As I research the architecture and engineering (A/E) industry for a new position in marketing or business development, I have visited the websites of dozens and dozens of firms, large and small, which cater to various market sectors. In reading through these websites, I have noticed that the vast majority of firms seem to be missing out (or at least they don’t promote it) on a marketing tactic that they, and many B2B companies, fail to consider and take advantage of – speaking engagements.
Traditionally and historically, most A/E firms have come to rely on the submitting of proposals, as the primary means by which they generate and secure new business. Beyond proposals, it’s a toss-up as to how firms market themselves and develop new business opportunities. While some firms rely on emails, others might rely on e-newsletters. Where trade shows might make sense for some firms, others prefer to rely on printed collateral (e.g., case studies). While many of these tactics and mediums make perfect sense, especially when thought about and implemented in an integrated manner, speaking engagements, for some reason, are never really considered. Why is that?
Whether it’s a discussion panel at an industry event, an interview with the media or a hosted webinar, speaking about a topic that a firm’s principal or staff member holds near and dear to them is an almost guaranteed way for the firm to raise brand awareness, establish subject matter credibility, develop a thought leadership presence and, most importantly, generate project leads. With so many benefits to take advantage of, it’s hard to understand why A/E firms shun speaking engagements as a core marketing tactic.
To consider and include speaking engagements as part of a firm’s marketing approach takes some work, but it’s not insurmountable. First, the firm needs to identify the topic(s) it feels comfortable with and knowledgeable enough to speak about (if the topic can be a source of strategic/competitive differentiation that is ideal). Second, speaking opportunities need to be researched and venues, events, organizations, etc. need to be contacted (here firms might be told they need to join an organization first, before an invitation to speak can be given). Third, once a venue is identified the presentation or speaking points need to be developed and thoroughly practiced. Fourth, the firm should actively promote the speaking engagement to clients and, more importantly, to prospects. Fifth, the firm should follow up post-engagement with event attendees. This step is critical, as this is what leads to establishing relationships and or generating referrals. And sixth, promote the engagement again to prospects (e.g., post a video of the engagement online, send a link to the engagement video in an email, etc.). The biggest take away from this is that the engagement itself should be leveraged as much as possible for marketing purposes. Perhaps a blog post discusses the speaking event, or parts of the event are edited into a firm branding video, or a press release is generated. The worse thing that a firm could do is spend a great deal of energy and resources to make a speaking engagement happen, but then to let it go from a marketing or promotion perspective.
When it comes to deciding who at the firm will speak, the principals need not feel it is all on them. Perhaps there is a senior staff member who can speak and represent the firm, or someone in marketing and business development if they know enough about a subject. Instead of letting opportunities fall by the wayside, because a principal may not feel comfortable in a public setting, for example, the firm should ask for volunteers, as this is great experience for an up-and-coming architect or engineer to have from a career development perspective. Also, in the event that a speaking opportunity cannot be found, there is nothing wrong with the firm creating an event of its own, whether it’s a webinar, client appreciation function, etc. This also starts to get into the realm of something totally different, yet just as worthwhile, strategic partnerships, but I digress.
As with most anything marketing related, there are costs involved, but that’s another great advantage of speaking engagements. Chances are a speaking engagement can be had for free, but even if a firm has to join an organization, as mentioned above, an annual membership fee of $1,000 or $2,000 can quickly pay for itself. First, a membership will provide speaking access to a highly targeted audience, which could be local, regional or even national in scale. Second, a membership will provide entree to the organization’s social/networking events. Third, a membership enables the firm to join and participate in committee meetings, which is another way to network. Fourth, a membership, when properly promoted, shows prospects and clients how the firm chooses to participate and be seen within the industry. Fifth, a membership serves as a source of credibility, as long as the organization itself is credible.
In summary, with the right amount of focus and attention, speaking engagements can serve as an excellent tactic by which an A/E firm can market and promote itself, as well as differentiate itself from the competition.
As mentioned in the beginning of this article, I am currently searching for a marketing or business development position within the A/E industry. Should you know of any opportunities, or even if you have any questions about items discussed above, please contact me at at firstname.lastname@example.org.