Marketing and business development are beginning to catch on in construction. The timing could not be better for anybody wanting to get in on what could be one of the major developments of the next 10 years, says Nick Barrett.
At a Construction Marketer Question Time event in May this year the 80-strong audience was asked for a show of hands on whether they had made an impact on board level decisions in the past year. Almost all hands went up. At the same event a year before there were few hands in the air. So, progress is being made in getting boards to sit up and take notice of what strategic marketing can contribute to the bottom line.
Encouragingly, many of these hands were female, underlining that this is a sector already wide open to suitably qualified women. Many junior marketing roles have traditionally been filled by women, looking after the corporate brochure or website perhaps, but the growth is now in more senior and strategic roles, where an MBA or marketing qualification will be essential to capture the respect of colleagues at board level.
Most marketing jobs have traditionally tended to go to people with years of experience in the industry, technically qualified and able to talk with clients.
While it may be easier to teach the technically qualified marketing skills than to teach marketers what they need to know about construction, it is the marketing skills which will increasingly be at a premium. Today, awareness of the potential of marketing is growing but the skills are in short supply.
Marketers are making it to the top level. Only recently a former marketer, Steven Ives, was promoted to managing director of Hochtief (UK) from business development manager. Last year Ruth Leach was promoted from marketing manager to head Shell Bitumen.
These are still early days for marketing in construction.
Almost all of the FTSE 250 companies have a marketing director on the main board; only six of the top 100 construction firms do.
Only a few construction companies have seriously tried to capture the benefits which strategic marketing can bring.
Marketing consultant Philip Collard suggests some reasons why: 'Marketing is still often perceived as an intangible, nonmeasurable activity, an overhead and the first budget item to be cut in a downturn. Most senior construction board members come from an operational background, which requires them to be reactive, responsive and decisive. Their focus is on service delivery. They wouldn't dream of starting a project without a plan, but they quite happily run a business without one.'
Collard says this will change.
'When the laggards see what the leaders are achieving, they will have to take up marketing at a strategic level or see their businesses die.'
Many construction marketers are still not formally qualified either academically or by passing Chartered Institute of Marketing examinations. To have the full respect of the board, the advice for those wanting to be in near the start of the trend is to invest in themselves by drawing up their own personal marketing plan - and get qualified.
INFOPLUS Nick Barrett is editor of Construction Marketer, e-mail: nick@ constructionmarketer.co.uk www. constructionmarketer.co.uk