Core Values: An Underutilized AEC Marketing Tool

Late­ly, I hear a lot of A/​E/​C firms talk­ing about cul­ture. When com­pet­ing for tal­ent, firms of­ten cite their cul­ture as a dif­fer­en­tia­tor to lure new hires.

I de­fine cul­ture as the shared be­hav­iors and be­liefs of your firm. So, how do you share your cul­ture with a prospec­tive hire or client? Don’t they have to ex­pe­ri­ence it?

First, cod­i­fy the shared be­hav­iors and be­liefs of your firm as writ­ten Core Val­ues. Sad­ly, most firm lead­ers de­vel­op a set of ba­nal Core Val­ues at a week­end re­treat, then send them out in an equal­ly unin­spired mass email to all em­ploy­ees. But, as you’ll see in this post, Core Val­ues can be so much more. A cre­ative man­i­fes­ta­tion of your Core Val­ues is a pow­er­ful mar­ket­ing tool and an es­sen­tial ar­ti­fact of your cul­ture. An ar­ti­fact that prospec­tive hires or clients can ex­pe­ri­ence to de­ter­mine if there is a match.

Manifested Core Values Attract the Right Talent and Clients

Prospec­tive hires and clients want to get a sense of what it’s like to work with your firm. They imag­ine them­selves on a typ­i­cal day at your of­fice and judge whether they’ll fit in. Si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly, you want clients and tal­ent that har­mo­nize with your cul­ture. For both par­ties, this re­quires a leap of faith. But you can min­i­mize the risk by shar­ing a cre­ative man­i­fes­ta­tion of your Core Val­ues. The goal isn’t to cre­ate some­thing safe that res­onates with every­one. You on­ly want peo­ple who fit with your cul­ture. Com­mu­ni­cate your point of view. Then let clients and tal­ent self-select.

Here is an ex­am­ple of Man­i­fest­ed Core Val­ues we re­cent­ly cre­at­ed with our client, Mur­ray­smith. First, we helped them with their po­si­tion­ing: ge­o­graph­i­cal fo­cus on the North­west, ob­ses­sion with detail/​quality, fun, and the right size (120 peo­ple). Sounds like like a craft brew­ery, right? So, we de­cid­ed to in­vent a faux craft beer for each of their sev­en Core Val­ues. Each Val­ue be­came man­i­fest­ed as a let­ter­pressed (a craft print­ing tech­nique) beer coast­er. The Core Val­ue is on the front, with a de­scrip­tion about what it means on the back. To give each Val­ue the grav­i­tas it de­served, and to cre­ate a sense of an­tic­i­pa­tion, we rec­om­mend­ed one new coast­er be dis­trib­uted to each em­ploy­ee for sev­en con­sec­u­tive weeks.

AEC Firm Core Values

AEC Firm Core Values

AEC Firm Core Values

Manifested Core Values Demonstrate How To Behave

Most firms have a par­tic­u­lar way they like things done. Every­thing from how to bind a pro­pos­al, close out a project, or even write an email.
Some firms even de­vel­op a clever name or use The (Firm Name) Way to brand their culture.

I sup­pose you could cre­ate a 10-vol­ume em­ploy­ee man­u­al that imag­ines all sce­nar­ios em­ploy­ees will en­counter. Or, you could man­i­fest your Core Val­ues as a guide to al­low em­ploy­ees, who are adults, to use their best judge­ment. I rec­om­mend the latter.

Star­bucks man­i­fests their Core Val­ues in their Green Apron Book. As you can prob­a­bly in­fer, it’s pock­et-sized to fit in a barista’s green apron. I like to think the pock­et po­si­tion (over the heart) helps baris­tas takes the ex­pect­ed be­hav­iors to heart.

Core Values handbook Core Values handbook

Manifested Core Values Demonstrate Quality

Stat­ed or not as an of­fi­cial Core Val­ue, all firms em­brace qual­i­ty. So, what­ev­er form your man­i­fest­ed Core Val­ues take, make sure it’s done well. Use qual­i­ty ma­te­ri­als, pro­fes­sion­al de­sign­ers, writ­ers and pho­tog­ra­phers to com­mu­ni­cate the pro­fes­sion­al­ism of your firm. While not specif­i­cal­ly de­signed as a Core Val­ues man­i­fes­ta­tion, the 20th An­niver­sary book we cre­at­ed for Schmidt De­sign Group helped them com­mu­ni­cate their be­liefs. There are 20 quotes or state­ments cou­pled with project pho­tog­ra­phy to ex­press their point of view. The firm re­ceived such pos­i­tive feed­back, we cre­at­ed sim­i­lar books for their 25th and 30th an­niver­saries. To demon­strate qual­i­ty, the books fea­ture great pho­tog­ra­phy, graph­ic de­sign, pa­per, print­ing, and per­fect bind­ing. One client even told the own­er of the firm, “I keep the book on my desk. If I’m hav­ing a bad day, I read through the book to find inspiration.”

AEC Firm Core Values

No. 5 – A good de­sign­er is a good listener

AEC Firm Core Values

Be­low are more ways to man­i­fest your Core Val­ues. You could de­sign and print over­sized graph­ic pan­els to cov­er bor­ing blank walls with­in your office.

Super Graphics for Core Values

Clark Con­struc­tion shares their val­ues through a se­ries of videos on their web­site. Each video sum­ma­rizes one val­ue with dif­fer­ent em­ploy­ees shar­ing what that val­ue means to them.

Clark Construction Core Values

You could hire a de­sign­er to cre­ate an in­fo­graph­ic or poster as shown be­low. They took an acros­tic ap­proach where R-I-S-E are the first let­ters in their four Core Values.

Core Values Poster


When you bring your Core Val­ues to life, do so in a medi­um that re­flects your cul­ture. Many em­ploy­ees at Mur­ray­smith go out af­ter work and en­joy the bur­geon­ing craft brew­ing cul­ture of the Pa­cif­ic North­west. So, beer coast­ers were a great fit to com­mu­ni­cate the firm’s Core Val­ues. As Mar­shall McLuhan stat­ed, “the medi­um is the mes­sage.” Choose a medi­um that fits your firm.

To ef­fec­tive­ly pass cul­ture on to the next gen­er­a­tion in your firm, it must be man­i­fest­ed. You can’t re­ly sole­ly on oral tra­di­tion. Sto­ries get lost, skewed by the teller, and for­got­ten by the lis­ten­er. Share your Core Val­ues and cul­ture through a tan­gi­ble artifact.

When the right prospec­tive client or em­ploy­ee ex­pe­ri­ences your Man­i­fest­ed Core Val­ues, a fierce loy­al­ty will develop.

How does your firm cre­ative­ly man­i­fest Core Val­ues? Please leave a reply.


One Response to “Core Values: An Underutilized AEC Marketing Tool”

  1. Janet Grey August 17, 2017 at 8:35 am #

    I great­ly ap­pre­ci­ate this in­for­ma­tion! Thank you! Core Val­ues have been on my mind, along with a lo­go, need­ed for my ex­cit­ing Glob­al Trav­el Start-up, which is why I end­ed up on this site. I like what I see! 

    It’ll be fun think­ing about how I might cre­ative­ly man­i­fest Core Val­ues for my new project.

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