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Small engineering firms' attitudes to sales and marketing: a marketeer responds

20 June 2011

Outsourcing marketing and public relations to a specialist agency can be a wise investment, whilst helping UK plc to a sustainable private sector recovery. So says this week's contributor, Andrew Harvey, who was prompted by the results of a recent survey among members of the Forum of Private Business, which saw this particular business activity placed high on the agenda of small engineering firms.

"Sales and marketing are top concerns for small engineering firms". So went the headline that caught my eye in a recent edition of DPA's emailed newsletter reporting the results of a survey conducted recently by the Forum of Private Business (FPB). Well, I suppose I would notice this headline, given that I run a PR & marketing agency, which acts mainly for small engineering firms.

In the article, Phil Orford, the FPB chief executive says, "Getting sales and marketing right is crucial for small engineering companies – especially as they are acknowledged as one of the main sectors to lead the country to a sustainable private sector recovery. However, marketing often falls outside the skill-set of many business owners in the industry, leaving them unsure about how best to increase sales and grow".

According to the survey, sales & marketing strategy is the priority for 26.1%, - over 1 in 5 - of smaller firms in the engineering sector.

As someone running a marketing business you would appreciate why I would agree with the sentiment! However, acknowledging the concern is one thing, doing something about it, is another. My experience from running a successful PR & marketing agency for over 15 years and talking regularly with publishers and media representatives is that many business owners do acknowledge that getting marketing right is crucial, but they are either unable, or unwilling to dedicate sufficient time to marketing.

This may be due to a lack of time, resources, or both. Whilst I would point out that this does not apply to our clients, the reality for many small engineering firms operating in a tough economic environment, is that they have to focus on what are the more important day-to-day functions of running a business - and marketing is often pushed down (or off) the agenda.

It seems to me that the sales and marketing functions of many businesses are often ‘lumped’ together, perhaps for convenience, cost-saving, or just because convention suggests that that is what works best. The two functions are actually very different and require different skills. 

Most people would agree that selling happens after marketing, because you need to open doors, raise awareness and create an understanding and appreciation of your products and services in order to clinch the sale. This applies to small engineering firms as much as any other type of business and those FPB member’s responding to the survey should be admired for their honesty in acknowledging that marketing does fall outside their skill-set. 

Thinking about the structure of most small engineering firms, especially in today’s tough economic situation when resources are more likely to be under pressure, there is a case for outsourcing marketing to a specialist consultant or agency, rather than having a directly employed marketing person. 

This would, at the very least reduce salary costs and if the ‘right’ agency is selected, could result in a satisfactory solution. Of course, there are hundreds of agencies from which to choose - from one-man bands to much larger concerns - all touting for business. However, when the client is a ‘small engineering firm’ the choice can actually be narrowed down to a specialist agency - because in reality there are relatively few that genuinely understand the industrial, engineering sector and the media that serves it.  

So, what key benefits could a specialist, dedicated Marketing & PR agency offer small engineering firms? Most importantly, a clear understanding of the huge changes that have occurred in trade and technical media over the last 10 to 15 years and how this has impacted on where and how their customers (and potential customers) source information. The digital age has brought about massive fragmentation of media, no longer is an effective marketing strategy about appearing in a range of magazines and maybe a couple of product card packs!

The power of PR is also often misunderstood and opportunities are missed. An agency can advise small engineering firms on a clear and effective PR strategy with the value of regular editorial coverage, regardless of the size of the advertising budget. With the right media database, and good writing skills, coverage can be much broader than many companies can imagine, both online and in print.  

So, if small engineering companies want to realise their potential and meet the expectations of helping UK plc to a sustainable private sector recovery, maybe it’s time they focused more on marketing and utilised the skills of a specialist marketing and PR agency. 

Andrew Harvey is director of Harvey Communications

Les Hunt

Reader comments:

From Mr Ian Deavin:

I was very interested to see the editorial piece by Andrew Harvey and find myself agreeing with his views. Not only that but from our experience at ID-Marketing I would add that not only can an agency “take away the pain” of promotional activity but can generally do it significantly better than the great majority of companies own efforts where expertise in this area is usually unavailable in-house. We can in effect become the Marketing department of small engineering firms – providing something much needed at that level of UK industry – at reasonable cost. Indeed actually free if they would like to download the Top Tips papers on our website and just do some of the activities suggested.
Key to this is not only experience and focus but the ability of a small agency to adapt and address the best and most cost effective parts of the PR arsenal. For example we have been tracking Social Media in the industrial market for some years now and have recently concluded that it is of great value to our type of client. Consequently we have expanded our “traditional” PR package and the results have been a delight with a number of clients being quick to follow our lead and achieving excellent results very quickly.

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