Transcript- The Construction Channel, with Aaron Wright


Transcript - The Construction Channel, with Aaron Wright

Audio:                    Welcome to AEC Marketing for Principals, brought to you by Smartegies, where we help design and construction firms navigate sales and leverage marketing to win more projects. Here are your hosts, Katie Cash and Judy Sparks.

Katie Cash:                    Hi, everyone. Thank you for tuning in this week. Today, Judy and I are talking with Aaron Wright, who is the creator and founder of The Construction Channel, which really showcases and celebrates the work behind builders and behind contractors. He also is an adjunct professor at Auburn University and UAB, where he teaches around the subject matter of building information modeling. And Aaron, we are super excited to have you today so thank you for carving out some time and shedding some wisdom with our listeners with us today.

Aaron Wright:               It's great to be here.

Katie Cash:                    Perfect. So you know, Judy and I really wanted to have you on our show just because we keep hearing all in all too often that people today are just too busy to read. And there's all these analytics out there that videos are the number one vehicle for communication and education and what you and your team are doing over at The Construction Channel is just very special. It's not something that we've seen done in our industry, certainly not to the level of professionalism that you guys have been executing. And I would love for you maybe just to share your story with us. How did you go from in-house BIM manager to running your own video production team and ultimately launching this entire digital channel focused on construction video storytelling?

Aaron Wright:               Well, that's a great question. It's been a long journey and we've really just started, which is awesome. I don't know where I could begin, but it really goes back to the days when I was in college. I was sitting on the couch one day and watching The Weather Channel. And this flash just occurred and was like, why is there not a construction channel? And surely there's a way we can make construction sexy. We can educate and teach people what is it's like to be on a job site. And even internally for companies that it's not feasible to fly the whole company does the job site to do a tour. We can use media and technology to tell stories that help communicate what a company's doing, the successes, the wins, the challenges, and just all of the above because construction is the best industry.

And I couldn't imagine my life if I wasn't involved in it. It's just been an amazing career. And after working in the industry for about 10 years, this idea never left. And you know, the flame never went out. And finally I had the opportunity to pursue it and go after this. And we've surprisingly had quite a few successes in the last three years since we started.

Judy Sparks:                  So Aaron Love that you were inspired while you were in school and I noticed on your LinkedIn profile that you've worked for some pretty formidable brands in the construction space. I mean, these are what we always called the big guys, especially here in the Southeast. And so while you're... Help us understand like while you're inside, you've graduated from college, you've gotten your first job at this large general contractor, construction management firm, and you're in the technology part of that company, really developing building information modeling. And you know, if you started 10 years ago then, you know, it was really at the beginning, at the forefront of all of that technology really taking off.

So tell me how this inkling of a vision, you went from sitting on the couch saying, "There really ought to be a construction channel" to forming that idea over the decade that you're in the trenches at that intersection of dirt and technology. What are some of the things that occurred to you as you were on the job and one of the reasons I'm assuming that flame didn't burn out is because the more and more you learned and the more and more you did, the more you were convinced that this was a really good idea. Sort of take us through your personal career journey that led you here.

Aaron Wright:               So one of the things I had to learn first when I came out of school with this idea, I was so inspired and so excited about it and about the opportunity for it, that I went straight to the CEO of the company I was with and said, "Hey, I've got an idea for a construction channel. You want to do it?" And he said, kind of more or less like, "That's a good idea. But we don't do a lot with video and we certainly don't do a lot with marketing or showing our projects. That'd give away our secrets."

Judy Sparks:                  Oh my goodness.

Aaron Wright:               And this was 2005, and so I hate to say it, but in this way, but more or less, I accepted the feedback and I said, "You know what, I've got to learn as much as I can about construction." And so I worked in the field for three years and traveled around with my young family building hospitals in Tennessee and Texas. And then right around 2007... I always tell this story because it really is funny how it happened, but I had a chance to come back to Birmingham, where I'm from, and join estimating. So I had the field experience, I had an opportunity to learn estimating, which I really enjoy. And we were sitting around after work one day with some seasoned estimators and they said, "Hey, have you heard of this program called Revit? I hear it counts doors for you."

And immediately I said, "I'm in. I want to learn that because I'm tired of counting toiletries and counting doors for you guys, so let me in." And the next thing I know, we're on the company plane, flying around the country to learn about these early adopters for BIM and virtual construction. And that was in 2007, so that was one of the best blessings I had early in my career, is to be an early adopter of that technology. And the rest is just such a journey because the more I learned about that technology, the more I saw the opportunity to teach... The opportunity to visually communicate how we're building projects and just the list goes on after that.

Judy Sparks:                  So Aaron, you said a couple of things that made my ears perk up. One is the phrase "early adopters" and two is the idea that you went straight to the CEO and pitched this really out-of-the-box idea that was met with not a lot of enthusiasm. So one thing that I've learned in our business is the construction business is one that really has to run efficiently and all of your marketing dollars have to be spent wisely and be tied back to driving revenue.

And so how do you make the business case today, now that you've had time in the trenches and you are an expert on the technology side and you've culminated all this experience into the medium of video and digital and The Construction Channel. When you are talking to CEOs today, with all the experience that you've gained, how do you convince them to be an early adopter to really... This is comparable to doing a commercial on TV, but the TV is a dedicated channel for builders by builders. And how do you convince them that this makes sense for their business?

Aaron Wright:               That's a great question. One thing that I learned early with the opportunity to learn virtual construction technology, what that allowed me to do, is participate in sales presentations. So I had the opportunity to go understand and get a glimpse of marketing and how these construction firms were competing against each other and differentiating themselves from their competition. And that just validated the idea that, you know, video is just a new medium that we can explore. But I think part of the problem or the challenge why the CEO gave me that feedback, thinking back on it, is that really the technology wasn't there. You know, YouTube didn't come out really until 2004, I think, is when it began. But even in 2010, fast-forward, it was still kind of perceived and nobody respected it as a media.

And then now we are today. I think some of the things that you guys have said on your podcast before that the feedback you're getting from companies is nobody buys construction online. Nobody buys architectural services on Facebook and things like that. Well, there are ways that we can promote companies and through social media, through advertising campaigns, and give them a platform to do that. And that's what we're trying to ultimately do with The Construction Channel.

So to answer your question, what we've learned is that we've developed a platform, although it's still early and we're still in the startup phase, we have something that I think could be a valid platform for any company or product or new safety equipment, for example, or a new project to showcase that and highlight that on an executive industry level or for construction and architecture. And you know, there's so many different avenues to explore with what happens on any given job site or in any design firm, any design challenges. How are those overcome? So there's just a lot of opportunities there.

Katie Cash:                    Well and Aaron, I think you're being very humble. You know, as we sit here today, I just happened to revisit The Construction Channel's YouTube channel and you guys are over 23,000 subscribers, which is not a small feat. So congratulations in that. And you also have won some pretty major awards for the production that you've put out there. But moreover, you're working with some really large brands and you touched on it just a minute ago, it's not just video but the speed of being able to get it out in front of your audience through additional means such as digital, like we talked about. YouTube is around now. There's ways that you can build subscribers. There's also other ways through advertising campaigns or through maybe some direct email features, where you can get that content that you're creating right into the inbox of those desired target audience, if you will, be it internal employees because it's a training video, or be it the heat of a pursuit where you're trying to position your brand or the ultimate selection of a project.

I think that showcasing information digitally through video is really quite effective. And in fact, back on episode two a couple of weeks ago, we spoke with Jerry Smith, who heads up design and construction here in Atlanta for Atlanta Public Schools. And he was just commenting about a lot of his selection committee members are nontechnical and they don't really understand what they're looking at in terms of a 2D site logistics plan or they're not really sure what they're looking at from some other design and construction plans that they might be viewing. But video kind of helps bridge that technical gap because you can see things more visually. You can see that technical aspect. You can see exactly how that construction fencing might be wrapping around the current site. And it helps them connect more with those technical professions that are project managers, superintendents, trying to convey a highly complex idea in a more consumable way through video.

So, I'd love to maybe pick your brain a little bit on how these brands are engaging you and The Construction Channel and kind of what those different videos look like. I mean, right here, off the top of my mind, I'm sitting here, well obviously from our industry there's a lot of risk at stake. So I can see it from a training standpoint. Maybe just a project documentation, just seeing the course of the construction happen from clearing the land to the buildings going vertical and move-in.

But then also there's a big brand play here, and as we sit here today, it's a very heated marketplace. There's not a lot of people entering the industry. So it's highly competitive from a recruitment standpoint. And I would venture that a lot of the videos you're producing for The Construction Channel do help build brand equity around this idea of working in this muddy boots environment. I love your particular show of Six Figures, No Suits. I just love that. And kind of celebrating the art behind building. But maybe talk to us a little bit more about all the different avenues and applications that videos play in today's competitive landscape.

Aaron Wright:               Wow, that was a great question. Where to start? So video is very effective at communicating ideas and although it still is a challenge to convince a CEO, "Hey, instead of spending $20000 to go after this proposal and fly people around the country to go after these presentations, what if we created a video about your company that you can send to potential clients at half the cost or something like that. What if we created a content strategy for video that you can use throughout the year?"

And so that's one way that I think we can reach the business side of companies. One thing I wanted to mention is that, I'm sure you guys have seen this challenge, is that a lot of the big players are doing marketing well, but there is a tremendous gap between the top 100 contractors and the rest of the world. Many of those smaller firms, medium-sized firms, they may not have a website and they just do quality work. And I see that as an opportunity because Six Figures, No Suits was a great platform for us that we were able to tell a story that a lot of people don't know about, which is foundation drilling. And that's just one aspect of a very complicated and complex construction project.

You know, there's roofing, there's 20 different trades that are just as interesting that go into the process of building that are opportunities to communicate their story visually through video.

Judy Sparks:                  You know, what I love about your video series, Aaron, is that you do go and isolate that one component, whether you're drilling a foundation or you're talking about the roofing. Because you know what we get in our consulting practice all the time, is we have clients who say, "Hey, we just built this $400 million hospital. Now, the things we did to build it was amazing. And we want you to write a story about it and get it in X, Y, Z magazine." And that has been done that way for a long time. And I'm often saying, "Okay, we can do that. However, next time you have a project like this, think about the documentation." You know, either it's through time lapse or you're doing hardhat media tours, or you are taking video with a partner like Construction Channel.

So you're making these mini-documentaries on the craft because it's so much easier to tell that story while it's happening than after it's happened. And you know the walls are up and the drywall's in and you can't see that anymore. And you're trying remember that day in the life of that building when that piece happened. And it's really hard to make an interesting story out of that. So the fact that you're telling the story as it's happening is really, really powerful.

And like Katie said, it's especially powerful when you have, in the public sector, at least, typically a selection committee that is made up of technical professionals as well as non-technical professionals. If you're building [inaudible 00:18:19] schools, like you know a lot of Jerry Smith's audience from episode two or you're building college and university buildings like Marvin [Woodward 00:18:27] talked about in our recent episode with him, usually the committee's going to have one or two end users that have never built anything and they don't understand the technical piece.

But when you tell a story through the videos like you're making with Construction Channel, that becomes very consumable. And so tell us about how do you convince a client to make that investment before they need it? So you mentioned you're in the sales and marketing pitches and I can imagine them coming to you and saying, "We need you to build a BIM model of this for our presentation tomorrow or in two weeks." And so they're spending the money at the time that they need to spend the money for the pitch. What you're doing is coming to people and saying, "While you're building this building, that you're going to use some time in the future to convince somebody else to hire you." Talk to me about that conversation you're having.

Aaron Wright:               Well, that is the best time. Like you said, that's the best time to decide to allocate resources, allocate time and effort and energy and costs in the front end of the project. Because if you're building a $200 million hospital, you know what's 0.01%... It sounds like a large portion of money, but that could be an entire documentary that's done through video and a process that you can tell a story every month. Instead of doing a 2D site logistics plans, you could communicate that monthly through video to an owner. There's just so many... I have so many ways to answer that question that maybe you could ask again, like, where do you want me to start?

You know, I've got to admit that in the last three years, I have probably not sat down to read a technical research paper about construction. I got to admit that.

Judy Sparks:                  Is that [crosstalk 00:20:52] watching that on video instead of reading?

Aaron Wright:               Right?

Judy Sparks:                  Yeah.

Aaron Wright:               So yeah, and blogs too, you know? I think maybe by nature there's... People in construction come from all backgrounds. But me personally, I'm not a very good reader, but I'm very visual and so I can take a story that's on paper and just see it. Like a lot of guys in construction can look at a set of plans and they can build it in 3D in their mind. It's just a skill that you have to learn and refine. So being able to tell a story about construction is... It's really exciting to be able to do that.

And I think to answer your question again, if we look at the big picture, if you'll allow me to talk about that. So right now, as a company and through our journey, and kind of hopefully one day it'll go full circle and back to that conversation with the CEO, is that our long-term goal with The Construction Channel is that it's like ESPN for construction. Or, we've built a library of so much content that we can be Netflix for construction. We built a community around an audience that the people that are watching our channel are so excited about construction and the content that we're providing is so educational and entertaining and informative to them that The Construction Channel will be on every job site across the nation. That would be amazing.

And so to answer that question about marketing, one thing that I learned is while some companies do explore video production and they may have a campaign that they do decide, okay, we're going to allocate a certain amount of resources this year to video production. Well what happens is they can't manage the back end of it. The publishing to YouTube, the social media side. That's where you guys can come in and help craft that campaign for them.

And one thing that taught me is that we're trying to do the same thing. But what I feel strongly about is that it's kind of like a company tooting their own horn or, you know, we're so great. But if you have a third party like The Construction Channel come in and say, "We're construction experts. Our background is construction and we think you're doing something amazing and here's why." And we communicate that story, it's sort of a different spin on a company telling a story about themselves, whereas somebody from outside comes in and says, "Here's what I think you're doing really well and here's the story that... You tell me the story but, but here is why you guys are amazing. Let me show you through video."

Katie Cash:                    Well, and I also think kind of that third party validation from you guys, like maybe a smaller brand that doesn't have as wide of a brand recognition as say, you know, like the Brasfield and Gorrie or the Turner, you know, JE [Johns 00:00:24:32], that carry big brand recognition. It kind of helps level the playing field, right? It kind of helps an owner that might not can differentiate between an A player and a B player. Like, "Hey, these guys that, you know, I thought I didn't really know about, they really know their stuff and they're featured on this channel."

Aaron Wright:               Yes. Did you know that there is a concrete saw cutting and demolition industry?

Katie Cash:                    Oh, yeah. Yeah. Only because personally there's been a lot of concrete being cut up close to my house, so I've seen those guys coming in and out and there is an art to it and there's definitely... It's probably more science than art because they are very specifically taking out certain pieces. But yeah, there's a lot of subsets within... I mean construction is a very big industry, just like for us at Smartegies, marketing is a very big umbrella term and there's lots of different tactics underneath it that's kind of similar with construction, right?

Aaron Wright:               That's right. Where I was going with that is that I can say with a high certainty that a lot of concrete saw cutting and drilling companies probably don't have a very good website or have any kind of presence on the internet and how do companies find out who these guys are? Through relationships and past history working together. And if you could take that one example... If we were to create a campaign where we followed around four or five different saw cutting companies, tell a story about what these guys do and how interesting it is and all the details that has to go into cutting a hole in a large opening that either got missed because the opening wasn't coordinated or you name it. It might be an example of a platform that would allow these companies to benefit from it by getting their name out there, as well as having a little bit of marketing value about what they do every day.

Judy Sparks:                  You know, what's really interesting about your show, Aaron, is that the people in the field that do this every day, they're the unsung heroes of the industry. I think that the suits at the headquarters, and I shouldn't even say suits, because like your episode suggests, it's Six Figures, No Suits and that oftentimes applies to the people who are back at the headquarters office as well. But it's the people in the field that make it happen every day and they are these unsung heroes and you're giving them a platform to become the star of the show. Talk to me about if you're a sub-contracting company and you want to get the word out about your company and the quality work you do in the field, how your show really helps them when they don't have the same resources as some of those big brands that you used to work for.

Aaron Wright:               That's a great question. Let me tell you the story about Six Figures, No Suits. It was an opportunity to shine a light into an industry that I knew nothing about. And I'd like to be humble enough to say that it really helped us grow as a company because we were able to focus on improving our production quality and really kind of hone our craft as storytellers. And it really all started with passing through a job site. We said, "Hey, can you tell us a little bit about what this large piece of equipment is and these giant caissons? What is that?" And the guys that we were with said, "Well let me let you talk to Cody over here." And Cody did a great job on camera and just said everything that was just really cool.

And we created some animations to kind of explain what he was talking about. And the ADSC saw that. And they, long story short, they came to us and they said, "You know, we've got a little program for workforce development called Six Figures, No Suits." And I said, "That's it. We really need to tell that story. We can take that from a PowerPoint brochure and I think we can make a show out of that and show people what you guys do in foundation drilling." And sure enough, that's what happened. And you know that was just a really great series. It allowed us the opportunity to kind of tell a long-form documentary that... I mean, we were filming on a dam in Wisconsin in 18-degree weather and then in Toronto. So it was a really awesome opportunity.

Katie Cash:                    So if you had to pick, which show would you say is your favorite that you've produced so far?

Aaron Wright:               Definitely Six Figures, No Suits. I think that is a template for where we can go with this idea.

Katie Cash:                    So looking back on that particular episode, it sounds like you kind of stumbled upon that and it turned into this kind of passion project that was just very interesting. What do you think, or do you know, you might have actual data, on what impact has that show had on the company that you featured in it?

Aaron Wright:               It's been overwhelmingly positive for them. They're an organization with about 10000 members and just phenomenal people. The foundation drilling industry is one of the coolest industries because it shows large pieces of equipment. There's concrete, there's rebar, there's steel, there's welding. It's got all aspects of the vertical side of construction, but it's all mostly underground. And these projects are extremely challenging and some of the largest construction companies in the world are foundation drillers. So it's been very positive overall with this effort.

Katie Cash:                    Well Aaron, I really appreciate your time talking with us today. We could pick your brain and kind of pitch story ideas and what-ifs and just play this all day long. But for our listeners out there, if they wanted to learn more about The Construction Channel or they wanted to connect with you, what is the best way for them to do that?

Aaron Wright:               The best way would be to go to our website, which is, and by all means, please subscribe to our YouTube channel. You can follow us on Facebook and we'd love to tell your story. Watch and build.

Katie Cash:                    Fantastic. We love that. And Aaron, thanks again for all of our listeners out there. Thanks for tuning in to the AEC Marketing for Principal podcast. We'll see you next week.

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