How I got into construction marketing and what I’ve got out of it
Author: Chris Ashworth Managing Director of Competitive Advantage
While doing my A levels, back in the last century, I found marketing an
interesting subject and decided that was what I wanted to do. So, I went
on to study it at university. But like so many undergraduates, I’d only
experienced marketing as a consumer and did not really understand the
elements of B2B.
As graduation approached, I started applying for jobs
with all manner of organisations, ending up as a Marketing Assistant with
a company that made high performance fire vehicles for airports. Let’s be
honest the appeal was big boys’ toys. And the first couple of years were
great fun seeing how they were made, driving them around test tracks
and even getting to be on an exhibition stand at the Farnborough Air
Show. But as a recent graduate I wanted to progress and so I switched
divisions to become a Product Manager for fire detection and alarm
systems. Without trying I had become a construction marketer!
After a few more years it was time to move on, now in addition to my
degree and marketing diploma I also had industry experience. I found
myself working for a manufacturer of building boards of which a key
range were fire protection. These boards were boring to look at, but what
I learnt was that the more boring the product the more challenging the
marketing. And they did require a strong technical sell.
A few years on, with quite a bit of experience including a new product
launch, I was looking for my next marketing challenge. By then I had
realised that in many construction organisations marketers do not get the
top jobs. You need sales experience. That saw me remain with the same
company but switch into key account management which did use some of
my marketing skills. From there I progressed into the export division,
initially travelling out to the Middle East, then later SE Asia where I
became resident as general manager with the brief of opening offices and
recruiting a team in Singapore and Hong Kong. That was a great time
with a high degree of autonomy. My principal role was sales, but being a
marketer at heart I felt we could produce better marketing material
locally than that coming from head office.
A few years on and I was back in the UK with the same company as
National Sales Manager. Then I switched back into Marketing, where my
responsibilities included trying to achieve a common identity across all of
our divisions, including the overseas operations. And where did I have the
toughest job? My old offices in SE Asia who completely disregarded the
corporate guidelines – I only had myself to blame for that!
I then became Marketing Director at another building product company,
this time the UK subsidiary of a European Group. They were also trying to
introduce a common identity throughout their global organisation and I
had sympathy for the challenge and was probably more willing to step in
line than many of my country counterparts. Another switch into sales
management and then I started my own marketing consultancy focused
on the construction sector.
One of the appeals of having your own business is that you don’t have to
submit to the stress of restructuring and changes that a large
organisation imposes upon you. Instead, I’m the independent advisor
helping make these changes. Another thing I’ve found is that I have the
luxury of only working with people that I like.
As a consultant I can also justify time volunteering with industry bodies
like CIMCIG, and I have learnt a great deal from this as well as meeting
some very interesting people and making some long-term friends. Having
had a career which started when there were switchboards and telex
machines (which would now be in museums) and witnessed the arrival of
such innovations as the desk PC and mobile phone (the early versions of
which will also be in museums), I’ve also seen massive changes in the
way our marketing happens. But I think the principals of marketing are
still the same.
Am I glad I’ve spent a career in the construction sector? Yes. The
complex DMUs we need to understand and engage with set some
interesting challenges. And it’s very satisfying to point to a building and
say I was a part of that!
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