There’s been a noticeable change in the design and construction industry over the past decade. It you’ve spent fifteen, twenty, or more years marketing A/E/C firms, then you probably remember the “Era of Boilerplate.” We had our favorite project descriptions, and we seemed to submit them for everything we pursued. So what if the projects were ten years old (or a lot older)! So what if the staff members who worked on them were no longer even with our firm! 

But somewhere along the way, our clients become more sophisticated. In fact, many A/E/C professionals left the consulting/designing/constructing side of the business, and jumped aboard with owners/clients as facilities managers, project managers, and plant engineers. Suddenly we were calling on highly experienced professionals who understood the “games” that A/E/C firms played. So they changed the rules, and began focusing on the project team members. Firm credentials increasingly began taking a back seat to personal credentials.


This change became clear in June 2004, when the Federal Government’s Standard Forms 254 and 255 were replaced with the Standard Form 330. Whereas the earlier forms allowed you to submit sample projects and team members that were unrelated to one-another, the SF 330 required that you prepare a matrix demonstrating that your proposed team members had, in fact, worked on the example projects that you were submitting.
However, that increasing reliance on the credentials of staff is child’s play compared with the General Services Administration’s Design Excellence program, which typically entails a two-phase process, with the first being all about the portfolio, experience, awards, philosophy and design intent of the lead designer(s). Other team members and consultants don’t even come into play until the lead designer has been vetted and shortlisted. Learn more here.
This focus on individual team members is far broader than just the Federal Government, however. Owners are seeking out qualified, branded professionals in all types of industries. In fact, my firm was recently one of a few firms invited to submit on a design/build food processing plant project. The RFP did not request any firm credentials or references. Rather, it wanted demonstrated food processing experience for each and every team member. Furthermore, every team member was required to submit three references from previous clients who could vouch for their design or construction capabilities. While that may be easy for the “front-line” staff – those regularly interacting with the owner like a project manager or site superintendent – what about the team members who rarely meet with the clients?
RFPs are becoming more restrictive asking for things like a project manager who is a licensed architect plus a LEED Accredited Professional with BD+C specialty who has served as Architect of Record on at least one LEED Certified project in the past three years, plus have three design-build projects in the $5-$10 million range completed within the past five years. Yes, that is really from an RFP that recently came across my desk. And that was just for one team member! It does make the Go/No-Go process easier – either you have professionals that meet the stringent requirements (Go) or you don’t (No-Go)! 
The Internet has also changed the way firms identify and procure design and construction services. Recent SMPS Foundation research showed that some clients now have a “don’t find us, we’ll find you” mentality. They are doing their own research; some sources have indicated that as much as 65% to 75% of the buying decision process has been completed before an owner ever even reaches out to A/E/C firms. They are checking out company websites. They are Googling the names of potential team members and reading their LinkedIn profiles. They are making notes of the A/E/C professionals who are writing the articles and blogs they read, speaking at their society meetings, or being interviewed in industry media. 
Some owners even report creating their personal “dream teams,” reaching out to an architect at one firm, a mechanical engineer at another, and a construction manager at a third. And while “arranged marriages” may not always work and actually contrast with the premise of Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), some owners are increasingly utilizing this approach, much like I might buy a suit at one store, a dress shirt at another, and a tie at third. Maybe one store doesn’t have everything that I want, so I need to shop around. The Web and social media have enabled B2B (business-to-business) buyers to incorporate consumer buying behaviors.
But what does all this mean to A/E/C firms, professionals, and marketers?
It means that reputation is becoming the key differentiator. It means that every professional – no matter what their level in a company – needs to work diligently to build their own personal brand. And then maintain it continually.
And the great thing is that it is not as difficult to build a strong personal reputation as you may think. It takes work. It takes persistence. Like anything else, it often takes a bit of failure along the way. But it is absolutely worth it because developing a dynamic personal brand can help you get a job, advance in your career, and obtain promotions. It can help keep you around when times are tough because you will be indispensable to your company, no matter how large or small it happens to be. And as an added benefit, your strong reputation can also bring in work for your firm. There’s no downside, and in this new norm that increasingly focuses on individual A/E/C team member credentials, it is imperative that you stand out.
This trend is the premise of my new book, Reputation Design+Build, which highlights the importance of standing out in a sea of sameness by using a series of 18 tools to build and then maintain your personal reputation. In the next post, I’ll review these tools, which are critical for enhancing your personal brand, differentiating yourself from others, and advancing your career.