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Heritage-only firms must market

Its list time in Canada, when many of the provincial lists of qualified archaeological firms get updated. Recent articles in Heritage Business Journal have noted a shift in market share away from heritage-only firms. In the draft of the current list of qualified Alberta archaeological consultants there are 27 companies listed: 19 of these were heritage-only firms and 8 were multidisciplinary firms. This listing also suggests that multidisciplinary firms have more staff (average of 2.8 vs. 1.8 for the heritage-only firms). There are three caveats here. First, I sorted the firms on my knowledge of what they do–they are not listed that way. Second, while more heritage-only firms have a single archaeologist, the number of staff on the list is not very consistent. Third, it should be noted that not all the firms on the list are actually in Alberta, in case readers are wondering how a single province supports 27 archaeology firms.

Archaeology, like many environmental services, is a requirement for some development approvals. Developers who do not know how to find an archaeologist are given the list of qualified firms. My hunch is that lists such as the Alberta Consultant’s List form the entire marketing plan for many small heritage-only firms. This raises the question of whether the reported switch to multidisciplinary firms is due to a customer desire for one stop shopping, or whether it is because multidisciplinary firms out-market and out-brand heritage only firms.

I cannot think of a simple test for this and can only offer anecdotal evidence.  I regularly participate in a number of trade shows, around a half-dozen each year. At these shows I regularly meet colleagues from multidisciplinary companies, but almost never meet colleagues from heritage-only firms. I met two at the Williston Basin conference in Regina last May, and interestingly, both were from US-based multi-office companies who came to the trade show just to interact with their US customers (the Williston Basin conference moves between Saskatchewan and North Dakota).

PDAC, Canada’s largest mining exhibition occurred this March. The event is reported to have had 30,000 attendees. A lot of archaeology firms work for mining firms and this would seem like a good place to meet clients. Out of the 422 exhibitors there were no heritage-only firms and some 20 multidisciplinary firms that provide archaeological services. Instead of attending PDAC, I went to Globe. While this exhibition was smaller, only 10,000 visitors and 400 exhibitors, the only mostly-heritage firm in attendance was my company.

So the question we need to ask is whether the apparent switch in market share to multidisciplinary firms is customer driven, a need for one stop shopping, or is a result of multidisciplinary firms both developing effective branding, and successfully marketing a fuller range of services as part of their value proposition. Heritage-only companies can just as easily market specialization as part of their value proposition, but do they?

  1. William Ferris
    April 13, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    A related question would be is how often these lists are used and related to that question the size and value of the projects that are chosen in this manner. So are the lists a relic of an older era of regulation or are they a vital part of the system?

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