One of the questions I get asked a lot is what the ideal marketing department structure for an A/E/C firm is. Of course, that is nearly an impossible question to answer as one structure won’t work for every firm. There are many factors that need to be considered when you are building your department. In this article, I share four different types of marketing structures that I have either worked in or researched through my network. I attempt to point out the pros and cons of each to help you decide what may work best for your firm and its current situation.
In this structure, the entire marketing department reports to one person in charge—most often a Director of Marketing or Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). This means that in this structure, the entire department relies heavily on this one individual to make decisions and provide direction for the department.
In A/E/C firms, this can even mean that the entire marketing department has a separate budget and reporting structure. I worked for a firm with this structure. It was a very large firm. There were a few levels of management between me and the CMO, but marketing was a separate department from the operations or technical staff. We had different timesheet numbers and budgets. We were housed in the same offices as the technical staff.
In this structure, you could physically house the entire department in one office or spread out into multiple offices. It is dependent on the reporting and decision-making structure.
- It can be efficient to make decisions in this structure.
- Create a team atmosphere if your department is in one physical location.
- Ability to better manage brand and marketing procedures.
- May be easier to set up and track budgets and spending.
- May create unnecessary divisions between marketing and operations.
- Often difficult to hire and house all the marketing department in one location.
- May not be as flexible to react quickly and efficiently to specific region or office needs.
- A lot of time is spent on administering rather than marketing.
In this type of structure, there are several individuals responsible for making marketing decisions and running the department. It relies on a team environment at different levels of the firm. Individuals at each level in the department may have some autonomy to make decisions. There is also some shared decision making in regard to marketing programs and budgets.
In A/E/C firms this may look like different marketing directors or manager responsible for different geographic regions or markets. Instead of reporting up to a CMO, they report to someone on the operations side. The marketing manager almost acts independently within their own region or market. He/She may work collectively with their counterparts on shared initiatives, but most likely for workload/resource sharing.
I also worked at a firm with this structure. The marketing department was completely decentralized. We did get a brand standard book from the Corporate Communications Director, but I reported directly to my Regional Operations Director. I served the needs of my region. There were other marketing managers across the country, but we rarely worked together or knew each other’s marketing efforts, budgets or strategies. We operated completely independently of each other.
- Marketers may have more autonomy to be creative and adapt quickly to changing market/region needs.
- Closer to clients and the market can help with personalizing messages, content, etc. that resonate better with clients and potential clients.
- Could be more of a team member with operations and technical staff.
- Easier for each market/region to develop own marketing procedures
- Each market and region could become own brand or sub-brand, if no stringent brand standards are set and followed
- Greater possibility for redundant systems (technology) and marketing efforts
Hub and Spoke Structure
I am stealing this term from the airlines industry. This structure is more of a hybrid of the two described above. I think this may be the most common structure in the A/E/C industry. It mimics the airlines who have regional hubs that you must fly through to get to your final destination. (Anyone in Florida who flies Delta knows you must go through Atlanta to get anywhere else.)
There is a central corporate marketing department that sets the firm’s strategic marketing direction, firm-wide marketing strategies, and manages firm-wide marketing communications. Then there are different regions that cover either geographies or markets. The difference from the decentralized structure, is that each region marketing manager reports back to that corporate marketing department. Each region (or hub) gets their strategic direction, policies, budgets, etc. from the corporate marketing department.
This structure also can support the matrix organization. In this organization, you report to two (or more!) different departments. The hub marketing manager could report to both the CMO and their assigned market or regional operations director as well.
I built a marketing department using this model. The firm was re-organizing to form market sectors. Each market sector had a director, key project managers and technical specialists that would serve that market. As I was adding marketing coordinators, each of them was assigned to a market sector. The marketing coordinators were technically in the marketing department (meaning they reported to me) but worked very closely with their market director. I would consult with the market directors for their goal setting and performance reviews.
- Takes the best of both the centralized and decentralized structures and smashes them together.
- Provides for more autonomy at the hub level while still providing structure and guidance from the top.
- Fosters greater collaboration between the hub marketing manager and the market sector or region he/she is working with.
- With a matrix-type structure, you could have two “bosses.” This can lead to conflicting expectations and confusion for the hub manager.
- May accidently create divides between the markets and geographic regions. This is when a strong CMO or Director of Marketing is needed to keep the overall firm marketing strategies and branding intact.
Free Range Structure
I am completely making up this structure name. This term, free range, is more commonly seen on a package of eggs or chicken so you might not think of it when you think of an A/E/C marketing department. It is also kind of an oxy-moron – FREE and STRUCTURE – when you think about it even closer. I digress.
For me, a firm with this kind of structure has marketing professionals scattered throughout their organization. The marketing professionals can be coordinators, managers or directors. They might be grouped together in one office or housed in separate offices. One marketer may report to an office manager, while there might be a marketing manager with a direct marketing report in another office. If there is more than one marketing professional at the firm, he/she may not work or coordinate marketing efforts with any others.
Meaning, this structure really has no structure. I see this a lot in firms who are very small and then grow rapidly. The firm adds an office and that office grows fast. Then that office needs a marketing person. And so on.
- Marketers are all-in-one resources. This means they are responsible for all of the marketing functions for that particular office. He/she can learn a lot in a short amount to time.
- Ability to adapt as rapidly as the firm is growing and changing.
- May be easier to find marketing professionals to hire.
- Marketers are all-in-one resources. This means they are responsible for all of the marketing functions for that particular office. He/she may have limited availability to work on more strategic marketing items.
- Hard to establish a strong firm brand and set marketing processes.
- Constantly in a reactive marketing mode.
- Lack of defined career path and in turn may be hard to retain marketing professionals.
I am sure there are a dozen other marketing department structures out there. Your firm may be structured entirely different than any of those I have mentioned. If that is the case, please sure yours below in the comments.
Do you work in any of these structures? Have you experienced any of the pros or cons? Did I miss any? Let me know in the comments below.