A Brief History of Professional Services Marketing

There’s a forecast out there that up to 85% of the jobs people will hold in 2030 are jobs that haven’t even been invented yet (Institute for the Future).

While this is perhaps a little extreme, it does emphasize the changing marketplace and continual disruption that both employees and firms are facing. Couple that with a statistic from McKinsey that 45% of what a worker does today can be automated with currently-available technology, and it is not hard to see how workplaces will change greatly in the coming years.

Of course, the professional services workplace saw major disruption in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but few people in the profession realize what happened much less how it changed the workplace forever (to the benefit of marketing and business development professionals).

The profession of architect is not new. Imhotep, who worked under the employ of the Pharaoh Djoser, designed the Step Pyramid in 2630 BC. He’s often recognized as the world’s first architect.

But as it turns out, the profession of marketer for an architectural firm is more recent. Much more recent. In fact, before the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) was formed in 1973 as the Society for Bird Dogs (true story!), there were very few professional services marketers.

Before we go there, however, how about a trip back in time?

In 1866, not long after the end of the American Civil War, the American Institute of Architects put in place a schedule of charges. AIA members uniformly charged their clients a flat fee of 5% of construction cost.

Toward the end of the 19th century, Illinois became the first state to require architects to be licensed. This occurred in 1897, and other states soon followed.

To reflect the cost of architectural services, and value provided by AIA members, the organization in 1908 updated their schedule of charges to 6% of construction cost.

One year later, the AIA implemented a new canon of ethics that, among other things, prohibited advertising, forbade company names on construction signs, disallowed members from providing free services, and banned fee-based competition among architectural firms. (Try to imagine a world with no fee-based competition today!)

Recognizing the difference in design and construction costs in different geographic markets, the AIA in 1951 allowed chapters to set their own fee schedules, instead of having a one-size-fits-all national schedule.

In 1962, the National Society of Professional Engineers implemented a code of ethics that included a provision that prohibited member firms from listing their name in any newspaper (aka, advertising).

Two years later they modified the provision to disallow any “self-laudatory” advertising.

But the winds of change were blowing, and the year of the year of 1971 saw several major events. For starters, the US Justice Department advised the American Institute of Architects that their code of ethics and price schedules amounted to a restraint of trade. That same year Weld Coxe’s landmark book, Marketing Architectural & Engineering Services, was published, creating a blueprint for the fledgling occupation of professional services marketer, particularly in the AEC industry.

In 1972, NSPE allowed members to list their names in the yellow pages but forbade bold face type for those listings. The AIA, responding to the Justice Department, revoked its schedule of charges.

The following year, the Society of Bird Dogs – aka, Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) – was formed in recognition of the increasing need to provide education and networking for this new profession – marketing architectural, engineering, and construction services.

However, the engineering profession wasn’t necessarily buying it. In 1974, the National Society of Professional Engineers placed extreme limitations on which marketing practices were allowed – and not allowed. Brochures were permitted, but they could only list a firm’s name, services provided, and prior experience. Furthermore, members were prohibited from exhibiting at things like association meetings.

Note that limitations like these were similar for other professional services organizations outside of the built environment, like those serving the legal and accounting professions. Furthermore, laws varied from state to state. Arizona became a trendsetter in 1977 when they allowed attorneys to advertise for the first time. However, the AIA reaffirmed its ban on advertising, but allowed use of a “representative in seeking work.” Today we call these representatives “business developers.”

It wasn’t until 1980 when the AIA repealed their code of ethics that member firms were allowed to advertise. However, the engineering community held fast to their advertising prohibition, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) became involved, culminating with a consent decree in 1993 allowing NSPE members to advertise.

If you are involved with marketing or business development in the AEC industry, did you ever realize how “new” your profession really is, or what a lengthy and twisted process it has been to get here? Things we take for granted today were prohibited yesterday. And while few AEC firms still advertise in the yellow pages, could you imagine a prohibition on all advertising – or not being allowed to hire a “representative in seeking work”? We’ve come a long way!

Carl Sagan famously stated that “You have to know the past to understand the present.” Perhaps this history can help give your “present” some context, particularly if your firm doesn’t culturally embrace marketing and business development like you think they should. Perhaps there is some anti-marketing legacy here because once upon a time it was prohibited! I know it is still out there. Just last year I spoke at an industry conference; part way through the introduction to marketing program, one of the attendees spoke up and said, “But isn’t marketing illegal in our profession?”

The marketers and business developers of today hold the key to the future of the AEC industry. And they are fortunate to have the many marketers who have bravely gone before, pioneering the profession and creating a roadmap for all of us to follow. Where will we go next?

Looking for a marketing or business development consultant, trainer, or facilitator to help your firm decide “What’s next?” Reach out to Scott D. Butcher, FSMPS, CPSM at 717.891.1393 or sbutcher@aecumen.com.

Connect with Scott

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/scottdbutcher

Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/scottdbutcher

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