Building a Design Firm'€™s Professional Development Program - Business Development

Photo of Ready - Action - Camera

You can refer to this section as business development or client facing skills since few firm leaders consider that they include their in-house professional development programs as a part of their marketing and promotion efforts. Professional development within A/E firms has evolved during the past decade and it is time to re-think how A/E firms share and distribute their intellectual property with professional associations and clients. For those firms that already have in-house programs you likely already have components in place. I offered several suggestions last November in my blog Overlooked Internal Training Sources for A/E Firms.

Business development (marketing and promotion) is a critical element of every firm. If your professional development program is intended for internal use, then be sure that your marketing plan relates to the needs assessment of your staff and client'€™s knowledge needs. If the firm includes education as a part of external marketing efforts be sure that it is also included within the firm'€™s strategic plan for educating target audiences. A staff presentation at an industry conference is a good example. You may have the world'€™s most knowledgeable subject matter expert (SME), designed an interesting presentation, and even offered the program using an innovative delivery format. However, if the intended audience is not aware that course is being offered then be surprised at a low turnout. Those who rely solely on the firm'€™s reputation to spread the word will frequently fail. You must adequately promote and advertise each of your courses. Budget accordingly.

Continuing in part six of this eight part series I have assembled requirements from several prestigious organizational award programs that appear with consistency. The self-assessment presented in this piece are intended to assist those individuals who are responsible for shaping and managing the organizational structure of an Architectural/Engineering Design and Consulting Firms'€™ professional education department. This assessment tool is not intended for the design or development of any individual course, certification, skill, or professional program.

KEY 5: Business Development (Marketing and Promotion)

Key 5 examines the firm'€™s business development structure that includes marketing and promotion of the educational courses and programs. This section provides recommendations for how the firm should address both internal and external marketing and promotion or their education courses and programs.
1. There is an established long-term educational marketing plan in place that includes: budget and pricing; projected incomes (including internal between departments); registration and enrollment procedures; number of classes and class sizes per session; cancellation policies; fees (ex: staff, instructor, course development expenses; course materials, equipment, technical considerations, facilities).
2. There is a separate One-Year marketing plan.
3. Print and social media promotional and advertising methods are used to support the marketing strategy that includes related expenses.
4. Other promotional activities include publicity, advertising, open houses, press releases, etc. to clients supporting speakers at professional conferences.
5. Quantitative metrics are in places that measure indicators and provide current levels, trends, and any appropriate comparative data.
6. There is a process for projecting new educational activities.
7. The marketing plan and promotion efforts are evaluated for effectiveness annually.
8. A process for researching the regulatory standards and legal and ethical requirements that should be addressed through professional development.
9. A process for ensuring that the firm addresses its responsibilities to the client, the profession, and the community through community outreach through education and training.

Using the Baldrige National Quality Award and IACET as models, a special task force created the AIA/CES Award for Excellence for The American Institute of Architects, Continuing Education System. This program was used as a cornerstone for building a national continuing education program that shaped education offered in the design industry. Today, other learning and development award programs such as the ASTD-Awards/Best-Awards and the Chief Learning Officer, CLOmedia Awards are also being used to elevate the practice of learning and development.

Architectural Research Associates

The Fifth Key for Successful Association Education: Marketing and Promotion.

Associations can be successful by concentrating on their core mission. Their marketing approach should draw attention to the mission using a focused brand image. But just because the overall marketing approach contributes to the success of the association do not expect that same approach to work as well for the association’s education program or courses. When I discuss education within the context of an association I go back to my first key to building a successful education program - the commitment and support from the association’s leadership toward supporting and promoting the education program. Needless to say, the association’s education program should support the mission. However, while providing mission support education programs are still bound to their own set of traditional guidelines and business rules. My experience tells me that everyone knows what good education looks like – just ask them. Everyone has gone to school and attended classes at some point in their life. And everyone has an opinion on which teachers or instructors they liked or didn’t like, and why they feel that way. I call this the education expectations of the association’s leaders and members. Key two is critical in focusing in on the education expectations of the members through needs assessment.

For associations the fifth key is to promote the mission through education while identifying the related issues and developing education content that is offered to the membership meeting their expectations. The leaders of the association education must commit to including a separate promotion and advertising campaign of their education programs and courses not only to the general membership but also to targeted, special interest groups. I do not know of any association that would try to hold an annual conference or convention and not provide a directed promotion and advertising campaign to support that effort. Within most annual conferences you find sub-groups, those looking for information that addresses their interest.

There are those that believe that by simply marketing the association brand, they are also promoting their education courses. I do not hold that belief. What I have observed working closely with numerous associations over the years: poor promotion and advertising generally results in poor results based upon industry standard measurements of successful. Education programs and courses frequently succeed or fail based upon the success of the promotion campaigns of individual courses or specialized education programs such as certificate programs. You can have the world’s most advanced cutting edge courses taught by the most knowledgeable subject matter experts (SME), and delivered in the most appropriate formats at the right price - but if your target audience doesn’t know about event – it will fail. Associations that rely primarily on their reputation and branding for the association alone will incur poor results for their education efforts. When it comes to education adequate promotion and advertisement of the courses, related products, and services is essential for success.

The Fifth Key to Successful Education Programs and Courses: Marketing and Promotion.

Photo on Flickr by Mikko Luntiala

Note that I use two action words here, marketing and promotion. If the education program is intended for internal organizational use then be sure that your marketing plan is related to the needs assessment of your staff and indirectly to your clients. If the organization has fewer than 50 staff, internal promotion can be simple. Usually internal promotion can be successful on the organizations website, internal newsletter, email blast or a notice taped next to the coffee or soda machine.

If the program or course is intended for external use then be sure that your education marketing plan is included as part of your overall organization plan. Many organizations believe that by simply marketing their organization brand, that they are also promoting their courses. Education programs and courses succeed or fail based upon the success of the promotion campaigns of individual or collective courses or specialized education programs. You can have the world’s most advanced cutting edge course that is taught by the most knowledgeable subject matter expert (SME), which is delivered in the most appropriate format, and offered at the right price - but if your target audience doesn’t know about it – it will fail. Those organizations that rely on their reputation and organizational marketing alone will likely fail in their education efforts. When it comes to education, adequate promotion and advertisement of your courses or education products is essential. Budget accordingly with separate line items for promotion and advertising of education courses within the overall marketing budget.