Deborah Miller, global director of business development and communications for LandDesign, has worked in the A/E/C industries for 20 years. As an SMPS member for 15 of those, she forged relationships early on within the Society that continue today. Deborah takes time out of her busy schedule to share more about her career and what has contributed to her success.
How would you describe your role/job? I’ve had the good fortune to play a role in marketing and business development over the past 20 years for some of the best design firms on the national and international scene. From urban planning, to full-service civil engineering, landscape architecture and architecture, I’ve gained tremendous understanding of what it takes to develop design teams and strategy, while building a network of contacts worldwide. The value of relationships and respecting those relationships has been key to my success.
What have been the challenges and rewards of your career? My work is my passion, and I enjoy challenges. The reward in my career is that there is a genuine need for strategic advising in organizations. The world is small; industry and relationships are global; and the need to market and develop new business and grow in practice is complicated.
What has been your most meaningful project? That’s a hard one, as there have been so many, and I feel my most meaningful project is yet to be. But, most recently, an opportunity arose in Winter Park, FL. The city decided it was time for a new library—a 21st century civic facility. Over the past several years, I had collaborated with David Adjaye, lead designer of the Smithsonian African American History Museum in D.C. As I became more knowledgeable of the library project and having a personal understanding of the region (my hometown for 30 years), I thought Adjaye’s approach and design philosophy would be ideal for the design. The city had numerous national firms compete and in the end, one vote shy of unanimous, our team was selected. Knowing that I brought together a team to design a public project in my hometown that will have a significant legacy is incredibly meaningful.
How has membership in SMPS helped you to advance your firm and your career? Early in my career, SMPS was a significant influence. I forged relationships that continue today and which I turn to for strategy, teaming, and insight. Today, my membership in SMPS is more in giving back. I’ve dedicated the past few years in mentorship and look to continue sharing my experience with the next generation of leaders.
What has contributed to your success? Honesty and integrity—first and foremost. Business development and marketing is nothing without relationships and people. When people know they can trust you, then relationships sustain. Respect of these relationships, many which include close friendships, have made me successful, and I truly believe success is a collaborative effort. Secondly, go with your instinct. My career from marketing to business development took a full 180 when I worked tirelessly to connect with developers of a project. Ultimately, they took a meeting at my firm, and they liked what they saw. I then developed a workshop that turned the developers’ original design intent around and the project became a multimillion-dollar success for them and a very nice fee for our firm. From that day on, my career skyrocketed.
What advice would you give to someone who is about to enter the marketing or business development field? Know your market, your firm, and your competition. Read industry publications, become familiar with leaders in the industry, and stay up on current events. Being a well-rounded person allows you to see opportunities broadly. Having knowledge beyond the task sets you apart. Anticipate next steps. Be creative. Love what you do. Lastly, there are very skilled technicians and designers; however, some are not the best at selling themselves. That’s where great marketing and business development professionals are invaluable.