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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Construction marketing: When things go wrong, can things go right?

Some days are better than others. I'm writing this entry with half of my computer's screen obliterated by a crack (possibly caused by leaving the laptop in the cold, or because of a less-than-gentle drop). Earlier in the day, our bookkeeper discovered we had double-booked a major order, meaning we need to take a significant write-down -- at least the cost of the new computer I may need to purchase.

However, the largest problem occurred mid-day, when our wonderfully effective part-time employee dedicated to collecting old accounts asked me to speak with a client who had agreed to pay the bill, under duress.

On hearing the client'a story, Kathy asked if I would take the call. I did. And I quickly understood how a series of events led to a potentially brand-burning misunderstanding.

We earn a significant percentage of our print advertising revenue through special features and project profiles. Often the architects, owners and sometimes the general contractors support the initiative. Sub-trades and suppliers advertise because they want to associate with the successful project and sometimes because they believe they have a degree of obligation to keep their clients (the owner or general contractor) happy.

Some publishers abuse client/supplier relationship process in developing these features. They imply relationships which are not there, and play on the guilt and sense of obligation of subs and suppliers to purchase extremely overpriced and ineffective advertising.

This sort of unethical behaviour is not in our repertoire. We have a stringent no-pressure policy (a 'no' is really a 'no') and don't exaggerate relationships, while working with the clients to develop truly effective advertising.

But something went way off the rails in this case.

Our sales rep had indeed obtained the owner and architect's permission and support for the feature. The major general contractor for this project has a policy not to interfere nor support our features. In other words, the contractor won't bad-mouth us, but certainly would not want us to suggest any sort of endorsement. Nevertheless, the contractor makes available sub-trade information, allowing us to contact the various suppliers for the project. (This isn't a secret or specialized list as you could find the same information without explicit permission if you know where to look.)

The salesperson contacted the project's electrical contractor, and suggested a really good ad would involve a photo of the contractor's crew on the job site. The contractor agreed, and committed to a quarter-page ad.

The sales rep showed up with his camera on the appointed day, to find that he could not access the job site because of security clearance issues, and in fact, the photos could not be taken. The electrical contractor, to say the least, wasn't happy -- having spent money on special T-shirts for his crew.

I only found about the problem today, some three months after the incident. I asked the sales rep why I didn't know about this beforehand."The contractor signed off on the ad, and we ran the feature," the sales rep said.

I haven't received other client complaints about the sales rep's work -- and the idea of taking the photo of the electrical contractor's staff would have, if executed, indeed provided a worthy and useful advertising message (and morale boost for the contractor's employees).  So I can't get too mad at him.

I then reviewed the advertising proof sign off form. A good question is whether the photo incident happened before or after the sign-off. But wait . . . was there a sign off? It seems the contractor returned the form by fax (we have the fax identification information to prove that), with the "okay" box checked, but without a signature . . .

Without hesitation, I told the contractor that we would not expect the invoice to be paid. The issue isn't the possible loss of money -- the contractor would, in fact, have paid the bill -- but the loss of reputation. We do not want people to feel they've been misled or mistreated -- and the evidence here is strong enough to suggest that, even though we meant no harm, the client would have good reason to feel abused.

This isn't a great story to share. It doesn't reflect any miracles or inspirations. We probably could have handled the situation better from the start, and accepting a write-down because of a screw up is part of business.

Yet, in its simplicity, the story reflects how businesses survive difficult situations and preserve their brands and reputations. We cannot tolerate dissatisfied clients, so angry that they would use the word "scam" to describe our business. Nor should we panic and attack individuals within our businesses who, acting in good faith, are caught in awkward situations. The challenge here is to listen, respect, learn, and adapt the business model and go beyond paying lip-service to the words "customer satisfaction" to truly understanding our responsibilities when things don't go right.

So today, indeed, proved to be a bad day. I also think it has set the stage for excellent days ahead.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Client construction marketing Christmas gift ideas

Here are some intriguing ideas from for client-focused Christmas seasonal gifts.  Do you have any ideas of your own which have worked well, and you would like to share?

Thursday, November 08, 2012

A world of villages -- living to the edge

Recently, I reconnected with Brian Schwartz in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Brian is probably the most intelligent person in his city.  He is one of only a few members of the Omega Society, which requires intelligence at the 99.999 percentile -- that's one in a million -- to qualify.

When we were both younger, we shared a tent in an 3.5 month overland journey through Africa.  I ended up, a couple of years later, living through the conclusion of the Rhodesia/Zimbabwe war as a sub-editor at the Bulawayo Chronicle.  Brian, meanwhile, went on to much more daring adventures through Africa and Asia.

When he returned to the U.S. in the mid-1980s, he wrote a couple of books.  One described how he got around China when the country had just opened to tourism.  The second reported on his human-level experiences in places few tourists would ever think of visiting, even today.  His A world of villages:  A six year journey through Africa and Asia, has been out of print for quite a while but you can easily purchase a copy through the used book market.

While our experiences directly correlate only for a few pages, I'm reminded in reading this book about the challenges, limits, and opportunities in our world, and the nature of risk-taking and intelligence in determining our fate.  Brian certainly elected to go into exceptionally dangerous places.  Notably he visited Uganda twice -- once to be jailed by Idi Amin's troops; the second to provide famine relief in a lawless part of the country after Amin's fall from power.  His ability to understand local practices, dialogues, and (most importantly) to think quickly on his feet, allowed him to escape some rather close calls.

I'm certainly nowhere near as intelligent as Brian, electing to take a safer route to human understanding and accomplishment.  Sure, I lived for 18 months in a country at war, but stayed in the city and avoided trouble.  Friends and family back home in Canada thought I had taken daring risks -- but I only pushed the limits on a few occasions in my African travels.  I learned much about the difference between perceived and real risk in these situations.

Time has passed.  Our lives are in different places.  I'm now write about construction marketing and publish regional and national publications for the architectural, engineering and construction community.  Brian, meanwhile, knows and reviews Tulsa's best restaurants.

Hopefully I'll have the opportunity to meet him again in the next few years; learning about the Oklahoma construction industry as he shows me the best places to eat in town.  Meanwhile, if you want to capture some of heart and soul of the third world, I recommend you read Brian's book.  It is moving and at times riveting.  He used his intelligence to go deeper into the world than most of us could even dream.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Social media initiatives: Your observations

You can read my e-book about social media for the architectural, engineering and construction community and, if you've used social media at all in your business, share your stories, experiences, failures, successes, challenges, questions and visions. (Phew, that's a mouthful). Please feel free to comment about your social media initiatives. You can also connect through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google Plus.

Friday, November 02, 2012

The lastest issue: Canadian Design and Construction Report

Canadian Design and Construction Report -- Fall 2012

By Mark Buckshon in Canadian Design and Construction Report

52 pages, published 11/2/2012

News for the Canadian design and construction industry including a special report on Nunavut and Iqaluit