How I almost got thrown off a boat: The importance of marketing to a construction business

Marcia Doyle Headshot

construction hard hatTrue confession time. About 30 years ago, in between journalistic gigs, I worked for a construction management firm. My tenure was short, all of 10 months.

My boss was not your typical construction guy. He came from the aerospace industry, and settled on CM as a well-paying opportunity. He built schools. Or rather, the contractors working under contract built the schools. We managed the contracts, and oversaw the work.

It was a small office of five people, with two working out in the field. I was hired to be their “director of marketing.” I didn’t have a clue what that really meant, and looking back, neither did my boss. There was a lot of marketing activity – presentations to school boards, open houses, visits to superintendents – but zero planning. Who were our marketing targets? We knew in a broad sense, but not much beyond that.

My boss had a sailboat in the D.C. area, and so that’s where he slated our next-year planning session. It was meant to be a nice trip, far away from office, but it filled me with dread. I was leading the marketing discussion. I agonized over what to say, and when the day came, lead with a weak “so what do you think we should do?”

When we got back to the office, Bossman told me if he could have gotten away with it, he would have thrown me off the boat. “If we had been near the office, I would have immediately told you to grab your things and get out.” Which is what I did a few months later.

But he was right: I wasn’t doing the job. I let the entire marketing ball of wax terrify me. As I was reviewing our Construction University story on marketing, it occurred to me that many of you … and I apologize in advance for this pun … may be in the same boat.

Perhaps the biggest forward step you can make is to get over it. As one contractor told us about developing his website, “You need to just suck it up and get it done.”

In turns out my lame “so what do you think we should do?” question is actually one you should ask your team, albeit with a heck of a lot more focus. To help you in this process, Cynthia Paul with FMI has put together a marketing plan template specifically designed for smaller contractors, available at

Back on the boat: the ace contributor to our marketing discussion that day was our grizzled project manager. I bet your firm has employees just like him, full of knowledge and intuition. Don’t ignore this part of your competitive advantage as you suck it up, and put together the plan for your future position in the market.