June 2008
  Tim Klabunde, Director of Marketing
William H. Gordon Associates

Tim Klabunde serves as the Director of Marketing for William H. Gordon Associates (www.whga.com), a Washington DC Top 20 Engineering Firm.  He is a Fellow at the Johns Hopkins University Carey School of Business and he serves on the Board of Directors for the DC Chapter of the Society for Marketing Professional Services.  You can reach Tim through his blog at www.CofeBuz.com

Marketing Civil Engineering Services in a Market Downturn 

The engineering industry is no stranger to downturns in the market.  When the dot-com bubble burst in 2000 it caused many civil engineering firms to stumble, and if you were around in the early 1990’s you remember the major struggles of a severe market downturn and its effects on our industry.  The good news is that history has taught us a number of things to do, and not to do, in a downturn.  How we respond to the market determines our success not only during, but more importantly after the market corrects itself.  The first place to look in a downturn is always the effectiveness of your current marketing.

The Effectiveness of your Current Marketing

If a marketing department is properly functioning, there should be a direct correlation between the marketing budget and accounts receivable. What recessions often remind us, however, is that the expenses of many marketing departments do not have a direct correlation to their accounts receivable. Often marketing departments focus on producing glossy brochures and professional websites that do not necessarily support the bottom line.

Some marketing functions and expenses should be put aside during a downturn so that the additional funds can be spent on marketing functions that are more effective at bringing work in the door.

The Common Mistake in a Downturn

A common mistake during a market downturn is eliminating the ‘extra’ marketing expenses without redirecting the money towards marketing that enhances the competitive edge in the tightening market.  A recession is the perfect time to reshape your marketing approach by focusing on the marketing functions and expenses can help support your bottom line.

Refining and Reshaping Marketing

When you are ready to refine and reshape your marketing expenditures, the simple question to ask yourself is, “Does this effort bring work in the door?” Here are several examples of expenditures that you can redirect as you work to increase the effectiveness of your marketing:

Expenses that can be set-aside during a market downturn:

• Giving your website a facelift.
• Purchasing more mugs with your logo on them.
• Redesigning your company logo.
• Pursuing Requests For Proposals (RFPs) that you have no business pursuing.

Expenses that can be implemented to enable you to compete during a market downturn:

• Building relationships with potential clients prior to the release of new work.
• Cross-train a key person on your marketing staff to provide business development support to your project managers.
• Increase your advertising dollars in publications that have a track record for bringing in new work (ex: BlueBook, Google, and local industry association newsletters).
• Develop staff incentives to bring in new projects or clients.

The Results

This refining and reshaping should yield an increase in the return on your marketing investment dollars, increasing the correlation between those expenditures and your accounts receivable.