A few days ago, I was asked for my thoughts about centralized vs. decentralized marketing staff.
This is a subject I have addressed a number of times, both verbally and in writing. But this time, the questioner apparently caught me in a mood to second-guess all my previous answers.
At times, I have believed that a centralized marketing staff was the best way because that enabled marketers to help each other more easily—and cover for each other when one is ill—than when they are scattered over multiple time zones.
At other times, I have believed that a decentralized marketing staff was the best way because different office locations often represent different markets, needing a different touch for all marketing/business development activities—from proposals to trade shows to short-list presentations. A marketer in Portland, Maine, might not have a feel for how the market in Portland, Oregon, operates. And they are not the same.
Hell, even Dallas and Fort Worth—which are only 30 miles apart—are very different markets, requiring a very different "touch on the reins.
Today, I believe that when asked whether a centralized or decentralized marketing staff is better, I can tell you that the definitive answer is (drum roll, wait for it)
It depends on a lot of things, such as:
1. How does that market operate? What is the general level of sophistication of the players in that market. Will they usually be bowled over by amazing graphics and slick magazine-type layout or are they "plain speakers" who just want to hear the facts with great graphics that help tell the story?
2. What are the major issues of that geographic area? Do you need to focus on how business gets done, or do you need to focus on specific topics like transportation, water or environmental issues?
4. How does your organization enable marketers to support one another? Do you make sure that multiple people are conversant with each market and/or marketplace to minimize conflicts in style or approach?
5. For whom do your marketers actually work—to whom do they actually report—are these two different people in two different chains of command? For example, do your marketers report to a marketing director or CMO, but in reality work for their specific office manager, division manager, practice area manager, etc.?
In a May 2015 article in Civil + Structural Engineer, I wrote that "best practice" is a myth. Since no two firms are identical, you can't pull a process from another firm and expect it to work beautifully in yours. A process that works for a 10,000-person firm is not necessarily a good process for a 25-person firm.
I believe that the art and science behind process development involve looking at what works for other firms similar to yours, and then adapting them into what works best for you. Adopting another firm's process—whether marketing, accounting, or design—without adapting it to your firm is a sure road to disaster.