Marketing: Networking and Storytelling for Planners

Sunday morning’s session Marketing Anxiety: Bragging With Aplomb attracted a crowd in which private-sector planners outnumbered public-sector planners — a contrast to the largely public-sector filled rooms at NPC17.

Sponsored by APA’s Private Practice Division, this session provided a diverse perspective on the role and responsibility of marketing for planners. With a panel composed of public and private sector planners, the speakers provided a thorough review of the role of marketing in the private sector, and highlighted key considerations from the public sector.

Deana Rhodeside, planner and founder/director of Rhodeside & Harwell, Inc., developed the session after realizing that approximately 30 percent of her time in private practice was dedicated to marketing. As a considerable part of her day, and a critical component to her firm’s success, she suggested this session and gathered a diverse group to contribute their perspectives on the how we as planners — whether public or private sector — can successfully market ourselves, our work, and our profession.

This session kicked off with the public sector perspective. Gwen Wright, director of the Montgomery County Planning Department of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, emphasized that a key challenge for clients, particularly those with significant planning budgets, is they are bombarded by consultants.

In order to stand out and successfully contribute to the organization, Wright said consultants should:

  • Know how the organization works
  • Demonstrate that your firm is cutting edge in both style and approach (and have the project experience to back up the photos and text)
  • Clearly understand the project goals and do not try to rewrite them
  • Create a strong team with real roles for each member

The session transitioned to the private sector perspective with Daniel Berler, who leads the Battelle Memorial Institute’s Transportation Business Line.

Berler emphasized the role of marketing for private sector planners — describing it as a focused effort critical to successfully winning the work that we all enjoy. Based on Berler’s experience, marketing is based in relationships. Clients pick individuals and firms they know and trust. With this perspective, the best business development or marketing strategy is doing good work and developing relationships in the planning community. And what a better opportunity to start (or continue) than at NPC17.

Anne McBride, founding principal with McBride Dale Clarion, reiterated Berler’s perspective and emphasized the role of relationships. McBride encouraged everyone in the audience — public or private sector planners — to get involved:

Be active in APA and other planning-related organizations (e.g., ULI, CREW, ICSC); contribute to newsletters, Planning magazine, PAS Reports, blogs, and tweets; volunteer with the local university planning program; serve on your community’s boards and commissions and participate in local planning efforts.

According to McBride, involvement in planning-related activities builds a network of potential teaming partners and clients, gives back to our planning community, and develops your resume as the local expert.

The session concluded with Michael Altman, one of the founding partners of Trialogue Studio in Washington D.C., a practice dedicated to branding, design, and communications. With a single slide, Altman captured the inherent goal of our marketing efforts — developing a story that is aligned, relevant, distinctive, and believable. Our individual stories are a compilation of our vision, values, and personality.

The public sector looks for a story that is relatable — whether it be relatable to the project or the person. Altman provided a succinct closure to the session — as humans we are hardwired to notice what is different. As planners, our responsibility is to tell a story which stands out from the rest.

Altman encouraged us all to “go out and be different.”

Top image: Thinkstock photo.


About the Author
Rory Fancler-Splitt, AICP, PTP, is a planner for Kimley-Horn and is based in Chicago. Her principal area of practice includes corridor studies, comprehensive plans, and transportation plans. Prior to joining Kimley-Horn, she worked for the City of Naperville, Illinois, for eight years. With her transition from the public to the private sector, Fancler-Splitt has gained a new appreciation for the role of marketing in planning.

May 9, 2017

By Rory Fancler, AICP