Reinvention has never been so “in”—or so necessary—as it has been in the recent years of economic distress, and one shift for the A&D community has been the way design firms approach business development and marketing. During the economic recession of the 1990s and the economic slowdown following 9/11, when Contract was still publishing its annual Salary and Hiring Surveys, survey results and anecdotal evidence indicated that dedicated business development managers and marketing people were among the first design firm employees to be let go during a downturn. What might seem like backwards logic—when business is slow, why lay off the people charged with finding new business?—actually made some sense when you consider the fact that principals were fully expected to assume business development and marketing responsibilities until work picked up again, and budgets could allow for rehiring dedicated rainmakers.
This time around, things are different, and the lines that traditionally have differentiated functions within a firm have become quite blurred. With massive layoffs across the board, everyone is required to take on additional responsibilities, and the new norm for A&D firms is that everyone—from principals down to junior designers—can be expected to contribute to new business development. Just as all employees once were required to get up to snuff on new technology, now employees at all levels should be expected to add business development to their skill sets. Add it to the list of practical business skills that design schools are not teaching.
In this month’s Practice column, Jane Felsen Gertler, a veteran marketing director who recently joined New York-based Helpern Architects, offers practical advice on how design firms can create a business development culture from the top down, with every staff member engaged in some way in the function of cultivating new business. The message is clear that in this economic-driven age, the skill that may differentiate you from your colleagues when it comes time for promotion (or for downsizing) is not just your design talent or your leadership qualities, but your ability to bring in new work. Even small contributions can make a measurable difference. Think of it as a challenge to reposition yourself, before you lose your market value.