Thursday, September 24, 2009

Why design isn't king anymore

Media blogger Charles Warner wrote in today's Huffington Post that media content is no longer king. Among other things, the proliferation of content of all types of quality on the Web was key to arriving at this point.

Warner goes on to assert that mystery of parsing out the good bits of content has been solved by Google, which has become the largest media company in the world by being an aggregator of content, not an originator, a creator of content. In other words, the content is the commodity - the ability to make sense of the content is the bankable function.

Using Warner's piece as a backdrop, think about how the proliferation of design of all types of quality is commoditizing your business. I hear all the time about firms re-inventing themselves to get into markets that are thriving. In western Canada, The Trade, Investment, and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) is creating a climate in which projects that would have attracted six or seven consultants are now attracting 25 to 30. And for as long as we are in slow recovery, this is going to be more prevalent for the next 12-18 months.

So how do you become the Google of the markets you serve? For starters, you need to become a separator of wheat from chaff for your clients. Make sure your marketing people, your PMs, and your principals are authorities on your clients' businesses. All things (design) being more-or-less equal, your competency as a business partner is what gets and keeps good clients. Once you have established your firm as a business consultant that does design, you'll see significant improvement in your proposal and presentation skills as well as your ability to choose the right clients and projects.

Warner goes on to explain that individual media brands (like Stephen King) don't even need Google...but I will leave turning your firm into the Stephen King of the A/E industry for another day.

Bottom line: let the others worry about commoditization - you should embrace it - and use it to your advantage.

Until next time,


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

So much for that ABI turnaround

The American Institute of Architects' Architecture Billings Index gave back some of the increase it registered in July as its August ABI rating was 41.7, down slightly from 43.1 in July. That July number was a six-point increase over June, so while things were a bit sluggish in August, they are still above what they had been in June.

That said, the August numbers represent the continuation of an up-and-down pattern that has plagued the ABI all summer and is indicative of the changing nature of the economy. The index was 42.9 in May, dipped to 37.7 in June, increased to 43.1 in July, and now dipped to 41.7 in August.

This type of pattern makes it difficult for A/E firms to make strategic decisions with any certainty that their fortunes are turning for the better.

Then again, the new projects score in August 21 was 55.2, up from 50.3 in July and above the 53.8 in June.

"While there have been occasional signs of optimism over the last few months, the overwhelming majority of architects are reporting that banks are extremely reluctant to provide financing for projects, and that new equity requirements and conservative appraisals are making it even more difficult for developers to get loans," said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker. "Until the anxiety within the financial community eases, these conditions are likely to continue."

Regional averages were as follows: Northeast (45.2, up sharply from 37.8 in July and 42.8 in June, but still below the 48.3 in May and 47.1 in April), South (44.1, up from 43.4 in July and 40.5 in June), Midwest (43.0, up from 36.9 in July), and West (37.5, down from 39.7 in July, 39.9 in June, 39.4 in May, and 39.2 in April).

The August ABI breaks down by sector as follows: commercial/industrial (45.6, up from 42.9 in July and 39.5 in June), multi-family residential (43.4, up from 40.7 in July and 42.7 in June), mixed practice (41.4, down from 42.9 in July, 43.5 in June, 44.5 in May, 44.2 in April, and 44.0 in March), and institutional (37.5, up from 37.1 in July and 37.0 in June).


Friday, September 18, 2009

A good client and staff recruiting tactic

Earlier this year, the Boston University Mens' Ice Hockey team won the NCAA National Championship. Their long-time coach Jack Parker originally planned to raise his team's championship banner during one of the first home games of the season vs. Notre Dame. Recently Coach Parker changed his mind and opted to raise his banner during a scrimmage game against the US Under-18 Development team.

Why would he do that? The game will be sparsely attended by alumni and fans and the event will likely pass without much media fanfare. Here's why it's a brilliant move:

Many of the players on the US Under-18 Devlopment team are blue-chip college prospects and have not committed to college yet. What better way to showcase the program than to make these players a part of recognizing the achievement of the sport's ultimate goal? What will these players be thinking as they watch BU's championship banner being raised to the home rink's rafters? Do they see themselves on the other bench wondering what it feels like to be a champion?

What's the lesson for A/Es? Start making your successes into targeted recruiting tools. PR is great, placing articles and getting media coverage is important, but you need to look at every excellent thing you do as a direct opportunity to show prospective clients and employees that you are the best. For example, when you win a Design Award, have the celebration at a college where you can recruit top graduates. When you open a new building project, recognize it at a meeting of your clients' affiliated organizations. These are the people that need to see your success and more importantly, envision themselves as an integral part of the next one.

Have a great weekend!


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Balfour Beatty to buy Parsons Brinckerhoff

Yes, you read that headline (printed this morning on MarketWatch and Reuters, among others) correctly.

According to an article posted a few minutes ago on Marketwatch,com, the London, England-based engineering firm Balfour Beatty said earlier today that it will acquire Parsons Brinckerhoff for $626 million and will finance the deal with a rights issue.

The acquisition and rights issue, taken together and before exceptional items, are expected to enhance earnings per share in 2011, Balfour Beatty said. The rights issue will be fully underwritten on a three for seven basis and will raise approximately 353 million pounds ($583.19 million U.S.).

"The acquisition of Parsons Brinckerhoff represents the realization of a number of key strategic objectives for Balfour Beatty. In particular, we believe it makes us one of the world's major players in professional services, substantially strengthens our U.S. presence and puts Balfour Beatty in an excellent position to take advantage of increased infrastructure spending," the firm said.

Shares jumped 8.1 percent in London on the news of the deal.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Are you really on the same team with your staff?

It's usually not a good idea to extrapolate flabby sports metaphors to the business world. We are not professional athletes. If we were, we'd all be making a heck of a lot more money...

Today, I am making an exception: I heard an interview this morning with NFL quarterback Tom Brady who was being asked about some recent personnel changes on his team and about how players view the coaches in general. Brady said that its sometimes hard for the players to picture that they and the coaches are on the same side. Makes sense when you think about it - coaches at spend inordinate amounts of time offering criticism of what the players have done, and most coaches at the professional level have not matriculated into School of Sensitivity Training. Brady said that once players get beyond the bad feelings associated with receiving bushels of blunt criticism, it becomes easier to develop a collaborative relationship with them. Of course, there is a catch: a coach decides when a player gets shipped out, thus ending the relationship. And this is not a rare fact, it's how most coach-player relationships end.

Think about your own organization - if all you do is criticize your players the natural progression for them is to assume that you could wake up tomorrow and get rid of them. You could have very productive valuable people on your team who, after some periods of time of hearing nothing but negativity, be convinced that you plan to get rid of them at the first convenient moment. Don't believe me? Do an anonymous poll: Do you think you could be let go from the firm for non-performance this year? I promise you there are more people than you think who believe they could be - even when it could be farthest from the truth.

The first thing you need to do is make it clear that your stars are stars. Second, you need to recognize when people do something good - this is FREE, by the way. Lastly, you need to be transparent - people need to know where they stand and feel confident that you are indeed on the same side. Rather than playing not to lose, you need your people to play to win.


Friday, September 4, 2009

Wake me up when September ends

With apologies to Green Day (that's a rock band for all you silverbacks out there) I have to share with you today an example of exactly what not to do when you are out of the office for prolonged periods of time.

This morning, I sent an email to a C-level business consultant who had his Out of Office AutoReply set with the following message:

I am away from my office until October 1 and will have very limited e-mail access. If you need help right away, please call xxx-xxx-xxxx and ask for _______.

Leaving an Out of Office AutoReply like this telling potential clients you will be inaccessible for a month is not a good idea. At the C-level in a client-oriented business, you need to create the perception that you are always available. If I were a client looking to work with this guy's firm and he were my only contact in the organization, I would be inclined to take my business someplace else. I think it's also worth noting that this consultant's business has not exactly been drowning in cash lately.

Here at PSMJ, there is a team of people who have access to each other's email - as well as and and we check with other constantly to ensure that no opportunity falls through the cracks -and we're selling $47 books, not trying to win six- and seven-figure design projects. Sure, this is financially driven, but it's also common courtesy.

If you or your bosses do stuff like this, you need to look at a different options.

Have a great Labor Day weekend,


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The AEC industry loses an icon

The AEC industry is mourning the loss of Ralph Peterson, the long-time chairman and CEO of CH2M Hill, who passed away last night at his home in Denver.

We got an e-mail this morning letting us know of Peterson's passing. Peterson has battled cancer for many months. "He loved our company and all of its employees very much. His passion, dedication, and leadership built CH2M Hill into the place that we are all so proud of today. He was an industry icon."

Our thoughts are with the Peterson family, the CH2M family, and Peterson's friends and colleagues who like us are saddened by his passing.

Follow @PSMJ_Resources