AEC Jobs | Marketing For Construction Companies and Engineering Firms

A marketer recently asked me to provide some advice on how to move up the corporate ladder in the AEC marketing world, especially when you are in your 20s. Well, until my business card says Chief Marketing Officer, I certainly can’t consider myself an expert in this area. But, of course, I can give you my two cents.

Considerations When Climbing the Corporate Ladder

Let’s look at the big picture. You are probably thinking you’re not sure what you want to do with your life. But you do know what we are supposed to do, move up the corporate ladder, gain more responsibility, get a bigger salary, buy a big car, and get a big house. You think that’s a unique problem that only you have? Don’t be stupid. Everyone has that problem. That’s the American dream. We are conditioned to want it. We all chase it. But take a moment to ask yourself, is that truly what you want?

Let me give you an example. When I was a business development coordinator for a MEP design firm, it wasn’t uncommon for me to go out on the weekend and spend a couple hundred bucks on CDs (hey, I like music). If I wanted something, I bought it…no questions asked. Honestly, I have much more money now. But would it be reasonable for me to go out and spend a couple hundred bucks on CDs? No. With a mortgage and a family to think about, my lifestyle and priorities are just different.

The point I’m trying to make is determine what lifestyle you want to live. Do that first, and then figure out the money and time you need to live that lifestyle. That’s going to define what job you need. Remember, you work to live. You don’t live to work. So start from, “What lifestyle do I want to live?” and then move backwards.

It Has a Lot to Do with Corporate Culture

Maybe you want an important title, but the probability of that happening is going to depend a lot on your firm’s culture.

I know people who in less than one year went from marketing coordinators to marketing directors. I know AEC firms that have multiple marketing directors. Then there are firms, like mine, who don’t have marketing directors. There are firms that have senior marketing coordinators, and those that don’t. There are AEC firms that have marketing managers, and those that don’t. There are AEC firms that have marketing coordinators, and even some that don’t.

I’ve met marketing directors and CMOs whose family own their business. Some even have a large equity stake in their business. So, in cultures like that, marketing is going to have a lot of say in the firm’s direction. Other firms treat their marketing people like dirt. I’ve met marketing directors who have less control and influence in what their firm does than most marketing coordinators.

There are marketing directors and CMOs out there that haven’t received raises or bonuses in years. During my career, I’ve always received a raise. And in the last seven years, I have always received a bonus. That’s the upside of my firm’s corporate culture. But each corporate culture has its up sides and its down sides. So it’s almost impossible to evaluate marketing positions from the standpoint of apples to apples.

The Freedom To Do What You Want, Guess What…You Already Have It.

Here’s a common complaint I hear from young marketers, “They won’t let me do _.” A classic one I heard is, “they won’t let me call on potential clients.” Hold it right there. There are tons of potential clients out there. You probably own a phone. You probably get a lunch break. So, I don’t understand what’s holding you back. If they won’t let you do it on their time and their dime, do it on yours. Trust me that when you land a new client or even get a meeting with a potential new client, nobody is going to fire you. Most likely they will praise your initiative. If they are wrong, take it upon yourself to prove them wrong. I started the construction netcast with my camera during lunch.

What about, “they won’t let me determine the design of the marketing piece.” Well, have you taken some of your own time to design a marketing piece that will simply knock someone’s socks off? Have you taken the time and initiative to become a great designer? Most likely you think you are a good designer, but you actually suck. It’s called the Dunning Kruger Effect, look it up. Trust me, if you were really that great, no architect or engineer would be able to tell you otherwise. But that doesn’t mean it’s too late to become great.

Your boss may have control over you for 8 hours, but there are 24 hours in a day. So that’s 16 hours a day you can do whatever you want. As you get older, that 16 hours of freedom will dwindle. So use it wisely now. I don’t know, maybe put the Xbox controller or TV remote down and spend some time learning how to be awesome at something.

What I’m trying to say is don’t expect anyone to invest in you if you are not willing to invest in yourself.

This advice is probably a little hard to swallow. But look at it this way. You have the rarest commodity in the world, time. You can always make more money. You can’t make more time.

What’s your take on career advancement in the AEC marketing game? What are the challenges you are facing? Post your thoughts in the comments.

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