Communities: Private Practice
A/E Firm Takes Thought Leadership to Next Level
Years ago, GAI Consultants Inc., led by NSPE member Gary DeJidas, P.E., set out to distinguish itself within the industry as an employee-owned firm dedicated to fostering its leadership ranks with an intensive professional development program that includes an in-house university complete with an MBA program. Now, the 900-person multidisciplinary firm, headquartered in Pittsburgh, is laser focused on sharing its expertise through a robust “thought leadership” communications strategy.
PE spoke with Gregory Nettuno, P.E., a senior vice president, and Leah Tuscan, senior director of corporate communications, about how the use of blog posts and social media has become a vital tool to business development, client relationship building, and attracting potential employees.
Becoming a respected thought leader involves establishing professionals in the firm as trusted go-to sources and influencers. GAI social media followers and website visitors can learn about a variety of topics showcasing the firm’s expertise in the “Our Thinking” and “Industry Insights” blog post sections. The content covers a variety of topics—professional development, the iGaive philanthropy program, workplace safety, project management lessons, flood mitigation work, renewable energy projects, and technical white papers.
GAI firm leaders recognized that there’s a difference between communications geared toward marketing and the type of external messages needed to solidify a brand or promote a broader perception of the firm. “A lot of our work is qualifications-based, so we know how to market for a particular project and show that our expertise is better than the competition. That’s the nature of the engineering business,” says Nettuno, who is the director of infrastructure.
The goal is to distinguish GAI in a big and diverse industry, says Nettuno. “Our people are industry leaders and problem solvers. Our communications strategy allows our clients to make a greater connection to the people doing the work.”
The process to ramp up GAI’s reputation as an industry thought leader started in 2011 with a pilot project of blog posts featuring the firm’s legal counsel. “From there we slowly released more content and tracked our engagement to see if this was something that our clients had an appetite for,” says Leah Tuscan, who has been employed with the firm for 15 years.
In 2015, GAI’s corporate marketing group was restructured with a renewed focus. Now, Tuscan and the communications team examine industry trends and engage with staff at all levels to identify content that can enhance external conversations. If industry regulations change, they provide clients with updates. If GAI staff attend a conference, they will post an article about the subject matter. If staff members make a conference presentation, they will provide content for an article or video blog.
The communications strategy also helps GAI stay competitive in talent recruitment. Through the firm’s various posts, potential candidates can get a sense of the culture, says Nettuno. “It offers a way for them to get a window into the culture of the firm, which you can’t get through just a LinkedIn job post.”
Nettuno adds, “The employee who does the great work is getting the attention and not just the company. This really helps us on the recruiting side.”
Engineers often don’t want to toot their own horns, which makes the communications team’s role essential. GAI has remarkable experts, says Tuscan, but they are often too humble about the work that they do. “Their first priority is client service, so occasionally it takes someone else pointing out that these are intriguing projects and that they are offering innovative solutions people really want to hear about,” she says.
The department also takes steps to ensure that staff members get comfortable with writing a blog post and understand that the writing style differs from the style used in a service brief or marketing brochure. For engineering staff members who are good at writing, they may just need a bit of assistance to deliver content that is “more concise and easily digestable or speaks to a common reader,” says Tuscan. Communications staff members will also provide some ghost writing when necessary.
If you’re a leader of a firm who wants to increase engagement with clients, potential employees, and business partners, Tuscan advises a focus on consistency. “Identify contributors in your firm, commit to a schedule, and develop trust with clients by consistently delivering messages that offer value,” she says.
Since last year, GAI has experienced a 54% growth across their social media vehicles and 200 new visitors peruse their content each week. “You have to be patient because there is a ramp-up period,” says Tuscan, “but now we are seeing that uptick in interest and a measurable return for what we do.”