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Collaborating With Engineers Part 2 - Finding Contributors and Grooming Talent

AdobeStock_292343190-1If you’re responsible for promoting your company’s products, you know there’s no one  who knows the product better than the engineers who designed it.

So, securing one or two engineers to contribute content to your site should be easy, right? You’ll just shoot Engineering an email asking if anyone can write a blog post, contribute to a press release or appear in a video or webinar. Easy peasy. Done with a few keystrokes . . . and then crickets.

You have made a rookie mistake.

Asking an engineer to put pen to paper or face to camera is a big ask. Producing product – not producing content – is what engineers do. Creating content is not what engineers are trained for, and it’s not what they are rewarded for. Certainly, you would appreciate their contribution, but I’m sorry to say, dear marketer: you are not dear to them. You cannot command their attention or demand their time.

Sorry, that must have been hard to hear. But trust me when I say it’s equally hard for us editors to hear.

You can read all about the reasons engineer-contributors are so difficult to wrangle up in Part 1 of our series. In this, Part 2, we’ll tell you how we get through the crickets, what works when encouraging engineers to open up, and what doesn’t. Your reward will be access to the product insight that engineers keep in their heads like a secret code. You won’t realize it at first but, distill it, parse it, and extract from it key messages and when you deliver it, it will resonate with the audience you are trying to reach.

The Direct Approach

Still, if you insist on a direct approach, you can try assigning different pieces of content creation to different engineers in your organization to gauge their skill and level of interest. Consider asking each engineer to write a short blog, and then use this as an initial means to assess their communication skills. If you already suspect there are members of your team who might be talented speakers, writers, or content creators, you could approach them directly and ask them if they’d be willing to contribute.

Doesn’t that seem like the shortest path from A to B? Engineers appreciate directness, right? You know this because you have observed them being direct with each other. But less direct, and possibly more effective, are these options:

Bottom-Up – ask for volunteers. Is there anyone on your team who has dreamt of hosting their own engineering-related podcast? Got a story to tell? Have their own blog? Answer questions in a forum (more on this later)? Or have a blog? Consider all these as baby steps toward a contribution.

Embed Yourself – if your engineers need more guidance and direction, consider placing yourself in an engineering team. Be the fly on the wall for a day or two, or what the military calls an embedded reporter. You will get to know them better – and they, you. From this, ideas can spring more naturally as wary engineers will be more likely to open up. They will appreciate you are willing to take the time to really understand what they are doing, rather than trying haphazardly to understand everything over a lunch.

The Clever Approach

Finding contributors outside of your organization can be a bit trickier, but only because you might not have immediate access to this group of engineers. The best approach here is to go where the greatest number of engineers congregate.

Let the hunt begin!

Watch any nature show on the Discovery Channel, and you’ll quickly see that the first step in any hunt is to find the watering hole. When it comes to engineers, conferences are the watering hole. It’s where they gather, participate in secret handshakes, and speak in a language only they understand.

Every engineer in your company will have their favorite conference. It will most likely be their professional society (ASME for mechanical engineers, IEEE for electricals, AIChE for chemical engineers, etc.). Every discipline has a society, and every society has at least one big annual conference and, more often than not, sub-discipline with their own conferences.

Conferences? In the Age of COVID?

Yes. We’re quite aware that the pandemic has had a drastic effect on in-person conferences; attended 20-30 shows a year before the pandemic. A few of those shows may have closed their doors forever, but most have simply gone virtual. Sure, this means you’ll miss out on meeting your remote counterparts, and you’ll miss the post-conference steakhouse dinners with their huge wine lists (that’s right, we know).

But despite the joys of physically being there (mostly the steak and wine), the pandemic has really played right into your hands. Of course, we must not publicly admit to benefiting from a disaster, but here it is: conferences, facing an existential crisis, have gone virtual and thrown open their doors. They are now more accessible than ever.

You, dear marketer, don’t have to travel; you don’t have to pay as most conferences have dispensed with registration fees; and just like the other attendees, the engineers you are after don’t have to justify their trip to their boss (which, let’s be honest, the boss never really believed you were going to Las Vegas to find engineers/authors anyway). All you have to do is join the online community and let the contributors come to you.

Making the Approach

Once you have your sights on a potential author, you should prepare your approach. You should practice the following, and it would really help if you were sincere.

“Great presentation! [Introduce yourself and your company]. May I call on you for a follow-up? I’d like to quote you for an article.”  Note you are not asking for a lot here. Who wouldn’t want to be quoted?

Not nearly as successful is, “How would you like to write an article for us?” This will only elicit negative reactions. But if you are crude enough to ask this question, you may be unable to detect the subtlety in their response.

Another rookie move is to lead with money, as in how much you will pay them. You don’t have that much to offer and remember the engineer has a day job, so they’re not in it for the money. You should not even bring this up at this point, even if you have a budget for paying authors.

Support Forums

Another place where your prey might congregate is your company’s support forums. An engineer who is curious to see how his product performs in the field will check out the forums and support chat. The ones that jump into the fray to offer helpful advice (not just lurk) will expose themselves to you. In this case, your approach is:

“I see how you like to help the users of our products one at a time. How would you like to help them by the hundreds/thousands?”

Veterans Day

An engineer with a long career will harbor a deep reservoir of product knowledge and might even be eager to share that knowledge with younger engineers - if only they would listen. This is where you, the savvy marketer, comes in. You can help bring out this expert knowledge with your content marketing team's help so it can be distributed throughout your company and to the broader market.

Don’t forget the retired engineers. They not only have the most product knowledge, but they also have the most time to reveal it.

Don’t believe for a second that they are “busier than ever.” It’s more likely that they feel amiss about not being able to pass on the information they have accumulated. Never having nurtured the ability to express themselves or been granted an audience to dispel their knowledge, this could be their chance to shine! Here comes the marketeer calling on them to share what they know. You will be rescuing them before they resign to using their formidable skills to making whirlygigs in their garage or motorized toilets their grandkids can ride in a 4th of July parade (yes, that really happened).

Coming Up Next: Topics and How to Find Them

Now that you’ve successfully secured a handful of content contributors, it’s time to put them to work on some marketing content. But, even if you have a medium in mind (i.e., a blog, podcast, or video series) finding topics can take considerable time and effort.

In our next blog, we’ll provide a few methods you can use to ensure you never run out of thought-provoking and engaging topics for your engineer-created content!


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