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The Shortlist Episode 54: What Marketers Want Leadership to Know

Marketing departments have the best chance of success when they receive clear communication from company leadership. Whether that's insights (or input!) into the firm's strategic plan, having a voice throughout the pursuit process, or being respected as subject matter experts in marketing, AEC organizations can accomplish more by making simple adjustments to how they work with their marketing teams.

A great listen for both company leadership and marketing, Episode 54 of The Shortlist sheds light on often overlooked and sometimes unspoken things that marketers want you to know. Join Middle of Six principals Melissa Richey and Wendy Simmons as they provide tips and a few crowd-sourced suggestions to bridge the communication gap.

CPSM CEU Credits: 0.5 | Domain: 6

Podcast Transcript

Welcome to The Shortlist.

We're exploring all things AEC marketing to help your firm win The Shortlist.

I'm your host, Wendy Simmons, and each episode, I'll be joined by one of my team members from Middle of Six to answer your questions.

Today, we're talking with Melissa Richey to discuss what marketers want firm leadership to know.

Hi, Melissa.

Hey, Wendy.

We've been doing these podcasts with like multiple Middle of Sixers, you know, a couple of us on the mic, getting more voices, collaborating, and now I get to have a one-on-one with you.

I know, it's been a while.

It has been a while.

So thank you for being here, and you're not going to have to carry all of this podcast all by yourself.

I think we both have a lot to share, ideas to talk through about firm leaders, could be open to hearing from their marketing team.

So we have some lived experience ourselves to share, and probably a few things to bits that we'll bring in from the Middle of Six team who commented, and it should be a good conversation.

This is going to be a good one for both our listeners who are the marketing side and also the principals.


I think we hear a lot of stories in the position we sit in as consultants, and then of course have facilitated round tables for SNPS.

So I think we've heard a lot of different people's stories.

So I'm glad we can be here to kind of voice that out to our listeners.

We've done a few of these, you know, what marketers want, fill in the blank, to know, and they tend to be pretty popular episodes.

So we'll see if we can live up to our past.

Keep the street going.

Keep it going.

But before we get into it, we do like to start off with a little bit of like a warm up question here.

And I'm sure I've asked this before, but hey, we're in a new month, you know, so why don't we talk about it now?

How are you finding balance in your life, in your work life, life?

Well, I've been doing some, I've been doing this for a while, but it's come to my attention how much I enjoy doing it every weekend, and that is buying flowers when I go to Trader Joe's and then designing some floral arrangements for my home.


No one's given me flowers, so I'm buying them myself and I'm making my own.

That is so nice.

Yeah, I enjoy it, and then it's always different flowers.

It's a kind of a crapshoot about what's going to be at Trader Joe's, and sometimes they last for a week, sometimes they die after three days, but it's just a nice little creative outlet.

And I know my son asked me, he's like, why do you always buy flowers?

I was like, because I find joy in arranging them and looking at them all week long.

So that is my little thing.

Oh, that's so lovely.

Yeah, that's such a nice gift for yourself on like multiple levels, right?

Something you get to enjoy, brings some kind of like cheer into your home, especially when you're in like when we're in winter season, obviously, we need the most cheer.

And then that part that it's a creative outlet to, you know, you're not picking the same white bronchus every time you're like actually grabbing a variety of things.

Yep, I'm trying different things out.

There's a Instagram account, Trader Joe's Florist, that I've started to draw inspiration from.

So, yeah, you know, it's a whole vibe.

I didn't know that everyone had made a hobby out of arranging Trader Joe flowers, but there's a whole Instagram account for it.

I think every Middle of Six event we've ever had had Trader Joe flowers.

We always like come in with the armfuls of things, and it's amazing what you can make from what they have.

Well, that's really nice.

Good story, good tip for other people.

And you're not finding it too hard, getting success.

And success?

No, I mean, I am who I am.

So I then end up fiddling with it all week long.

Like right now, I'm looking at tulips.

Tulips continue to grow after you put them in water.

So now the tulips are taller than the other flowers in the arrangement.

And it's making me a little nutty, but I'm trying to just let it be.

Oh, well, you can also take the whole bunch out, squish them down, cut off the ends, put them back in.

It's not a bad thing for your arrangements to last a little longer by cutting the ends.

It's true.

It's true.

I hope everyone's enjoying floral talk.

No, it's good.

It's something different than...

Often we talk about getting inspiration or going outside and how good that is for your health or you've mentioned before, like working out is really important for you to find balance.

So, these are real world tips.

Oh, that's good.

That was a nice surprise.

I like it.

Well, let's continue on into our topic.

And before we get into the why we selected this subject, I want to throw out the trivia question.

Confession time.

I almost did not bring a trivia question to this topic because I was thinking, what kind of data can I find on what marketers want firm leadership to know?

And of course, I went down like the usual Google rabbit trail of trying to figure out something that was decent, reliable, like data backed information instead of just someone spouting out some percentages.

And what I kept coming up with, no matter what I searched in the Harvard Business Review and everywhere I looked, it seemed like everything came down to communication.


So my trivia question for today is about communication.

I'm pretty sure, Melissa, you and I are going to say communication like 47 times in this podcast.

So you know, that's coming up, spoiler alert.

But here's what my trivia question is, for a business with 100 employees, what do you estimate as the average annual loss in dollars due to clarifying communication?

Oh, God, I got to...

And you don't have to answer this.

I mean, I always ask.

I know.

If you're up for it, throw a dollar figure out there.

But anyways, just to be clear, this dollar figure is related to a company with 100 employees.

It's not, you know, worldwide.

It's just kind of putting in that context.

Well, should I explain my math?

I'm guessing that this company probably makes around $15 million.

So I would say like 20% of their revenue, like $3 million.

Oh, all right.

Well, we will have to wait and see what the answer is.

I am not going to give that part away, but I do like, you know, the thinking there, your logic.

And it was, you know, this was not an AEC related specific company scenario.

So I don't know.

I mean, if they were just kind of generalizing, I think it was a Gallup poll or whatever that ended up bringing this data forward.

But we'll hit on that later.

But just know communication is a big deal.

So we're going to get into that now, Melissa.

Why don't you share with our listeners why you thought this topic would be of interest?

Well, a few things.

As we mentioned, we've done a few other episodes of the podcast that were things that your marketer wants you to know.

They seem to resonate well.

They are some of our top downloaded topics.

And I think part of that reason is because if you're the marketer and you want your leadership to know some of the things that are on your mind or on the mind of those that do marketing for AEC firms, you can suggest them to listen to this.

So it's kind of an easy way to get your thoughts out without having to directly communicate other than listen to this podcast.

Passively just drop the link in the chat.

There you go.

And then we also know that we have principals and leaders of firms that listen.

So this is another way that you can let your marketing team know, hey, I am doing things to understand what it's like from your perspective and then gives you an avenue to say, hey, I listen to this.

Have you listened?

Do you want to talk about any of these things?

Are you experiencing any of this?

So those are the reasons I thought we should talk about what marketers want leadership to know.

Well, I think those are really good reasons.

This feels like it could be a super useful tool.

We're going to try to not couch everything with it depends on the size of your firm or certain factors like that because it is true, right?

Your situation is going to vary.

But we're pulling from lots of different conversations, like Melissa said, facilitating roundtables and even just being a sounding board to our clients or our friends who call us and say, I just need to share this with you.

So there's been a lot there.

We will not name any names and I don't think we're going to go that personal, but it's based on lots of different experiences.

So some of this will apply to our listeners and some of it won't, but it's good to have that perspective of what people in our industry are going through and what they need.

So let's get into it.

Do you really want to do the what part and tell what we would recommend at the top, or should we hold that for the end?

I think we need to get into it and then we'll circle back.

We'll circle back.

You've made some notes and thought this through in some different categories, including reaching out to our own team so they fed some ideas too of what their experiences are.

Where do you want to start?

Well, it felt like as I was thinking through some of these different topics and issues, they tended to start falling into some different categories.

And one of those being kind of the more overall general thoughts and feelings folks might have.

Then there's some things related to long range planning.

And then, of course, always seems to be a hot button is pursuit process.

Can you guys hear Mila barking?

I did hear that scream, but it didn't bother me.

All right.

So thinking through some of those overarching things, this one might seem so simple, but ask me what I need or seek my input.

I think a lot of times we just get into our day to day routine and like, here's the next proposal, we need the social media post and you start, you know, if you're the leader, you're just kind of passing out the assignments and not thinking through everything.

So having that conversation, understanding what's on your plate, what did you already have planned to do this week, this month, this quarter, and how do these things that I need fit into that?

Do you need someone to take something off your plate?

Do you need to bring in additional resources?

I think that's back to that communication just before you start giving out the assignments or talking about the things you want to accomplish as a leader.

What's already on your marketing team's plate?

And that could go into also helping prioritize, right?

If this thing that you're putting out there is important, help us decide where it fits in the other list, and then if it needs to, something else needs to come off the list.

I didn't say that very clearly, but you know what I mean is that part of asking, what do you need from me, and getting input from the marketer, is also to hear from them if they have questions about how important is this?

What level is it?

How urgent it is?

And just having that simple conversation to outline some of those details.

Because a lot of marketers are people pleasers, and they will put it on their list, and then dot, dot, dot.

Then we get to burn out when they didn't realize that they could ask for some help or resources.


I feel like that is often advice I have either given myself or heard handed out, is they come to you with the thing that is going to just tip you over the edge of what you can accomplish, then put it back to them.


I can do that, but here's the list of all the other things I'm already working on.

What's coming off?

Because I can't do all of these things.


Just heard that at the Pacific Regional Conference.

Here's what I can do, or here's what can't be done, and just being comfortable having that conversation.

It doesn't have to be a firm no, which feels very aggressive and can be very scary depending on your position, but having a conversation about what can be done.

What else would you add to that overarching kind of general category?

Well, I think this one is hopefully gotten better over the years, but there are certainly times I've heard that my leadership doesn't know that I do anything but proposals.

They think I'm just the proposal machine, or I've heard the term proposal monkey.

Like, just churn it out.

I don't know that they were called a proposal monkey, but that's how they were feeling based on, here's another RFQ, here's another RFP, churn another one out.

So if leaders of AEC firms are not aware, marketers do more than proposals.

There are some people that's their primary duty or what they spend most of their time on, but there are other things in the marketing mix that need to get done throughout the year, whether that's planning for what conferences you're going to sponsor and speak at and getting those speaking engagements, to creating content for your social media channels, to helping train your staff on how to be better writers at proposals so that when the next one comes, everyone's in a better position to work together and be effective as a team.

So there's just so much more.

Our coworker Alison Tivnon has a book that is called Marketing at Low Tide.

It's got this graphic that shows the entire marketing mix in a great little concentric circle that's divided into sections.

That's super helpful if you want to drive this point home in a really succinct way.

Like here is all the proposal stuff, here's the promotional piece stuff, here's the kind of marketing admin.

I do believe it is on our website, and we should make that a priority because we have referenced that graphic in so many podcasts and it shows up in our presentations.

It's very helpful.

It's useful on so many levels for planning and communicating and just visualizing all the things that run through marketing and also that circle is divided in half and the right side is marketing and the left side is BD.

And because there's often a lot of overlap and blend, those teams can be working together or maybe they're all doing it together, but it just puts it in very clear picture of all the activities that could be going on.

I was going to add to this part about we do more than proposals.

A suggestion, if I can, for marketers, particularly if you have this aspirations to get into leadership.

But this could go for anyone, but I'm just saying you can have a voice in communicating everything that you're doing and everything that your team is doing.

So whether that shows up in staff meetings or quarterly meetings or contributing to strategic planning or anything like that, there are opportunities for marketing to be part of the big picture of the company and to share the initiatives beyond proposals.

So you can take that initiative yourself, if it's available to you.

But I would recommend finding ways to sneak in there, wedge in there, and make it part of the conversation.

Yeah, if it's something that's not happening right now, your leadership team probably meets at least monthly.

I think some firms I've seen meet weekly.

They have a principles meeting every week.

But talking to your principal about, hey, I would love to get on the agenda, give them an agenda item, to give them an amount of time that you think it will take, that you introduce the topic, and then maybe you have a place where you're reporting back to the leadership team on a regular basis.

I love it when the marketing team is able to participate in a company meeting and give an overview of what's been happening in the department, what are the wins, what are the things that you do beyond.

A lot of people probably are involved in the proposal process, but there's maybe more junior level people, if you're doing public work, they don't know how the project comes.

They just know they're designing it or building it and have no clue.

So that benefits everybody to understand the ecosystem of how a project comes to the company.

Yeah, the marketing team or even an individual, they want to share what they've been working on and how they've been part of the wins and what the vision is ahead.

So they'll probably be eagerly awaiting that invitation or maybe now after listening to this podcast, asking for that space on the agenda.

It's really good.

You have a note here about, don't take over, let me lead.

This sounds pretty personal.

You don't have to tell any stories you don't want to, but I just hear a lot, I hear voice in that.

And so, you know, tell me what your thought is behind that.

I think if you're earlier in your career, maybe you might be a person who defers to the person with the most power in the room and let them speak and let them tell you how it's done or what needs to happen, and you should be able to provide your opinion and your expertise and what you've experienced.

So don't just kind of bow to the person with the most power in the room or because they are the owner or the principal in the firm.

So that's where that's coming from.

So if you're the leader, if someone's being quiet, asking them, what do you think?

Or going into the meeting, I'm going to let you, well, maybe not right before you walk in the room, but this next kickoff meeting or this update on the pursuit, I would like you to be in the first position, lead the meeting and report out and let everyone know what's happening and give the game plan, I'm just going to be here, and you let me know what you need me to do.

So kind of giving people permission and giving them the space and encouragement to be a leader in the room.

That was a good clarification you made there when you were saying about giving people time to prepare for that leadership role.

They probably will feel honored and appreciated by being able to be the leader for something, but also everyone works a little bit differently, so you want to make sure you're not throwing them in the deep end or, I mean, I spent so much of my younger time in my career being so nervous about being called on for something I wasn't prepared to present on or just didn't have the knowledge, you know.

I was very nervous in that.

But if I had given the time to properly prepare, I could shine, and that's what I would want to do.

And so know that you're marketers.

They want to be prepared.

They want to bring good, smart ideas together.

They want to lead.

You're going to probably want to give them a heads up about that, give them that opportunity, so it can be positive on both sides.

That was also a subtle reminder for myself because I know I've been guilty of being like, hey, you can lead this meeting.

I was like, oh, I should probably do that with a little more notice.

And no more.

It's like, you're going to facilitate this, right?

Because I'm here.

But sometimes that goes from also just this experience of working with someone, right?

You know they're in a good position to do it.

It almost might be unwritten because you've been working on something together.

You know they're ready.

So knowing your team well enough and having that trust makes it a little easier when you're like, yeah, you're leading, right?

You got this.

You got this.

All right.

Anything else in that general category?

Yeah, I think that covers that one.

Well, then let's get into the long-range planning, which is a passion of mine, planning.

Planning as many years as we can out in advance.

I think marketers always have ideas and want to also not only ideas to provide input, but they want to know what those ideas are.

So I think probably a lot you're going to share is related to the give and take there.

Yeah, I think we both in preparing for this episode hit on strategic plans and either leadership sharing those with marketing, but even better involving the marketing team in your strategic planning.

A lot of people in marketing do have business degrees, so they have actually studied how to run a business and are strategic thinkers and understand your business really well from the aspect of how to promote the company, what type of work you're pursuing.

So those are great people to have in the room when you're thinking strategically for the next two, three, four, five years of the business.

They've been thinking about that and the marketing plan is going to implement those initiatives.

So I can't stress enough how important it is to have marketing involved with strategic planning.

We're lucky that often we're invited to these strategic thinking sessions and they'll say, we want a marketing mind in the room.

That's great.

I hope that's happening in house too.

In my experience, it was happening when I used to work in house, so that's positive, but it's not across the board.

And I feel like that's such an honored position.

We want the marketing mind and the communicator in the room so that because we're going to come at these ideas from a different angle.


And a really important angle.

So, yeah, definitely, if there's space at the retreat or let's make some space, we need to start prioritizing having that team as part of the development and the implementation.

And a little offshoot of that, I've been seeing so much of this happening in our industry of acquisitions and smaller firms getting bought up by larger firms.

And marketing has a seat at that table, too, when you're talking acquisitions.

There's just so much to think about positioning in the marketplace and how you're going to communicate to your existing clients about this big change.

And I think it's just a total missed opportunity if you don't involve your marketing team in those types of conversations.

I mean, maybe it's just someone at the most senior level, because obviously it's sensitive when you're making those types of negotiations, but they can sign a non-disclosure agreement.

You know, there's mechanisms to keep that confidential and private.

And I think any marketing professionals are going to understand how sensitive that is and keep that private and not share it with the team until the time is right.

But I just can't stress enough that if you're thinking about being acquired, marketing needs to be in those discussions.

And if your acquisition partner doesn't want it, then having a separate meeting, but they're going to advise you and ask questions that maybe you as a leader are not thinking of because you're just so much in the financial aspect and they're going to be thinking bigger picture than that.

That is such a good area to hit on.

And I hadn't really thought about it, but there's two ways that not including marketing can be a problem when it's related to an acquisition.

And one is that you're not getting that input about branding, messaging, communication, client care, all that stuff.

So that's for sure the nuts and bolts of it.

But what happens when you have this trusted advisor on your team, your director of marketing, or someone who has been leading the brand for so long and you haven't included them?

Like, what does that do to that relationship?

Is that person going to stay?

How much repair do you have to do?

It's very complicated.

So it can be very emotional, and marketers feel so connected to the brand and who the company is that just be aware there's some sensitivities to as well.

So they don't have to be open book, right?

It does not have to be everything.

There's the amount of information that's right for the right audience, but your marketers care a lot.

And we've seen some, you know, just hurt feelings and some emotions over that when it felt like they were kind of put in a position of, you know, disrespect instead of being part of the team.

Yeah, that's a great point.

Oh, it's a sad one to talk about because I'm picturing faces, you know, and people who have struggled through that or worked through it and, you know, got through it and everything, but there's always the best way to handle something.

And sometimes just overlooking people who need to be in the room is just a miss and creates more problems than is necessary.

Did we hit on the marketing budget?

I don't think we really talked about that, but that seems closely related to this sort of strategic planning and having the big picture plan.

I mean, obviously, a marketing team really wants to have input on the marketing budget, for sure, but there can be fingers too that go out throughout other areas of the company, you know, recruiting, onboarding, signage, you know, so you have any thoughts on how to include marketing best in the budgeting process?

Include them?

Oh, just do it.

Just let them say.

Walk down a certain column or something and keep it open.


Connecting to what's in the marketing plan, what time's budgets are set by looking at what you spent in the previous year.

So that's one thing.

What was spent in the previous year?

Are there things, initiatives that you couldn't execute on because you didn't have enough budget?

Or is there something you want to, you know, we're going to tackle a new market or we're going to open in a new location.

So there's things that are happening strategically in the business that are going to warrant a larger marketing budget, or maybe you're in a position where everyone is having to cut.

So trying to understand, like, what is realistic?

If revenue is down, maybe we actually need to spend more in marketing and make those cuts in other parts of the business because we still need to bring in work.

So I think just having a conversation, back to communication, being involved, keeping marketing teams involved so they can help you set a budget that's going to help them deliver on the goals of the business for the coming years.


And that could be related to staffing too, right?

If you're only getting the same budget as you had last time, but maybe there's a need for resources or they're just changing, that line item, part of the marketing budget, you know, should be, I think, informed by what the marketing team feels that they need or what's the industry, you know, standards in that area.

So, yeah, I hope that you're able to be involved if you're the marketer and then tie that back to kind of the overall plan of the company and knowing, like, what's going on?

Where are all the demands?

And you may even be able to find places that can be cost savings in the budget based on what the overall plan is.

For the leaders listening, if your marketing person is constantly telling you how much they have on their plate, maybe you could say, hey, let's look at this budget and see if we can add another person to your team.

That would make someone super happy on a marketing team for leadership to come and say, I think you need another person.

Yeah, and in other episodes and maybe a future episode, too, because I think this data gets outdated, but we have talked about what the kind of general guidelines are for a number of FTE marketers.

That's probably in that episode in season one about building a marketing department.

You know, we talked about that.

But you can go back to that or just even talk to peers or look at the SNPS salary surveys.

Often we'll talk about team sizes, but you can get some data there based on if you're on the construction side or the AE side.

It's a little bit different, but that's an important part of the budget staffing for sure.

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Staffing kind of makes me think of the pursuit process, which is where we spend so much of our time.

And there's probably a lot that we would love principals and leaders to know about pursuits.

So why don't you start us off?

Yes, well, before you make the decision to pursue another RFP or RFQ response, check with your marketing team.

I've had instances in my past where my team and I were tapped, but they were like, well, I already told the client that we're going after it.

It's like, well, that's great.

So we're going to have to make some adjustments then.

Can someone on your team help, or can we decide one of these other ones we're working on is you guys go talk as a leadership team and decide which one's the priority for the business.

So having those conversations or even being more proactive, if you've got a great relationship with your client, you know the RFP is coming, letting the team know that this one's going to hit, and we think it's going to be out the beginning of May and should have a month to respond so they can plan for that and kind of get that on the calendar.

That just, it's a big effort and it's a big expense for your company.

So let's put the right resources to it and make sure everyone has enough time to do their best work.

Yeah, and depending on the size of your company, even the leadership may not know all of the different pursuits happening across different divisions or I don't know if a certain client, sometimes there could be big year-end pushes or whatever it might be, where if you're in one focus area, you don't know so much is going on.

So it's good to check in on that.

It's also sort of on our list of best practices for BD meetings is being able to have that on the radar so that people are aware.

But still, before you say yes, check with marketing.

They might have to check with their other resources too.

Yep, and also as a leader, check your calendar too.

Are you going on vacation?

That's a big pet peeve.

Yes, I'd like to go for this, but no, I have no time to help you with it.

So being realistic, not only the capacity of the marketing team, but your capacity as an individual contributor to the proposal if you're writing the approach.

Yes, bonus tip, check your own calendar.

I like that.

What else does the marketing team want the leadership to know related to pursuits?

I think there's an element of level with me.

I guess this plays off a little bit on that vacation piece, or you're really busy on one of your projects has hit something big milestone, but this RFP is out at the same time, but just level with me.

Look, this is what the dynamics are.

This project's blowing up.

I've got to be on site.

This RFQ is due.

It's really important.

I know I'm not going to be able to get to this.

Here's someone else who can help you.

But I would rather someone just give me the straight information than tell me I'm going to get to this, I'm going to get to this, and then they never do, because it's hard to plan when you're like, okay, I'm taking you at your word that you're going to get it to me at 9 p.m.

tonight, and then I'm going to input it tomorrow morning, and we're going to just make the deadline.

So just be straight with me.

That might be the takeaway of the podcast.

It's so innocent and subtle right there, but just be real.

Tell us what you can do.

Giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, we all think we can do more than we actually can do.

We're overly optimistic about our capacity.

It's just like human nature, and it takes some discipline to realize that your own schedule is really full, or you need to pull in resources, or you're going to need to jettison something else so that you can write this piece for a proposal because you're the only one who knows this information.

Whatever it might be, it's okay for you to say and be straight with your marketing team about what you can do, because otherwise we spin our wheels, we go around and around, we're wasting resources checking in.

And you might be surprised how much we can do if we're just on the same page about it.

So we can be a really good resource in that way too.

Yeah, you can't write it, but can we have a 15-minute phone call where you tell me about this project or you tell me about your approach, and I can write something that you can then look at or edit with problem-solve list together?

Yeah, being on the same team.

And sometimes, depending on your work environment or if some people are on a job site or if you're working remotely, I don't know, there's lots of scenarios.

You can feel a little siloed and separate.

Or if everything's coming to you from email, which I think is like 80% of our communication is digital in the email form or whatever, you don't feel like you have that support team, but marketing is there for you.

So good suggestion.

I wish we could highlight it, but we can't.

This is a podcast, so on to the next tip.

So I have one other thing that has come up as we've talked through this, because I think with the advent of AI, someone might think, oh, I'm just going to have generative AI write this content for me, because then it's done.

I have had this experience, and trying to edit architectural engineering or construction narrative that is written by AI is painfully difficult because it is so full of words that are meaningless.

Clearly, this AI does not understand our industry yet, so please don't use ChatGPT to think that you're helping your marketing team.

I am glad that you said that.

That's a brave statement, but it's important.

At this point, it's not helping us, and we're just sorting through content that, on the surface, appears good, but then when you read it, there's not the substance, it's not project specific, it's not specific to our processes or something that we're being creative about, so there's not a lot that you can use.

And that's not to say that maybe your model has learned a lot and you know the right prompts.

I'm sure there's someone that can get it to give you good content, but at least my personal experience in the last seven months, the couple times I've seen it, it was not good, and it took way longer to edit it down than if we had just had a conversation and wrote something from scratch, or edited something that was already existing.

And people have a good intention when they're doing that.

They're trying to do the best that they can with the time that they have.

But again, back to that level, maybe before you go to ChatGPT, talk to your marketing team.

You're like, well, I could try this, and then it worked through some solutions.

But we've gotten plenty of content or even worked with clients that said, it's a website, for example, but like, well, the developer put in AI content.

It's based on our stuff, but it doesn't sound like us.

It's not good yet.

And, you know, can you rewrite it?

And of course we can, but we're not keeping any of that.

So just know from our experience, we're not there yet.

We'll continue exploring good ways to use AI in the smart way, but for differentiating and bringing personality and specific solutions.

That's not the fastest way to get there.

Just talk to your marketing team.

They will interview you.

Yes, exactly.

This episode of The Shortlist was published on April 17, 2024.

Yeah, trust your marketing team.

And that goes into another point that you have about, you know, trusting the marketer's expertise.

There can be some barriers to having trust, you know, between a technical team and the marketing team.

But, you know, Melissa, expand on that.

Yeah, I think you've hired this person or promoted this person into this position because they are bringing value.

They bring a lot to the position.

They've been doing this.

They've seen lots of other proposals and submittals and done debriefs and seen score sheets.

So let them do what they do best.

You know, don't micromanage.

You know, you design roads.

I don't think you need to tell me how to crop this photo or can we fill out the rest of the page with content?

No, white space is good.

I don't know why some people don't think white space is good.

It's good.

It's okay.

It doesn't have every square inch of the piece of paper doesn't have to be covered with text and graphics.


Give your eyes a place to rest.

Give your readers eyes a place to rest.

If you don't want to read the full draft of the proposal, there's a sign.

There's too much text and not enough white space.


So kind of the expertise.

Yes, we talk about this a lot.

Skimmers, swimmers and deep divers and how you prepare content.

So yeah, there are going to be people that want to read every word, but we're also trying to design a proposal so that we're appealing to all those different types of readers.

So the people that are just going to skim it and look for headings and just read some parts of it, that's part of what the design is doing.

So trust your marketing team's expertise and let them do their best work.

And if they're telling you, we only need 250 words, don't write two paragraphs, don't write two pages.

And the marketing team is also the subject matter expert for all kinds of other data points for the company or things that go into proposals, the win-loss rate with certain clients and the debriefing from interviews.

So there's a lot of ways that you can trust the marketing advice and recommendations on things because they are usually holding that database of information of what's happened in the past.

And let's not repeat those again and again just because we have a certain way of doing something.

Yeah, and that kind of reminds me of one of my last points of being clear about expectations, especially related to kind of level of effort, which I'm sure for many of our marketers who are all like A-plus overachiever types, it's hard to scale it back, but if this is the, I know we're not going to win, I have a really strong relationship with the client, they said they need me to submit, but it's not our turn.

Like, give us that background information.

So we're going to put together a responsive proposal, but we're not going to pull out all the stops on this one.

So just be super clear with what are the dynamics at play?

Is this a must-win?

We absolutely need to win this job.

We want to put every resource we have at it.

Is this the we just need to submit because the client said, I have to see your name again before I can hire you?

Just be clear with this.

Be straight.

I remember feeling so guilty asking, can this proposal be a B effort?

Because I think we all have worked on them, where for one reason or the other, it's not the thing that everyone is rolling up their sleeves and putting 100% into.

But I just felt terrible asking that question.

So I'm glad that you put it out there in the world that a B effort is not a negative thing.

It can be strategic.

It's a good use of resources.

And it's exhausting, what I can say from personal experience, it's exhausting to have everything try to be an A or A plus.

It's just going to start failing, and it's not good.

The marketer needs leadership to let us know when we can let go a little bit.

It doesn't mean quality suffers.

It's just a change of approach, right?


And that is really helpful.

We need that.

We need a little permission in that area.

Well, I don't know if we did say communication 48 times, like I estimated we would in the episode.

But maybe that would be some of the part that I would wrap up this, you know, because we hit on those buckets that you shared, which was really good, but encouraging communication and developing a relationship with your marketing team and the marketers, you know, doing the same thing with their leadership team.

Kind of that open door policy, come in, sit down, let's talk through some things.

I mean, if you can have that, that's going to increase the connection and decrease the amount of times where you're misunderstanding or interpreting what the direction is.

So I still think it's worth emphasizing, even though we didn't say it all over the place, it's just, it is really about talking, trying to be on the same page and going in the same direction with your limited resources that you have.

The moment we've all been waiting for is the answer to this hilarious, trivious question that I shared, which was for a business of 100 employees, what do you think is the estimated average annual loss in dollars due to clarifying communication?

So being miscommunicating and clarifying and readjusting your approach.

So that was the question.

And the answer is, and I'm gonna read the full detail because I think it's worth kind of breaking it down.

Like Melissa had done her math in a certain way.

This is how they came up with it.

It was way too high.

I hope it was way too high anyway.

It was too high.

But here's what they came up with.

Businesses with 100 employees spend on average downtime of about 17 hours per week clarifying communication, which results in an annual loss of $528,000 a year.

So, you know, this was part of a really great infographic that I looked at.

I felt there were so many kind of good tidbits from it, from Ving, if you want to go check their app out.

They do a lot of things related to communication and helping people communicate better.

So it was sort of, I think, a blog post, a visual blog post that they wanted to do about that topic.

But then, digging in a little bit deeper, I got to a Gallup poll, which said that workplace communication statistics show that 86% of employees in executive site lack of effective collaboration communication as the main cause of workplace failures.

And teams that tend to communicate more effectively increase productivity by 25%.

And I saw that 20% to 25% productivity.

All over the place.

That seems to be pretty standard.

If you can improve communication, be on the same page, that results, and I wish I would have found some dollar figure related to that, but I mean, those are huge numbers.

25% productivity could be increased.

And I will not bore everyone with the statistics on how many people are burnt out from lack of communication, feel like they're not heard, feel like the managers are not explaining things to them or providing the proper onboarding or follow-up.

I mean, there's just the whole internet worth of information related to that.

So if you want to go look at that, you can find some things, but I felt like it was kind of interesting.

A lot of the firms we work with, they're probably in that 100-person range.

I mean, obviously some smaller and some a lot larger, but I thought that was kind of a nice sample size to look at.

And if you can be clear in your communication and communicating frequently, you can start to kind of build that foundation that's going to help your business be more successful and not just be wasteful in an area that's like, I don't know, like a leaky air seal or something on a window, right?

You're losing energy without getting anything for it.

So that's my trivia question.

Thank you, everyone, for playing along this season in our trivia.

It's kind of fun to look into things, and I find it really fun to go and dig a little deeper and read some articles and find things that I wouldn't be normally on my desk.

So it's kind of a bonus treat for me.

Melissa, final thoughts?

I'll just say communication again.

That's our final thought.

You need to get together and ask your marketers what they need, listen to what they need, and give them opportunities to contribute to make your business more successful.

Yeah, they are a very willing participant in strategy and decision-making and communication, and they want to help.

So hopefully, you're tapping that resource beyond just the proposal world.

Thanks for being here, Melissa.

I really appreciate it every time.

It was great.

We'll see you on the next one.

All right.

See you later.

The Shortlist is presented by Middle of Six and hosted by me, Wendy Simmons, Principal Marketing Strategist.

Our producer is Kyle Davis, with digital marketing and graphic design by the team at Middle of Six.

We want to hear from you.

If you have a question or a topic you'd like us to discuss, send an email or voice memo to

If you're looking for past episodes or more info, check out our podcast page at

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Thanks so much for listening.

We hope you'll tell your friends and colleagues about the show, and be sure to subscribe so you don't miss any of our upcoming episodes.

Until next time, keep on hustling.

The Shortlist is a podcast that explores all things AEC marketing. Hosted by Middle of Six Principal, Wendy Simmons, each episode features members of the MOS team, where we take a deep dive on a wide range of topics related to AEC marketing including: proposal development, strategy, team building, business development, branding, digital marketing, and more. You can listen to our full archive of episodes here.


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