they ask are getting a little bit more difficult to answer. A lot of it is Database, which is nice to be able to have that at our fingertips.  Competition is also a lot steeper and especially in the Southeast. We have a lot of the national firms making their way into our backyards, which is great. We partner with them often. We love them. But it still is a different level of competition.  [00:18:32] Michelle Calcote King: Sure.  [00:18:32] Katie Robinson: The benefit of that is it's allowed us to see we can do this. We can compete with these national firms. We can step up our game. It's taught us the importance of brand awareness, but also the importance of relationships. And we've developed those among 60 years of business.  [00:18:51] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah.  [00:18:52] Katie Robinson: So, I would say from a responsive effort, it is just the complexity and the amounts of efforts that we're chasing. For the proactive, you know, social media is all the rage still. It's not going to go away. And it's really been fun to watch, especially over the past five years or so, how our social media presence is so much more targeted. We have an external engagement sub-team. They are fantastic at figuring out which type of posts are going to get the most engagement and reach the most people. But they look at it, not only from a reaching the clients, but reaching possible recruits and future team members, which is just as important. So it's really interesting to see the role that social media is playing in our industry.  And, obviously, you've hit the nail on the head. Things like podcasts are just such a thing that if you would have asked me even just two years ago, "Would we be doing this to help advance marketing in our industry?" I would say, "No. Absolutely not."  [00:20:00] Michelle Calcote King: I know, right? Yeah, I resisted it for a while too. Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah.  [00:20:05] Katie Robinson: So, I think that, you know, by embracing the trends, embracing technology, we are able to advance our industry in terms of marketing.  What I hope to see more firms, and I think a lot of firms are going in this direction. What I would love to see them promote a little bit more in terms of marketing is also the importance of career advancement for the marketing team members because while we have chosen to be in the architecture industry under that umbrella, I think a lot of firms don't really think, "Oh yeah, they're building their careers, too. So maybe there should be some paths and options for them." So I would love that thinking to twist a little bit. And it's beyond marketing. You know, you're talking about your HR, your technology teams, your convenience teams, everybody who works behind the scenes. It is really important to advocate for them and remember that we're growing our careers here, too.  [00:21:06] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah. There's a woman in the legal industry who runs a recruiting firm and she coined this term called "revenue-enablers." So she calls marketers revenue-enablers, and I thought, "That's so smart," because her point was that, you know, while the marketing people within professional services firms might not be billing and generating revenue, they're making that possible and they're supporting it, and so it's such a critical function. And I love that framing of the issue because I think, yeah, that marketing people can often feel, you know, less than, or treated less than, or just not, like you said, you're within a firm where the career path isn't as defined. So, I love to hear that.  Do you see any big trend on the horizon that you guys are looking at and saying, Oh, we gotta keep an eye on that?" [00:21:51] Katie Robinson: Well, I'll tell you something we need to keep an eye on, whether it's a good one or a bad one, I don't know, but that's AI. [00:21:58] Michelle Calcote King: I feel like it came out of nowhere, right? Yeah.  [00:22:02] Katie Robinson: Every industry will say the same thing, you know. I mean, just small things like ChatGPT, it's very interesting and incredibly terrifying all at once. You spoke earlier about still the desire for that human connection, and my hope is that still wins out in the end. Although, how we're approaching it is try not to be quite so terrified of it coming, but embrace it without letting it take over our relationships.  [00:22:37] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah, we're kind of, we're doing the same. We're dipping our toe. We're kind of, you know, seeing where it can be valuable. Yeah. You know, there's just so many concerns about confidentiality and all of this is just a lot to get your head around, but I'm the same way. You've got to embrace it. You got to see where it's going to fit. I mean, people were saying the same about social media and Google, you know, 20 years ago, so, or whenever. I think social media is actually younger than that. But yeah, now look, it's just a part of our daily lives and just a part of how we work. So, yeah, I think it's just kind of, we've all got to figure this new one out and it keeps us on our toes. Before we end, and these always go a lot quicker than I thought, is there anything you'd like to share, an important lesson you hope our listeners take away or anything we've talked about that — that we haven't touched on that you'd like to share? I know it's a big question, but I always like to leave on it. Yeah.  [00:23:31] Katie Robinson: So I can share one of the biggest lessons that I've learned— [00:23:34] Michelle Calcote King: I would love that. Yeah.  [00:23:35] Katie Robinson: —in not only this industry, but I think in life and in general is the importance of observing and asking questions. And I think a lot of times, especially as we're coming up in our career, a lot of individuals see asking questions as a weakness, but it is such a tremendous strength. To be able to really sit back, observe what people are doing, and then asking just really specific questions about what they're doing, how did they get here? It's so important. I tell individuals, too, if you're in the office and not working remote, take your headset off. Listen to the conversations that are going on around you because you've can learn so much.  When I first started here about a year and a half after I started, I had a really great opportunity because our CEO at the time, Tom Penney, needed some graphic assistance for an upcoming internal meeting with the shareholders. And I thought that was so cool. You know, here I was, I'm new to the firm and I get to see what the shareholders are talking about. It was really interesting. And so I started working side-by-side with Tom on that, as well as in other internal meetings, and I was absorbing all of the things that they were saying, but then I was questioning it. You know, I was questioning, I was talking to our finance person about the financials, cause you know, I had three whole classes in accounting, so obviously I knew what I was doing. But just understanding what is a utilization rate? Why does it matter? And, you know, asking all of these questions that had nothing to do with marketing. I was able to learn so much about our industry and how business worked. When I did start to really build in my career, I was able to connect them and say, "Okay, well, marketing can actually help you, Finance Group, because you're having to explain finances to a bunch of creative people, let us help you with that. So I would say just that was probably the biggest thing that I learned was that asking questions is not a sign of weakness. You know, vulnerability isn't a sign of weakness and that's the way that you can truly grow as a person and also grow in your career.  [00:25:55] Michelle Calcote King: That's really important advice. It's something I tell my team all the time, too, especially when you work in these expertise-driven industries. You're working with people who have very deep knowledge in a particular area, so it's really critical that you ask questions cause the more you know about their challenges and their knowledge, the better you are as a marketer. So, agree with that a hundred percent.  Well, thank you for sharing that, and thank you for joining us. So we've been talking to Katie Robinson of C3PO—no, just kidding—LS3P. And Katie, if people wanted to connect with you, what's the best way for them to do so? [00:26:31] Katie Robinson: Sure. They can send me an email. It's just KatieRobinson@LS3P.com. So it's pretty easy. Also LinkedIn. Use social media.  [00:26:39] Michelle Calcote King: Yes. Good one. All right. Well, thank you so much.  [00:26:42] Katie Robinson: Awesome. Thank you.  [00:26:45]: Thanks for listening to "Spill the Ink," a podcast by Reputation Ink. We'll see you again next time and be sure to click "Subscribe" to get future episodes.
Architecture marketer spotlight: The warp speed evolution of AEC marketing with Jennifer Haferbecker
Oct 4 2023
Architecture marketer spotlight: The warp speed evolution of AEC marketing with Jennifer Haferbecker
The marketing industry is evolving at warp speed, as Jennifer Haferbecker tells Michelle Calcote King in this episode of “Spill the Ink.” Role specialization, branding, research and technology are increasingly important players in an architecture firm’s strategy. Keeping pace in this constantly changing landscape means being more intentional with both strategy and professional development. As chief marketing officer, Jennifer Haferbecker oversees the marketing and communications department at HGA, a national interdisciplinary design firm. In our new series featuring architecture marketers, Jennifer and Michelle reflect on the trends influencing the industry and how HGA maintains their strategy-focused, people-first approach. They cover a wide range of topics, including managing a national team as well as leveraging analytics, brand ambassadors and professional development initiatives to improve the client experience. Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn Who is Jennifer Haferbecker and what is HGA Architects and Engineers How marketing is changing in the architecture industry The growing importance of role specialization How a strong brand impacts client experience Why HGA established a marketing technology department How to leverage research to improve marketing initiatives Why KPQs are as important as KPIs in a marketing strategy How to manage a large national marketing and communications team How brand ambassadors play a key role in HGA’s strategy What professional development and career resources Jennifer recommends  About our featured guest As chief marketing officer at HGA, Jennifer Haferbecker is a member of the executive team, a board advisor, executive sponsor of the Planning Committee, and a member of numerous Steering Committees with the firm — all in service of achieving the vision for HGA’s future success and the success of its people. Jennifer collaborates with firmwide leaders to develop, implement and align HGA’s strategic planning process. With more than 20 years of marketing experience, she is responsible for directing market research and strategies, including research into growth initiatives, mergers and acquisitions.  Jennifer manages the Marketing/Communications department and maintains a strong partnership with Business Development to improve marketing ROI by winning work with clients who value HGA’s expertise and want to collaboratively design an enduring, positive impact. She is currently helping to update and reinstate HGA’s internal Enterprise Leadership Program to advance future leaders within the firm. Resources mentioned in this episode Check out HGA Follow HGA on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram Connect with Jennifer Haferbecker on LinkedIn Say hello to Michelle Calcote King on Twitter and LinkedIn Sponsor for this episode This episode is brought to you by Reputation Ink. Founded by Michelle Calcote King, Reputation Ink is a public relations and content marketing agency that serves professional services firms of all shapes and sizes across the United States, including corporate law firms and architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) firms.  Reputation Ink understands how sophisticated corporate buyers find and select professional services firms. For more than a decade, they have helped firms grow through thought leadership-fueled strategies, including public relations, content marketing, video marketing, social media, podcasting, marketing strategy services and more. To learn more visit www.rep-ink.com or email them at info@rep-ink.com today. Transcript [00:00:00] Jennifer Haferbecker: The design industry is changing. To be open to learning, to be willing to be uncomfortable as you apply that learning, I think is extremely powerful.  [00:00:15]: Welcome to "Spill the Ink," a podcast by Reputation Ink where we feature experts in growth and brand visibility for law firms and architecture, engineering and construction firms. Now, let's get started with the show. [00:00:32] Michelle Calcote King: Hi everyone. I'm Michelle Calcote King. I'm the host of this podcast and I'm also the principal and president of Reputation Ink. We're a public relations and content marketing agency for architecture, engineering and construction firms and other professional services firms. To learn more, go to rep-ink.com.  Today we're talking about how do you successfully market an architecture firm? What are the firms who are doing it right? What are they getting wrong? And what are some of those behind the scenes secrets to running a well-rounded marketing department, especially at a larger architecture firm. We're tackling these and more questions in today's episode as part of our series featuring architecture chief marketing officers.  Jennifer Haferbecker is joining me for today's episode — and I think I got that name pronounced correctly. She's the chief marketing officer and she's a member of the executive team at HGA, which is a national interdisciplinary design firm. Thanks for joining me.  [00:01:30] Jennifer Haferbecker: Thank you so much for having me, Michelle. I'm very excited for our conversation.  [00:01:34] Michelle Calcote King: I am, too. Let's start with, tell me how you got here. I always love to hear that. Because when we go into marketing, it's all often a very interesting path that gets us there.  [00:01:46] Jennifer Haferbecker: I am one of those people. I think the vast majority of professional service setting marketing professionals went to college or started on a different journey. I am one of those cases. I actually went to school for nursing.  [00:01:59] Michelle Calcote King: Oh, wow. Wow.  [00:02:01] Jennifer Haferbecker: Exactly. While I was in school, I was working full-time for a commercial interiors firm. I made the decision at one point in that journey to switch my major to business. I ended up spending 19 years in practice for interiors. I started as a project manager, an account manager, that led to leadership on the marketing and sales support side. Six and a half years ago, I moved to HGA as their director of marketing, and then a few years later, I became their very first chief marketing officer.  [00:02:37] Michelle Calcote King: That's fantastic. And I love to see that this firm really values marketing to have you on the executive committee. Are you the first marketing person to sit in that type of leadership role?  [00:02:51] Jennifer Haferbecker: The person who preceded me at the firm was a vice president of marketing, and at the time, there wasn't really a full communications department. She was a shareholder. She was part of the leadership, but she did not sit on as a board advisor, and I also play the role of sort of executive sponsor to our planning committee through my board advisor role. So, she did not have some of those roles but she was definitely instrumental in paving the way within HGA, and really teaching the firm the value of marketing and business development and left me a very strong foundation to jump off of to continue advancing that work.  [00:03:32] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah, that's great. Kind of paving that way.  I know this is a very large question since you're the head of marketing for a very large firm, but can you tell me what is your approach? What's your firm's marketing approach in a nutshell? [00:03:47] Jennifer Haferbecker: In a nutshell... [00:03:49] Michelle Calcote King: I know that's a complex one.  [00:03:52] Jennifer Haferbecker: Our approach is, I'm going to say, strategy focused. The firm in the past has always had a very strong entrepreneurial spirit. Since 1953, we've been really successful by leveraging expertise and passions to grow the firm. In 2016 under our current CEO, we developed our strategic point of view, articulated our values, and then defined our targeted client. The following years, we did a full rebrand, and then in 2019, we developed a strategic plan. It was really the first time that the firm had articulated goals and initiatives on how to realize that vision. Since then, we've been working to align our planning process at all levels, trying to make sure we're all pointed at the same North Star. We've been really trying to build some rigor into our marketing analysis and market readiness.  So I'd say strategic planning around a united vision is really what's working. It's really our approach, as is being people-focused. It's allowed us the ability to really prioritize a list of targeted clients and partners, to identify the caliber projects that we want to be working on to allow us to have the impact that we desire, and it enables marketing and BD to understand how our markets are changing so that we can prioritize and better position the firm through a deeper understanding.  There's so much change happening economically, socially, environmentally. Not only are people internally facing those challenges, but our clients and communities are as well.  [00:05:32] Michelle Calcote King: So, finalizing a strategic plan in 2019 and then being hit with COVID in 2020, how did that impact your ability to continue forward with that strategic plan that was just done when you had such a wrench thrown into things?  [00:05:48] Jennifer Haferbecker: That plan was a three-year plan and we've had it for four years because of the pandemic. So we are right now in the process of updating it for the next three years. So looking back on it, it's amazing how forward-thinking we were. We did enter the pandemic with the desire to thrive. We did not want to just survive. 2022 and 2023 have been record-breaking for us in a number of ways — and that's our employee count, recognition, and PR and awards. And that's also one of the biggest challenges because so much has changed and we've had such rapid growth over the last few years. It's challenging, especially on the marketing and business development side. You have so many new people joining the firm; we've been fortunate to be able to promote people within into new roles; and then we have all of these initiatives through equity and sustainability research technology, it's harder for marketing and business development to know all the subject-matter experts. You know, who within the firm can we best position and connect to clients? How to build the right teams? How to understand the skillset of those new people that you're now going to put in front of a client? Do they know how to message and present from the marketing perspective? The warp speed that marketing is changing and evolving, it's crazy how there are thousands of new technologies.  [00:07:14] Michelle Calcote King: I know. Isn't it wild? It's like, we just caught up with the last thing, and now AI came out of nowhere.  [00:07:21] Jennifer Haferbecker: And now you need to say strategy, true strategies for content and digital, account-based marketing. And now we have more people to teach inside of the firm about the brand and strategic point of view and marketing process altogether. In some ways though, it's been amazing to see the change, even within the marketing communications and business development roles themselves. Roles are changing as all of those processes also change. So as a people-focused firm, we really want to stay ahead of how those jobs are evolving so that we can offer training and development. We want our people to be successful. We want them to stay at the firm. So we're really focused on trying to understand how to try to slow some things down in a way that people can learn and have capacity for the amount of change happening.  [00:08:13] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah, that's really important. I had read on your LinkedIn profile that HGA had its highest revenue in 2022, and that year marked your fourth consecutive year increasing marketing ROI. I'd love to understand how do you measure ROI. What are some of the ways that you're reporting back and being able to really benchmark that?  [00:08:34] Jennifer Haferbecker: Well, of course, it starts with metrics and an equation on financials. We are an employee-owned firm, so I think the first question to our shareholders is about that investment. If we spend all this money on marketing and overhead in the firm, what is it giving us as far as MSR? So, there's a financial equation, definitely. We've been working very hard over my tenure at the firm to expand that definition of return. We want the impact from the projects. We want to be leveraging our expertise in marketing in a way that puts us in front of the right clients for the right projects. And that we are truly building a brand that is going to last beyond any of us currently at the firm.  So we talk a lot about the legacy of the projects that we have; the impact on communities. We really seriously take the responsibility of designing something right now that will have impact in future generations and impact on the firm. We are starting to shift to understanding, instead of KPIs, we're trying to understand KPQs, you know, key performance questions that can inform those indicators. And we're trying to understand how to better define what impact it is in a number of ways, instead of just having financial metrics as that ROI.  [00:09:55] Michelle Calcote King: I love that, looking at it kind of holistically. I also saw that you have a team of about 40. Can you give us a sense of what is that? Because I work with a lot of smaller firms. Yeah, 40 people doing marketing. Tell me what those disciplines look like. Is that mix changing in terms of, you know, the skill sets that you're looking for?  [00:10:15] Jennifer Haferbecker: For sure. So we have marketing and communications departments on the communication side. They are national experts that are all specialized in a specific area. So, we have a PR director and a PR assistant. We have a creative brand director. We have writers on staff. We recently hired a content strategist to help us manage all of the content that we have within the firm and elevate it. We have research librarians that sit within communications, and we also have a whole digital team around web, social and our intranet. On the marketing side, we have a director of marketing and regional marketing managers that are working with our local offices and practices to support their regional goals and building campaigns locally to meet their engagement, and to help them be successful. The marketing managers also manage a staff of marketing coordinators that are really focused on producing marketing content specifically. Within those departments, we recently developed a marketing technology department. So we have a director there who has a team of people that are experts within all the different softwares. So our CRM, our content asset management platform, our intranet, even the digital person, actually on the communication side, reports up to the marketing technology director. All of those platforms are being updated and changing over the next three years, so we wanted to bring that team together to really manage and grow a marketing technology stack that can talk to each other and really leverage the efficiency of how we're creating and reusing content. Also, we hadn't in the past been great about analytics. We have so much content, but we were really focused on just how to get it out, and then we were on to the next thing. So that MarTech stack is really helping us to learn from how we're putting content out so that we can apply it to the next piece in a better way.  [00:12:28] Michelle Calcote King: That's a common struggle. It's so overwhelming just actually getting content right and understanding your customers.  What about the role of research? How does that play a role in your strategy?  [00:12:40] Jennifer Haferbecker: Research more and more, like I said, in that market analysis, the market readiness, I would say it's two ways. We do have, like, in the communication department, a knowledge manager and a research librarian. And I forgot to mention on the marketing department size, we are a seller-doer model, but we do have dedicated business development professionals. I think we have 18 of them across the firm. So our business developers are really the ones that are hands-on in research at a number of levels to understand their markets, identify potential clients, and qualify those clients. They're tapping our research librarians to help them with that. To dive deeper into clients and/or selection panels, understanding what's happening in the trends of the market itself. Our research librarian also helps project teams look for, you know, code things or changes in materials or a number of ways they can help our projects advance. In-house we also have what we call our Design Insight Group, and that is a group of PhD researchers and design anthropologists that are doing evidence-based research to help advance design. And we've connected that team with our marketing strategy and our national leaders so that we can identify research that's needed for how the markets are changing for our clients so that we can come to those clients with evidence and proof that design can truly impact and help their business. So, research in a number of ways.  [00:14:12] Michelle Calcote King: From a high-level industry perspective, how would you say marketing for architecture is changing? What are some of the trends that you're seeing impact your work and how is it changing than, say, how you did things five years ago?  [00:14:25] Jennifer Haferbecker: Lots, lots of change. I've been doing a lot of recruiting lately, and so I have often told the story that marketing in architecture is really not very old. Marketing was forbidden until the AIA changed its ethical standards in 1972. So in a lot of ways, we are still trying to catch up to other industries. But I do at the same time, we are really navigating all of the disruptors that others are challenged with. The first big disruptor is that customization, that technology piece. We will want to move to a customization of how people engage with us and engage with our content. They've got a company's marketing in digital experiences that are specific to each person's URL. We're trying to remove boilerplate and move to custom messaging. And then move to new formats of content, including video. So that in itself has really advanced how our marketing coordinators work, and in some ways that role within our firm has become a unicorn. They have to know how to write in graphics and technology and ePoms and all these things, landing pages, you know, that role didn't do even, you know, five or eight years ago.  And then we touched on it, but technology disruption around AI and, you know, all of the different marketing technologies that we can use in itself, it's disrupting how we work and those also require, like I said, our new marketing technology group within the firm.  I think I also, as an industry, we are still learning the importance of having a really strong, consistent brand. And we're learning how a really strong brand truly encompasses everything, but most importantly, that experience of our clients. You know, the channels and the format or the language that we use when we talk to a dean of music of a music school versus a clinic manager or a developer who wants to build life science or innovation campuses, that the language and those formats might be different, but there really needs to be consistency in our comprehensive approach to design that will lead us to sustainable, resilient and equitable outcomes that we really want to improve the human experience with and help exceed our client's goals. So regardless of the project type or the geography or the service, we are really trying to consistently leverage our interdisciplinary expertise. The research that I mentioned and really engage diverse stakeholders to prove that design can result in better projects and have a more positive impact.  [00:17:08] Michelle Calcote King: That's fascinating. Along the same lines, when you were talking about brand, it reminded me — I also saw when I was doing a bit of research that you had spoken recently about creating brand ambassadors. How do you do that? What are some of the ways that you encourage that and enable that? [00:17:24] Jennifer Haferbecker: The rebrand a few years ago definitely helped us with that because we were able to travel throughout the firm and meet with people, especially before the pandemic, and talk about our new strategic point of view. What that was. You share the values and how they were developed and ensure that they truly resonated with everyone. We slowly, through the strategic point of view, started to teach value propositions, and how we could use a similar structure in how we tell our stories. So, just the education around the brand itself and what brand means, and just empowering people that, you know, everyone within the firm has the ability to impact our success, and to help the future of the firm. So, what does that mean for them in their role and how can we help them be successful in that?  We have a long way to go, especially over the last few years. We recently had a group of leaders — we have an Enterprise Leadership Program within the firm to help train the next generation of leaders on how to run a firm of our size. They did a research project around brand consistency, you know, the balance of having a national brand versus some sub brands that are starting to develop within each of our sectors. And what they learned, even right now, they did a survey asking I think 200 people within the firm, what our values were, and they ended up with over a hundred different responses. So as we look at this new evolution of our strategic plan, there's a huge opportunity for us to redo that training and get a bit deeper with everyone around what it is and how to live it authentically.  [00:19:05] Michelle Calcote King: I can see that being such a core step to take, which is educating your internal stakeholders about your brand, and really helping them articulate it in a way that makes sense for their particular world because the bigger you get, those worlds are all quite different. Yeah, that's fascinating.  [00:19:20] Jennifer Haferbecker: Well, we want it to be authentic. It's harder, but I don't want to give them a script on “This is what you say about the firm and what it means.” I want them to be able to talk authentically about it in their role, and that's harder. It's harder to teach. It's also a bit harder to make sure that they have the opportunity to practice within the firm so that then when they are externally out with others, they can feel comfortable in it.  [00:19:42] Michelle Calcote King: From a pure self-interest perspective since we're a PR agency, tell me about the role of PR in your strategy and how it weaves in.  [00:19:51] Jennifer Haferbecker: The director of PR that we brought in, I think she's been with the firm now three years. So that's another example of how marketing and communications has evolved within the industry to have that in-house now. I think she had an amazing impact very quickly because she's an expert in PR. So to bring that expertise in, we are another example of constant learning and education, teaching people what that means. Very quickly, people point to needing more content out or needing more PR, and we spend a lot of time explaining what PR is, how it works. If we can get to a defined creative brief around content, it'll help us ensure that the level of what we're talking about is to a point that other outlets would want to pick it up and feature it. If it's something that we want to have a patrol over and be able to publish on our own or through different marketing campaign processes, but people don't understand the difference of it. [00:20:58] Michelle Calcote King: You articulated that well, though.  [00:21:00] Jennifer Haferbecker: That in itself has been extremely helpful in setting the right expectations, and then just the impact of it. We've definitely seen more articles and more features and more clients, the partnerships of clients very early on. So the sooner we can connect our communications teams to clients when we're awarded projects, the stronger those relationships become throughout the project and beyond because it really helps us with the advocacy after in the long-term relationships.  [00:21:33] Michelle Calcote King: The other thing I wanted to ask about was professional development. So I saw that you're involved in AIA and SMPS. If you're advising your younger team members to, you know, develop, what are some of those resources that you've found the most valuable over your career? [00:21:49] Jennifer Haferbecker: We definitely encourage everyone within the firm, especially the marketing and communications speakers, to build a network externally. That can be overwhelming all on its own, so to start with one thing that they're passionate about, one organization, and when they connect with that organization to be active in it. Try to be on a committee, try to be part of events, and things going on to really build stronger relationships. A lot of the things that I've experienced in SMPS, both nationally and locally, they can be very different. So when we talk about professional development, we are really trying to understand what people are driving towards. What is their passion so that we can find opportunities for them in the right way? We send a lot of marketing coordinators to, you know, Adobe MAX Conference. We have a few going out for a conference in AEC in a couple of weeks. We have a few of our marketing leaders participating in leadership executives training, either through programs or through one-on-one coaching. On the communication side, there's so many different organizations for writers and graphics and PR and communications. It's really about understanding what people want to do so that we can align them with the right resource.  I also teach that it might not be the right one, right? Go try and see how it fits and see how it resonates with you. Even if it's a personal coach, we might need to try a few until you find something that definitely resonates and you can be comfortable with moving forward.  [00:23:23] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah, that's smart because you're right there. So there's so much, there's so many disciplines and I'm sure you've got so many specialists, and it's really important to tailor it to that.  What would be the most important lesson, and let's think in terms of somebody a bit younger in their career starting out in marketing for architecture, what's the most important lesson you hope they take away from this conversation? [00:23:43] Jennifer Haferbecker: To stay open. One of the pieces of advice I received year way back, I think it was in middle school actually, was from a counselor. She explained to me that the act of learning is intellectual. There's a method to it, but the experience of learning, applying that knowledge, developing something, trying something new, it's emotional. And that is supposed to be uncomfortable because you are trying something new and it's awkward. So that is a lesson that I can apply in every aspect of my life, especially in the marketing realm where we are constantly trying new things. We are learning new technologies and learning new marketing strategies. The design industry is changing. To be open to learning, to be willing to be uncomfortable as you apply that learning, I think is extremely powerful.  [00:24:41] Michelle Calcote King: That's so smart. It's similar to what a personal trainer will tell you, you know, get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Very similar. [00:24:49] Jennifer Haferbecker: Exactly. Also recently, there's been too much research that proves that women in particular will hold themselves back. When a woman is presented with a new opportunity, she'll look at the requirements and will not apply until she can check every single box of that requirement. A lot of women will go back to advance their degrees or they'll go for a certification and that will prolong their growth and also add expense to it. Men, on the other hand, are very comfortable with their ability, and so they'll look at a list of requirements for an opportunity and if they can check even half those boxes, they'll apply. I've really been encouraging women in particular, just take your shots. No matter what. You're going to learn from it. You're going to learn one way or the other. And in that also remember to just celebrate your courage for trying.  [00:25:44] Michelle Calcote King: I'm sure having someone like you who has elevated to such a high role within the industry, you serve as a great role model for that. So, I appreciate that advice. Well, thank you very much. So, we've been talking to Jennifer Haferbecker of HGA. If people wanted to connect with you, what's the best place for them to do so?  [00:26:01] Jennifer Haferbecker: They can learn about the firm through HGA.Com. The best way to connect to me is probably LinkedIn and then my messaging and email is connected there as well. [00:26:12] Michelle Calcote King: Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for your time. It was a great conversation.  [00:26:16] Jennifer Haferbecker: Yes, I've enjoyed it. Thank you so much for having me.  [00:26:20]: Thanks for listening to "Spill the Ink," a podcast by Reputation Ink. We'll see you again next time, and be sure to click "Subscribe" to get future episodes.
Insights on scaling and selling multi-million dollar professional services firms
Sep 20 2023
Insights on scaling and selling multi-million dollar professional services firms
Some say that running a business is an art, not a science. But professional services firm owners should have a documented strategy for growing and scaling their business to one day (fingers-crossed) sell their company for millions of dollars. In 2017, Greg Alexander sold his consulting firm for $162 million. Now he’s on a mission to help other business owners achieve similar success.  In this episode of “Spill the Ink,” Michelle invites Greg to share lessons from his multi-million-dollar success story. They discuss the three stages of a firm’s life cycle — growth, scale and exit — as well as what owners should do at each stage to have a lasting impact on their firm’s value. Greg also emphasizes the importance of expanded service offerings, succession planning and good brand reputation as part of a firm’s long-term strategy. Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn Who is Greg Alexander and what is Collective 54 How Greg sold his boutique professional services firm for $162 million Do’s and don’ts for growing, scaling and selling your business Why you need to start succession planning early What the founder bottleneck is and how to overcome it Signs it’s time to sell your firm The ideal exit strategy for professional services firms How brand reputation could impact your ability to sell  About our featured guest Greg Alexander is the founder of Collective 54, the first mastermind community dedicated exclusively to thriving professional services firms with big aspirations. Collective 54 helps members make more money, work less and get to an exit bigger and faster. Members get access to a network of peers, proprietary content and benchmarking data, coaching, events and software, all custom-built to serve the unique needs of boutique professional services firms. After selling his own professional services firm, the consulting firm SBI, for $162 million, Greg founded Collective 54, and authored the best- selling book “The Boutique: How to Start, Scale, and Sell a Professional Services Firm.” He is also the host of the popular podcast “The Pro Serv Podcast.” Through his expertise and guidance, Greg helps members of Collective 54 grow, scale and exit their firms. Resources mentioned in this episode Check out Collective 54 Follow Collective 54 on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn Connect with Greg Alexander on LinkedIn Say hello to Michelle Calcote King on Twitter and LinkedIn Buy Greg’s book: “The Boutique: How To Start, Scale, And Sell A Professional Services Firm” Sponsor for this episode This episode is brought to you by Reputation Ink. Founded by Michelle Calcote King, Reputation Ink is a public relations and content marketing agency that serves professional services firms of all shapes and sizes across the United States, including corporate law firms and architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) firms.  Reputation Ink understands how sophisticated corporate buyers find and select professional services firms. For more than a decade, they have helped firms grow through thought leadership-fueled strategies, including public relations, content marketing, video marketing, social media, podcasting, marketing strategy services and more. To learn more visit www.rep-ink.com or email them at info@rep-ink.com today. Transcript [00:00:00] Greg Alexander: When the business is completely dependent on a founder, that's actually not a firm, that's a practice. A firm is a real asset, and the value of the firm goes way beyond the value of the founder. [music] [00:00:16]: Welcome to “Spill the Ink,” a podcast by Reputation Ink, where we feature experts in growth and brand visibility for law firms and architecture, engineering and construction firms. Now let's get started with the show. [music] [00:00:33] Michelle Calcote King: Hey everyone, and welcome to "Spill the Ink." I'm Michelle Calco King. I'm the podcast host and I'm also the principal and president of Reputation Ink. We're a public relations and content marketing agency for professional services firms. To learn more, go to rep-ink.com.  Today we're talking about a professional services firm's growth and scaling. A firm's path from a startup to a multi-million dollar business is rarely a straight line. There are turns, curves, peaks and dips all along the process, making a clear, long-term strategy critical to success. How can professional services firms evaluate and maximize growth, scaling and selling opportunities throughout their lifecycle? We're gonna explore that today in this episode. The perfect person to talk to about that is our guest today. Our guest is Greg Alexander. His company Collective 54, is dedicated to helping boutique professional services firms grow, scale and exit their business. Before launching Collective 54, Greg ran his own boutique professional services firm, which he eventually sold for $162 million. Wow. He also authored the bestselling book called "The Boutique: How to Start Scale and Sell a Professional Services Firm," and he hosts the "Pro Serve Podcast." Welcome to the show.  [00:01:53] Greg Alexander: It's great to be here. Thanks for having me.  [00:01:55] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah. Excited to talk about this. Tell me a little bit about, Collective 54 and the clients that you work with. [00:02:01] Greg Alexander: Collective 54 is what's known as a mastermind community. It's the first of its kind in that it's focused exclusively on the unique needs of the thriving boutique proserv firm. Members come in three kind of flavors, if you will. There's growth members, and these tend to be younger firms, maybe in the early days of their journey. They're trying to kind of figure out how to survive. How to grow to a certain level, etcetera. The next phase is the scaling phase, and we've got a group of members there. They're no longer worrying about surviving, but they're working 70 hours a week and they kind of want to figure out how to work smarter, not harder. The third group is the exit group. They've been doing it a long time. They want to do something else with their lives and they need to figure out how to sell their firms. Selling a professional services firm is a very nuanced thing, so we help them with that.  The number 54 is in the name Collective 54, because that's the North American classification code for professional services. So what's in that is what you might think: law firms, accounting firms, consulting firms, marketing agencies, IT service providers, architects, etcetera, etcetera. Pretty much experts that sell and deliver their expertise.  [00:03:15] Michelle Calcote King: Love it. I'd love to hear a little bit about your background in, selling a firm for, such a draw dropping number. Tell me a little bit about that.  [00:03:25] Greg Alexander: The name of the firm was called SBI.. I started that firm in 2006 and it was a management consulting firm in kind of a classic sense of the word. , We were heavily niched. We focused on business-to-business sales effectiveness. Our client base was a blend between kind of the Global 2000, so people that had huge investments in large sales forces, and also private equity firms that would buy companies and their thesis around buying the companies was to grow them. Our services were in demand there. In 2017 we sold that firm to a private equity, and the price was $162 million. And I share that number not to be braggadocious — sometimes it comes across the wrong way — but I share that to inspire people and say, "A service firm can actually pull this off," because it bothers me when they say, "Services firms can't scale and services firms can't exit and they're not wealth creating." That's not true, and I'm a walking example of that.  [00:04:27] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah, absolutely. What better proof point that you know what you're talking about to help firms scale? Absolutely. Along your path, what were some of those key things that you did right — I'm gonna also ask you what you did wrong — but that were critical to scaling and exiting the business that are now kind of foundational to your work with clients.  [00:04:50] Greg Alexander: There were several. I'll try to categorize them into the three steps of the journey. I like to say that a boutique goes on a life cycle. It's about 15 years on average. Start to finish is three stages: Grow, scale and exit. About five years in each stage. For me, in the growth stage, the critical things were to make sure that I knew the problem that I was solving for the client. In the early days a mistake I made was that I was running around with a solution looking for a problem, and that's very difficult to be successful. So we switched that, got really focused on what the problem was, and that really helped. The second thing in the growth stage, I would say is we got really tight on who our ideal client profile was because when you're a small company you have limited resources. There are only so many hours in the day, dollars in the bank and heads on the org chart. Concentrating those resources against an ideal client profile was super important for us, and that allowed us to grow a lot.  When we got to the scale stage, it was about working smarter, not harder. Specifically what that meant was generating revenue from things other than the billable hour. It was tech-enabling service delivery so we could be that much more productive on a revenue per head basis. It was leveraging global talent in different geographies around the world. And it was getting really smart on how we priced our services. Those things really kicked, the scale engine into gear.  Then when we got to the exit stage it really came down to three things. It came down to profit margin. We were very profitable. It came down to, the business not being dependent on me, the founder, because it's tough to buy a firm when it's dependent on one person. And about reducing client concentration. A lot of services companies look good on paper, but when you double-click, they got two or three clients that are 40, 50% of the revenue, and that's too risky for someone to buy. So, those are some of the things that we did along the way that helped quite a bit. And those are the things that we teach Collective 54 members in addition to others.  [00:06:45] Michelle Calcote King: That's great. What are some of the things along your journey that you wish you'd done differently that you help clients see and avoid? [00:06:54] Greg Alexander: I would say that we took too long. We should have made it through the growth stage — instead of five years — probably could have got there in two or three years, but I was the first-time founder figuring this stuff out on my own. I just didn't know any better so I made a lot of mistakes. The advice I'd give your audience is to tap into mastermind communities, whether it's mine or somebody else's. Being around peers can really help 'cause you can avoid paying some dumb taxes. I would say in the scale stage, I probably didn't get serious enough about succession planning. When I got to the exit stage everybody wanted to know could the business run without me.We were able to prove that that was true, and the firm has done very well since I've left, but there was a lot of convincing there. If I'd gotten engaged in succession planning much earlier, it would've made my life a lot easier.  Third I would probably say investing in new service delivery. We didn't do that fast enough. When things are going well, you think they're gonna go well forever. Then one day we woke up and we had this gold-plated client roster. In the early days we were a one-trick pony selling one thing. Eventually we migrated not only from sales effectiveness, but to marketing, to product, to general management, and I would've done that faster. So, the advice to audience members is to expand the service offerings as quickly as possible.  [00:08:13] Michelle Calcote King: Interesting. How does that compare to the prevailing wisdom around being very niche-focused? You mentioned being very kind of niche early on. So, expanding service offerings, are you still doing that within a niche? How do you balance that?  [00:08:29] Greg Alexander: Everything comes back to the fundamental problem we were solving, and that problem was we helped our clients grow their revenue stream faster than their competitors. That was the niche, and that was a really tight niche, but within our client base, there were a lot of people working on that problem. There was a sales leader, of course, and that was our first type of client, but marketing is heavily involved. The product leader is spending a lot of money bringing out new products. This is a top of mind issue for the CEO, etcetera. So it was still the same very tight niche, but we were expanding from function to function within that niche that allowed us to really grow.  [00:09:07] Michelle Calcote King: Nice. Okay. I'm curious — just because we work with professional services firms, we work with, law firms, architecture firms, engineering firms, that kind of thing. Do you find any differences between the types of professional services firms that you work with and the types of, problems that they tend to encounter or ways that they're scaling? [00:09:25] Greg Alexander: This is a great question and it's somewhat of a religious battle, so I'm glad that you asked it. Point of view. They're much less different than they think they are because they operate off the same business model. And that business model is they're marketing, selling and delivering expertise. Now where they differ is the expertise that they sell. Law firms and marketing agencies on paper don't look like they have a lot in common because their domain expertise is so different. However, their business model is identical. They still have to win clients; they still have to hire people; they still have to scope work correctly; they still have to manage their certain margin profile, you know, etcetera, etcetera. The business model is identical, but the domain is different.  [00:10:09] Michelle Calcote King: Interesting. I'm a member of a mastermind. Tell me a little bit about how it works for folks who maybe aren't familiar with what masterminds are.  [00:10:19] Greg Alexander: The principle of a mastermind community is peer-to-peer learning. All, uh, wonderful mastermind groups have six components to them. And we're standing on the shoulders of giants, of people that came before us, and these are the six that have been around for, I don't know, a hundred years.  So number one is you gotta build the network of peers, and they have to be real peers. What frustrates some is they join a community and they realize that this isn't their peeps. This isn't their tribe, and they're like, "These really aren't my peers." So it has to be a high quality network. That's number one.  Number two, they gotta produce interesting and insightful content. That content is usually user-generated content. It bubbles up from that network. I think that's gonna be particularly important going forward because we're living in the age of AI where content's gonna become a commodity. But when the content is coming from your peers, it's not a commodity. So it's very unique.  The third thing is data. All mastermind communities provide benchmarking data. So for example, are you charging enough of your services? Are you earning enough from a margin perspective? Being able to see the data of other members is really important.  Number four is software. Most mastermind communities have wonderful, member directories so you're only a click away from getting access to help. These days it's much like a social media feed. They have that so you can get instantaneous help. One of our members calls it "The Human Google." That's one.  The next is events. Thankfully the pandemic is behind us. We want to get together and go to events that are not just sitting in a Las Vegas conference room with 5,000 of your friends. Rather, going to an intimate event with maybe a hundred of your peers as an example.  The last one is coaching. Coaching comes in many forms. I can get coached by a mentor and I can be a mentee. Or I can get coached by, like, we have an advisory board that's handpicked individuals that happen to be experts. It's something that's relevant to our members, etcetera. So, those are the six items that are present in the best mastermind communities, and they're certainly the six things that we've built in Collective 54. Those are the six things that our members get value from.  [00:12:27] Michelle Calcote King: When you say content, what do you mean by that? We're a thought leadership content firm. Are you talking about content that you're sharing amongst members or these are firms that are generating great thought leadership content on a regular basis and sharing it with each other? Explain that a little bit more.  [00:12:43] Greg Alexander: It's not thought leadership content. I'm glad you asked that clarifying question. It's kind of like in-the-guts content. What I mean by that is like, I just got off of a member call and one member was sharing his template for a forecast because a lot of our members are really struggling with matching revenue and expenses because there's some volatility in the economy. Everybody knows that they have to create a forecast, but that's a big word. That word forecast is at 30,000 feet. How do I get a running start by stealing somebody else's templates? I'm 80% of the way there when I get started. It's that kind of content. Very practical. How to, best practice style content.  [00:13:24] Michelle Calcote King: Got it. Okay. One of the things that I often see with firms, especially professional services firms and especially law firms, is sort of that founder bottleneck. Can you talk a little bit about that and how, you help firms overcome that? Because I assume that's probably the number one critical thing that most firms face when trying to scale to the next level.  [00:13:48] Greg Alexander: Yeah, it is. Someone once told me along the way is that you start your firm to go into business for yourself. Then you wake up one day and you realize you're not in business for yourself, you're working for your clients. Then as your journey continues, you wake up one day and you're not working for yourself or your clients, you're working for your employees. At the end of that journey, you wake up one day and added to yourself, clients and employees, end up working for the investors or the bank. And that's very, very true. When the business is completely dependent on a founder, that's actually not a firm, that's a practice. A firm is a real asset, and the value of the firm goes way beyond the value of the founder. Sometimes, like in our community, most of our members, in fact, about 90% of them, this is the first firm they've ever started. So they don't necessarily know this yet, and the separation between firm and founder hasn't happened yet, but it's mission critical for it to happen because in the end, scaling a firm is just too much work for one person. As you get bigger, you can't get to what it is you're trying to get to if you're one person. Building a bankable executive management team is mission critical. And being an effective delegator to that management team is a critical element in scale. I will tell you it's something that most first time founders get wrong because, let's face it, the profile of a founder is they're fiercely independent, somewhat stubborn people, and they can suffer from micromanagement. Delegating is a tough thing for them, and trusting other people is a tough thing for them. So, they gotta get over that if they truly wanna scale their firm.  [00:15:37] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah. I noticed in your blog that you talk a little bit about growth by acquisition versus organic growth. How do you help firms determine what strategy is best for them and help them find their way with that?  [00:15:51] Greg Alexander: The way that we discuss growth is the first thing to do is to grow your current clients. Expand revenue from your current clients. Having an effective account management team in place that can spot new opportunity in the current client base is the first strategy. When you get out of the growth stage and you get to the scale stage, the revenue growth switches from acquiring new clients to expanding existing clients. New clients are always important, don't get me wrong, but the majority of the growth is gonna come from expanding your current clients because in the scale stage, that's what you have now. You have a client roster. In the early days, you don't really have a client roster, so all your revenue's coming from new clients. That's the first thing. Now, what do you have to do to expand revenue with your existing clients? Well, you have to come out with new services. And that is the lowest risk, highest probability way to grow your firm. Now, if you have a services roadmap that says, "Hey, I need to develop these services over the next 2, 3, 4, 5 years," it may make sense to buy a company, buy a firm that already has that service and bring them in. Where that works is when you have demand in your client roster for that service. So just by that firm, being part of your firm, you're gonna exponentially grow their revenue because you're gonna take that new service to your client base. Where it doesn't work is when you buy a competitor, one plus one, oftentimes equals 0.5 there because there's too much client overlap, and it's just not expanding the pie. It's just a defensive move to get rid of a pesky competitor.  [00:17:34] Michelle Calcote King: Got it. Interesting.  What do you see are those typical signs that it's time for a founder to exit? What are founders normally experiencing when they get to that third stage and they're looking to sell? [00:17:51] Greg Alexander: Well, there's a few things. First, the job satisfaction of the founder plummets because they're a long way away from the early days. Founders are pioneers. They like to be on the razor's edge and be out there trying new things. Scaling is in contrast to that. Scaling is doing more of what you've already done, just doing it better, faster, cheaper. Sometimes founders don't like that. So, that's the first thing I would say.  [00:18:16] Michelle Calcote King: Meaning founders are just sort of like shiny object syndrome? Is that kind of what you're saying? Yeah? Okay. And it's hard to kind of stick and just optimize. Okay. Yeah, I get that. [00:18:27] Greg Alexander: Yeah. So that would be one. The second one would be is that the market responsiveness, is the way I would say it, of the firm is degrading because the people in the firm have not been empowered to make decisions. You know, kind of all roads run through the founder, and when a firm gets busy, the decision-making cycle can get long. The remedy to that is to push decision-making power to those closest to the client so they can be super responsive in the marketplace. So, that's one. Another one would be lack of growth, top line revenue growth. Because again, it's too much work for one person, so you might have a business that was growing 30% a year for 10 years, and then all of a sudden it's growing at 20%, 10%, 5% because the founder is in the way strangling the growth. And then the last one, which is an easy one, is age. Founders they start their firms — the average age, and this was reported by Harvard Business Review, I believe, of a founder of a professional services firm is 44.  [00:19:25] Michelle Calcote King: Really? Oh, wow, okay. [00:19:27] Greg Alexander: Isn't that surprising? Yeah. So our belief is it takes 15 years approximately on average to go from cradle to grave. So if you push 15 years on top of 44, now all of a sudden you're in the retirement age. It's time to move on at that point, and can you? Do you have the next generation that can take the baton from you at that point in time? And that doesn't happen overnight. It can take 3, 4, 5 years to get the next generation ready to take over. [00:19:53] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah, absolutely. I would've thought it would've taken longer.  What does an ideal exit strategy look like? Give me a few of those ideal things that you've gotta have. Asking for a friend.  [00:20:07] Greg Alexander: I'll give you the qualitative and quantitative. So qualitative is that you as the founder are at peace with it. You've decided that you've been validated and it's time for you to move on, and you're not gonna have any kind of seller's regret after the fact. So, that's number one. Number two is along the way, you probably have some very loyal employees that are approaching family member status. You want to make sure that when you leave that those employees are very well taken care of. That's the second requirement. And the third requirement is similar in that it's clients. You probably have some longstanding clients that you care about and you have some relationships with, and you probably wanna make sure that they continue to be well served after your departure. On the quantitative side, it really comes down to two things. That is what's the purchase price that you sell your firm for? Do you feel good? That you're being fairly compensated for the asset that you created? The second thing is what are the terms of the deal? Depending on who you sell to, like, if you sell the private equity, there could be an equity role. If you sell to a strategic, there could be an earnout. If you sell to your employees, it could be a seller's note. The terms of the deal matter just as much as the purchase price.  [00:21:18] Michelle Calcote King: As part of your mastermind, it sounds like if you're in that third stage, you have access to all of those sorts of experts to help guide you. That's fantastic. I love the fact that you break it up into those three different stages. Even my mastermind that I'm a member of, you've got a lot of people at different stages of theirjourney. And it's all marketing agencies, but that does make a difference. Absolutely.  [00:21:44] Greg Alexander: It does. And that's why we did it. And that comes back to the fundamental principle of a mastermind that it's gotta be real peers. You might be a marketing agency, but you could be at drastically different points on the journey and dealing with different issues, right?  [00:21:58] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah, and just different desires and wants, which goes along with that stage of growth. I've got two more questions. For my own benefit, how much does reputation and brand play a role in, a professional services, sale?  [00:22:14] Greg Alexander: Oh, it's essential. I mean, professional services is an intangible. It's not like you go to buy a car, you can take a test drive. With professional services, you really can't do that. So what stands in substitute for being able to demo the product, if you will, is the reputation. If you're an expert, that's what you're trading on. People are looking to you to be an expert and it's so mission critical. That's why when I got to know you a little bit, you know, I know that you focus on that a lot and you know, how does a professional services founder establish a reputation? Well, there's the traditional way. It's like, for example, you mentioned my book, "The Boutique: How to Start, Scale, and Sell a Professional Services Firm." A book is a great way to do that, but I also have a blog, I've got a podcast, I've got a YouTube channel, you know, etcetera, etcetera. You have to establish your reputation. The best way, of course, is to do great work because word of mouth is mission critical, right?  [00:23:11] Michelle Calcote King: Yeah. That's the price of entry. Yeah, 100 percent.   Tell me what is the most important lesson, if you had to sum it all up, that you hope our listeners take away from this conversation? [00:23:23] Greg Alexander: Don't go it alone. Being a founder of a proserv firm is hard. I have this thing, I talk about, "The founder's trail." When you step on the founder's trail — think of that as like a trail towards climbing up a mountain, if you will. You step on a founder's trail, you're leaving, God forbid, all the cowards behind because it takes a lot of courage just to step on the trail. And then as you go along the trail, kind of the weak die off because not everybody can go through the three phases. There's a ton of small business owners, but there's very few entrepreneurs. A small business owner is someone who's running a nice little practice paying the bills. An entrepreneur is someone who's building a firm that's someday gonna be worth a lot of money. So as the weak kind of die off along the way, you reach that top, that pinnacle, if you will. And along the way it's such a bumpy ride that a lot of self-doubt will creep in and you might give up too early if you don't surround yourself with a peer group. But being around a peer group, they'll be that support system that you need to keep pushing when the times it looks like, "Geez, this might be too hard." Just hang in there. So don't go at it alone would be my advice.  [00:24:32] Michelle Calcote King: I love it. It's so true. I've heard often people talk, and I experience this a lot, it's a very lonely experience, too, to found a company. You have no cohorts in the early days. And then those colleagues that you used to have, there's suddenly that gap. So that's what masterminds are great for. You suddenly have someone to at least ask questions to, but also just complain when you need it or have that group to talk to who are going through the same thing as you. It is invaluable.  Well, thank you so much. We have been talking to Greg Alexander of Collective 54. Where is the best place for people to learn about you, and especially to buy your book?  [00:25:10] Greg Alexander: The book is on Amazon. Again, it's, "The Boutique How to Start, Scale, and Sell a Professional Services Firm" by Greg Alexander. The website is collective54.com, and on the website, I would encourage all of you to subscribe to our newsletter, which is called Collective 54 Insights. There you'll get a blog, a podcast, a video, a bunch of content beyond the book. And if you're interested in meeting peers and being in a mastermind community consider applying. You can fill out a Contact Us form on the website, and one of our representatives will be in contact with you.  [00:25:46] Michelle Calcote King: Thank you so much.  [00:25:47] Greg Alexander: It was my pleasure. Thanks for having me. [music] [00:25:50] Thanks for listening to “Spill the Ink,” a podcast by Reputation Ink. We'll see you again next time, and be sure to click subscribe to get future episodes.
The value of market research for architecture, engineering and construction firms
Aug 17 2023
The value of market research for architecture, engineering and construction firms
What do we all do before making a decision? Research. Market research enables architecture, engineering and construction firms to make strategic decisions about their business. Firms can use the information for diverse purposes, including to plan for the future, create buy-in, break into a new market and identify missed opportunities in their current markets. How do you know you’re doing “good” research? How should you incorporate your findings into your marketing strategy? Michelle invites Sarah Kinard to weigh in on the conversation in this episode of “Spill the Ink.” Sarah is the owner of The Flamingo Project, a market research and strategy consultancy for AEC firms. They discuss how firms can use market research to their advantage, common pitfalls to avoid, considerations before kickstarting a research project, and more. Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn Who is Sarah Kinard and what is The Flamingo Project What market research is and how to get started Why AEC firms commonly engage market research firms How market research supports growth strategies and decision-making  How market research information supports content development How to tell the difference between “good” and “bad” information What to know before engaging a market research firm  About our featured guest Sarah Kinard is a strategic visionary with over 20 years of experience in professional services firm strategy, marketing and implementation. She is known as a change agent and is frequently hired by firms to create a strategy rooted in research, business practice and scale, resulting in their unique growth plan. Her career has taken her from a well-regarded regional firm, to a national K-12 firm to begin a higher education practice that went global, to a global interior architecture firm focused on hospitality. Her experience and understanding of differing markets, project types and growth strategies bring thoughtful, tailored research to her clients. She is constantly curious and able to weave together market data and trends in insightful and actionable ways. Sarah's curiosity, fail-forward/fail-fast approach and desire to have fun in everything she does are the hallmarks of how she “does it differently.” Sarah serves the AEC industry as a Trustee for the SMPS Foundation, as past president for the SMPS North Texas Chapter, and recently received the Hall of Fame award from SMPS North Texas. She partners with many business consulting agencies in the industry, including Zweig Group, Go Strategies and Elevate Marketing Advisors. Resources mentioned in this episode Check out The Flamingo Project Follow The Flamingo Project on LinkedIn Connect with Sarah Kinard on LinkedIn Say hello to Michelle Calcote King on Twitter and LinkedIn Sponsor for this episode This episode is brought to you by Reputation Ink. Founded by Michelle Calcote King, Reputation Ink is a public relations and content marketing agency that serves professional services firms of all shapes and sizes across the United States, including corporate law firms and architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) firms.  Reputation Ink understands how sophisticated corporate buyers find and select professional services firms. For more than a decade, they have helped firms grow through thought leadership-fueled strategies, including public relations, content marketing, video marketing, social media, podcasting, marketing strategy services and more. To learn more visit www.rep-ink.com or email them at info@rep-ink.com today. Transcript [00:00:00] Sarah Kinard: I tell people that information is your compass. That's what market research gives you, information to make decisions. [music] [00:00:11]: Welcome to “Spill the Ink,” a podcast by Reputation Ink, where we feature experts in growth and brand visibility for law firms and architecture, engineering and construction firms. Now let's get started with the show. [music] [00:00:28] Michelle Calcote King: Hey everyone, I'm Michelle Calcote King. I'm your host and I'm also the principal and president of Reputation Ink. We're a public relations and content marketing agency for architecture, engineering and construction firms and other professional services firms. To learn more, go to rep-ink.com. Today we're going to talk about market research. Market research is often the compass that leads successful marketing campaigns, but what is the key to conducting good research and how can it help architecture, engineering and construction firms empower their marketing initiatives, chase growth opportunities and achieve success? Today I'm excited to welcome Sarah Kinard to talk about the topic. Sarah's the owner of The Flamingo Project. In addition to having a very cool company name, The Flamingo Project is a market research and strategy consultancy designed to grow existing AEC firms and launch new businesses. Sarah currently serves as a trustee on the Society for Marketing Professional Services Foundation and is a past president of that organization's Dallas Group. Thanks for joining me today, Sarah. [00:01:37] Sarah: Thanks. [00:01:38] Michelle: I'm excited. One, give me a little background about your career, why you created the Flamingo Project, and I always tell people not to double-barrel questions, but I'm going to do it. Tell me about how you came up with a name. [00:01:50] Sarah: That's okay. It's a good question. I'm a marketer at heart and when I figured out that that was my calling, I was at a small liberal arts college and they didn't have a marketing degree. They had traditional business, communication arts, those sorts of degrees. I went to the Board of Regents and created an interdisciplinary degree. So, apparently, I've always been an entrepreneur and I didn't know it.  [00:02:16] Michelle: Very cool. [00:02:17] Sarah: Marketing, communicating an idea has always been something that has fascinated me. I was the little kid loving commercials. Of course, like so many of us, I didn't find myself at a product. I found myself at a service, which is a different thing. My first full-time career job was at an architecture firm that designs everything but hospitals and jails. That's really where I learned the craft of architecture, fell in love with the industry and specifically, urban planning and how the profession can shape communities and cities for the better. Sometimes they’re not always for the better.  Once I had the industry jargon under my belt and understood how projects came to fruition, how you win projects, I joined a firm who hired me to work with a principal to establish a new practice. It was a firm that had a 60-year-old history of doing K-12 work only, and they wanted to get into higher ed. 100-year buildings are a different thing than K-12 buildings. That's really where I found that research was at the core of how I was going to make it work; understanding the differences in the markets, what was needed, how to identify projects, obviously, competition, differentiators, you name it. That's really where I found market research as such a core to who I am and how I operate. From there, I went national with the firm with higher ed. After that, it was what's the growth strategy beyond this for the firm? Acquisition was clearly the right path for them, but not for me. I decided to move on to a global firm. It was actually global. A lot of the times we talk about how it's a global firm, but do you actually have a global role? I had people in Shanghai, Singapore, all over the US, London, Paris, Dubai reporting to me. [00:04:09] Michelle: Very cool. [00:04:10] Sarah: I say the time zones were brutal, the travel was amazing. It was time to stop doing that.  [00:04:19] Michelle: I know travel is very sexy until you start doing it regularly for work. [00:04:25] Sarah: Exactly. From there, I was trying to discern what was next and I got to speak with fantastic firms out there who wanted me to help them to grow. I realized I wanted to help a lot of firms grow and that was when I decided that my next step was not for me to go into another firm.  One of the things that research gives you is the understanding of the market, of differentiation, of how you need to look differently, and what stands out from the flock? A flamingo. [00:04:59] Michelle: Love it. That's cool. I love that. I'm just curious because I know how long it took me to come up with my own company name. Did you know it? Did you have it in your heart? Or did it come from a painstaking process of a million names and coming down to that one? [00:05:18] Sarah: It's going to sound little nuts, but when I was having the revelation that this is what I needed to do I was sitting at our family lake house alone, which at that time never happened. We would all be there at the same time. My mother-in-law was obsessed with flamingos and there was a flamingo staring at me on the mantle. [00:05:39] Michelle: That's funny. I love that. [00:05:41] Sarah: The flamingo made me do it, is the other thing I like to say. [00:05:45] Michelle: I love it. I think it's great. [00:05:47] Sarah: It just also worked out. [00:05:49] Michelle: Let's talk about market research and AEC firms because this is an industry that is not known for being the most forward-thinking and progressive. Tell me about the kinds of market research that you do in AEC. [00:06:04] Sarah: I've really spent a lot of time trying to help firms boil this down because it is a little alien to them. They don't know what they're looking for, they don't know what to ask for.  I like to say, basically, there's different purposes for market research and understanding what the purpose is. Is it a growth initiative for your firm? A growth initiative could look anything like a new sector, a new service, a new region. Is it to really understand your brand position? Is it to understand where you can do more strategic promotion, is what I like to say, whether it's PR or conferences, any of that. Is it competitor profiling? Really understanding where you sit with your competition. Content development. What do we need to be talking about? Then going back to growth sector and geography forecasts. Are we in the right sectors and the right geographies for our services right now? Are they changing dramatically? I also refer to it as a health check, understanding where it is. And pursuit specific, of course. We're real accustomed to anything once we get an RFQ RFP in our hands for research. Where did that come from, who's our competition, what are our differentiators there? We're good once we get to pursuits specific, usually it's pulling back from that. I'd like to say that those are usually the purposes and sometimes that can be in tandem with a strategic plan. Sometimes it can be because you lost something you didn't expect to lose. There can be reasons to give energy to the idea of market research, but those are the common purposes. [00:07:54] Michelle: Do you see that AEC firms only do market research as a one-off? Have you worked with some firms that are really starting to incorporate it as something that they do day in, day out, it's a regular part of how they operate? Are you seeing that shift? [00:08:09] Sarah: I am seeing that shift. It's very exciting and I really believe that it is indicative of the transition of leadership to the next generation.  One of the big differences between, let's say the boomer generation that has owned firms for a long time and done amazing owning the firms, but also benefited from really long-term expansion of markets. Yes, there were downturns in there, don't get me wrong. There were downturns, but they were all fairly typical. There was a cause and so there was a response. It was less multifaceted than the world that we are in today.  That is also a generation that started a firm, grew it locally, regionally, and maybe beyond, and could do that very well through relationships and not necessarily through market information. The generation that's taking over in leadership now, whether they're Gen X or millennials, are more accustomed to having access to information to make decisions, period. It's how they operate. It's very exciting to me when I get these phone calls where somebody says, "I've just been moved into a director of strategy role for the firm, and so I'm responsible for looking at potential growth opportunities, but I don't know how to do that. Can you help mentor me in how to do that?" Which it's thrilling to me. It's thrilling that firms are saying, "How can we make sure that this firm stays really viable for our employees, for our clients, for the communities we're serving?" It's very exciting. [00:10:03] Michelle: Yes, I bet. It's really rewarding when something you've been telling clients forever that, "This is a good thing, this is important," and then they start to implement it and ask for it without you having to struggle and push them toward it, I know that feeling.  We do a lot of content for AEC firms. Tell me about the work that you're doing to help fuel content. I'd love to hear more about that. What research are you doing and then, tell me about the output. [00:10:31] Sarah: What I'm doing is very different from what you are doing. I am saying very much, at the high level, strategic, "This is where we want to go with our vision. This is where we want to be in 3–5 years. What are the influences on our industry that we need to be talking about? What are the things we're trying in terms of new markets to capture? How do we need to be talking about that in the future so that it will resonate with where we're going?" It's much more at the company vision level and response to influencers and drivers in the marketplace. I do not do SEO evaluations and those kinds of things. It's more around, "This is where we want to be in the future." I have a client who says that what they like about working with me is we lift the gaze towards the future in everything that we do so that we don't, in the busy times — which we all know, are frequent — get stuck looking down at the piece of paper to get the work done and then look up later and say we missed. I'm really focused on, "What are the economic impacts that we're going to be seeing? What are the drivers of the market that are changing? Really, what are the things that our clients even need to be thinking about?" [00:11:57] Michelle: Yes. We live in this information age, we're in the heyday, right now, of ChatGPT and all this, how do you help clients tell the difference between good and bad information? How do you help them sort through that? [00:12:11] Sarah: I just love this question. [00:12:13] Sarah: My husband and I actually talked about this question last night as we were talking about our days today. I think that just in terms of me and where I sit, generationally, I couldn't refer to anything on the internet in a research paper in college. [00:12:32] Michelle: Right, I know. Same generation.  [00:12:36] Sarah: That was all very voodoo. LexisNexis is where you went for your information. It was already this canon of information that was, "This is the real deal." The World Book Britannica was the real deal. Today, yes, what is good and bad information? I like to tell people that, yes, there is definitely bad information out there, but really looking at it and saying, "Who is this coming from? What is their point of view?"  For example, people will call me to look at transportation for them. Transportation is, of course, a broad market. One of my favorite resources is ARTBA, but ARTBA, it leans towards things that are impacting labor for truck drivers. I just need to know that when I am referencing it. Really, what the clients want to understand is, for the trucking industry, how EV is going to be impacting construction, durations of rides, all those sorts of things. That's what we care about. Yes, we care about the labor too, because without them there to work, it impacts our industry for sure. Understanding the bias that certain things come with that are good bias, somebody else needs that bias. I don't need that bias. They have a lot of other very helpful and good information. I like to say go to organizations and associations, but every one of them has a point of view. Every one of them has a point of view, something that they're advocating for. Make sure you understand what it is they're advocating for so that when you're reading, and you're researching, you understand the bias that's there. [00:14:23] Michelle: Yes, it's like how I prep clients for media interviews. The journalist has a story they want to tell. Figure out what angle they're coming at, to begin with. We all want every media interview to start with a very— We don't play in the real politicized world of media, but there's still a story they're trying to get. They're still trying to fill a hole in an editorial calendar. You've got to go into it understanding that before you conduct the interview and make sure that you're operating from that. That's a great point. [00:14:58] Sarah: You can have a source that is a good source, but it becomes a bad source for you because you don't understand their point of view. [00:15:08] Michelle: That makes sense. If you're a marketing director at an AEC firm, and you're like, "We've really never conducted research, and I feel like we should," what would be a good start for somebody who's like, "We just need to get more direction to our marketing strategy"? Where would they start to integrate research into that? [00:15:30] Sarah: I believe that a marketing strategy is a response to where you are and where you want to go as a company. When the purpose of research is about the company strategy, the marketing strategy has to help move the needle there. When you want to inform your marketing strategy, you're uncovering where you need to use different messages to differentiate to meet your market and stand out from the flock, as I say. It's a response to that company vision and understanding what that means in terms of where we're trying to go and not just the words and the vision. Is it a growth initiative? Is it going deeper within an existing market? That's what we're trying to do usually with our work, is lay the groundwork for that to be done.  Going back to the purposes, the common purposes is that you guys want to be, from a competitive standpoint, winning at SEO. Then it's content, and so it is understanding what content is needed. Is it that you want, in a specific market, to be more well-known? Strategic promotion may be what you really need to be focusing on. It's almost do a swat to say, "What is it that we need to shore up right now?" That's a good starting place. Really, the marketing strategy is a response to where you are and where the company wants to go. [00:16:59] Michelle: I'm jumping around a little bit here, but I find—because we work exclusively with professional services firms, positioning is a real interesting thing for professional services firms. Like you said, most of the previous generation, their positioning was their geography. It was where they were based. They're a South Carolina firm and that was it. There was no other thought around positioning beyond geography. Are you finding that more firms are really starting to think more strategically and globally around their positioning? [00:17:34] Sarah: Yes, I think that the firms who have expanded their footprints beyond, let's call it, four or five geographies, have to find their voice and their point of view. Whether they plan to expand beyond where they are right now at all, they have to have a point of view. You look at large architecture firms and engineering firms that have been around for a long time, and you call XYZ Engineering Firm when you are going to do something really complicated. That's their brand. They haven't had to open additional offices in places because their expertise is sought after. Their point of view as well is sought after. As well as certain architecture firms, they've got specific expertise in certain areas. That's one model is the whole, "I've got a point of view, people will want me to come.” And then others that just want to expand geographically across the United States for various reasons. It could be driven by their clients and their clients being in those places. It could be because they're wanting to be more differentiated for resilience. [00:18:49] Michelle: That makes sense. That's great. Tell me, what do you wish firms knew before engaging a market research firm? [00:18:57] Sarah: That is such a great question and a little bit of a complicated question because this is such a new thing for so many firms. I think what I wish they knew is when they're hiring a firm, it is for you. This is not a report you're buying off of a shelf. This is for you. That's where I spend a lot of time helping them to refine what the purpose is and how they're going to use it. A great example of that is if this is something that is part of a strategic plan initiative where they're going in, and they're saying, "We want to understand what's going on nationally in the market when we're doing our strategic planning to determine some potential growth areas for ourselves,” that's one purpose. Or during the strategic—because people always ask me, do we do it before or do we do it after? Both, it doesn't matter. You can decide you want to grow, you want to differentiate and then do the research to decide which direction. [00:20:03] Michelle: Right, yes. [00:20:04] Sarah: Or you can do it at the front end either way. If it's for that, they're not necessarily looking for in every single market, all of the competition by volume, by this, by that. They're trying to understand what's the opportunity, what's the scale of that opportunity and how crowded is it? Those are some of the questions that we're going to want to answer. Then we stop because they're using it to make a determination of do we want to go further.  You decide you want to go further, you want to investigate — and this is an example, for one of my clients — want to investigate K-12 in this state because you want to grow further in the state. Guess what? One of the deliverables is a spreadsheet of all of the past bond elections, all of the firms that did the work from those bond elections, their voting history, all the things you need to make a decision of, is this a good one for us to go look at? Is this a large district that tends to break up projects into $10 million projects instead of a district that either awards at all to one firm and has awarded it to the same firm for the last four bond cycles? These are the kinds of things. It's both a understanding the health of the market, where population growth is forecasted, all those kinds of things but there's a spreadsheet so that their BD teams, their seller-doer teams can go in and say, "If I'm looking at this district, what's the story?" How are you going to use it? is a really important question. Especially in the engineering world, because they're engineers, they want to get down to all of that nitty gritty. I say, we can do that, but I don't know that you're going to use it to make the decisions you need to make based on the purpose you told me. [00:21:59] Michelle: Right, just helping them come back and remind themselves of what they're doing. [00:22:03] Sarah: Exactly. Purpose and how you're going to use it. [00:22:05] Michelle: Yes. I always like to ask this, if, let's say, somebody didn't have time to listen to this conversation, what's the most important lesson you hope someone would come away from about market research in the AEC industry? [00:22:19] Sarah: I tell people that information is your compass. That's what market research gives you is information to make decisions. My definition of market research is an answer to a question that informs action with a defendable why. If I break that down, market research is asking a bunch of questions and going to find the answers, which then helps you determine, "Are we going to go do that or not do that?" Because you have done that based in information, you have a defendable why over and over again. To me, information is your compass. Market research can give you the information that you need and it doesn't have to be hard either. [00:23:02] Michelle: Yes. Thank you so much.  We've been talking to Sarah Kinard of The Flamingo Project. If somebody wants to learn more, maybe has a market research project they've been pondering, what's the best way for them to connect with you? [00:23:15] Sarah: theflamingoproject.com is my website. I have a number of articles and worksheets and things like that on my site for market research to help get you going, to get your brain oriented into market research. I am always up for a conversation of how to break it down, make it easier and simplify it so that you guys can get started. [00:23:40] Michelle: Wonderful. Thank you so much. [music] [00:23:42] Sarah: Thank you. [music] [00:23:44] Thanks for listening to “Spill the Ink,” a podcast by Reputation Ink. We'll see you again next time, and be sure to click subscribe to get future episodes.
Virtual communication for legal professionals
Aug 3 2023
Virtual communication for legal professionals
Virtual meetings and remote work are the new norm of the professional landscape — yes, even for law firms. As the industry evolves, so should our communication skills.  Michelle invites Marsha Redmon, a legal communications and business development consultant, to share advice on how legal professionals can improve their engagement when presenting and pitching to remote and hybrid audiences.  They discuss best practices for communicating in different scenarios, common mistakes lawyers make, how to project confidence and credibility, and more. Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn Who is Marsha Redmon and what is Marsha Redmon Communications The challenges lawyers face with virtual communication How to engage audiences in remote and hybrid settings Common mistakes attorneys make when setting up their video Advice for setting up your remote video to enhance credibility What technology and equipment are worth investing in How to train and mentor employees remotely Best practices for holding difficult conversations virtually Best practices for presenting to C-suite executives Projecting confidence and authority as a woman About our featured guest Elite law firms and lawyers have gone to Marsha Redmon for 20+ years to learn how to have a more powerful presence when they speak. During COVID, she became the go-to expert teaching professionals worldwide how to fix their virtual presence so they can speak with confidence and engage powerfully — to win clients, have impact and own their niche. Marsha is a former practicing attorney and award-winning TV journalist. The through-line in her varied career is, “There must be a better, faster way to do this.” Her workshops teach lawyers and executives the speaking skills and a fast messaging process they need for effective thought leadership in every scenario: speeches, panels, pitches, media interviews, client summits. Marsha practiced law at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and was an award-winning consumer and investigative television reporter in major markets. She also taught business communications to MBA students at the University of Maryland. Resources mentioned in this episode Check out Marsha Redmon Communications Follow Marsha Redmon Communications on LinkedIn and Twitter Connect with Marsha Redmon on LinkedIn Say hello to Michelle Calcote King on Twitter and LinkedIn Download Marsha’s “5 Steps to Being a Powerful Virtual Presenter” checklist Sponsor for this episode This episode is brought to you by Reputation Ink. Founded by Michelle Calcote King, Reputation Ink is a public relations and content marketing agency that serves professional services firms of all shapes and sizes across the United States, including corporate law firms and architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) firms.  Reputation Ink understands how sophisticated corporate buyers find and select professional services firms. For more than a decade, they have helped firms grow through thought leadership-fueled strategies, including public relations, content marketing, video marketing, social media, podcasting, marketing strategy services and more. To learn more, visit www.rep-ink.com or email them at info@rep-ink.com today. Transcript [00:00:00] Marsha Redmon: Lawyers often aren't aware of their audience, and so they tend to talk over the heads of people when they're in person, and virtually, it's a lot easier to lose your audience. If you're not concise, if you're not focused, if you don't have energy, if you're not making eye contact, all of those things make it much easier for you to lose the attention and really lose the ability to connect virtually. [music] [00:00:27]: Welcome to “Spill the Ink,” a podcast by Reputation Ink, where we feature experts in growth and brand visibility for law firms and architecture, engineering, and construction firms. Now, let's get started with the show. [music] [00:00:44] Michelle Calcote King: Hi, everyone. I'm Michelle Calcote King. I'm your host, and I'm also the prin