2012 key trends: Promote your practice
Why marketing, PR, publishing and networking are vital in a challenging market, by Amanda Reekie
In 2012 the market will be focused on expertise, value and performance. More than ever, architects need to tell the market what they have to offer and how they can add value through effective design. Communicating the right messages does not have to cost a fortune. It does, however, take thought, time and commitment.
Architects need to be strategic about communication. They must develop PR and marketing objectives to help deliver their business plan, carefully craft the messages, and then plan a campaign to reach their target audiences. It is best to keep the list of objectives short and specific. A few real achievements mean the strategy can move forward the following year.
Editorial coverage continues to be important because it gives valuable third-party endorsement and has a guaranteed circulation. Publications are moving towards a stronger online presence, with daily newsfeeds to email inboxes and extra material published on their websites. Some practices feel short-changed if their story does not appear in print. In fact, an online story potentially has a higher readership as it is picked up by bloggers, webzines and overseas publications too.
Social media comes in all shapes and sizes and each practice needs to find the right fit. It can be used to expand knowledge and networks, but it takes patience and requires engaging content. Twitter divides opinion. Journalists tend to like it because it provides up-to-the-minute news and they use it to find leads. For others, it is pointless babble. It is not a great forum for finding new clients, but it is useful for event promotion, communicating with fellow specialists and directing people to the content you want them to see.
LinkedIn is the easiest to use and considered to be ‘best for business’. Profiles should be updated frequently, as LinkedIn alerts all your contacts and this improves visibility.
Increasingly YouTube is being used to host corporate videos. This presents a great opportunity for architects, who until recently have been largely confined to static imagery of their buildings. There are many ways of making films about architecture that go beyond case studies and there are plenty of film students out there who would relish the chance to convey the power of architecture.
More practically, architects can make films about things that clients want to know, like ‘how to brief an architect’ or ‘the basic principles of Passivhaus’. These have broader appeal and will attract hits.
Blogs can showcase images, ideas and specialist skills and, if opinionated and well researched, can help to position the blogger as a thought-leader. To achieve a wider distribution, your contributions need to show up on search engines, so pay attention to frequently updating content, using tags and repeating key words.
In 2012 websites will remain the principal portal for practices and they can now be bristling with social media feeds which will help drive the website up the search engine rankings. Regular activity on your website, social media and digital newsfeeds will mean that your practice ‘Googles’ well. Architects who do not have a couple of good articles coming up on the first page of search engines results will risk looking sluggish and out-of-touch.
Speaking and presenting case studies at conferences will always be great for reputation building. Getting known for talking about a particular subject is the key here. And don’t ignore webinars. They allow you to reach a wide audience, promote your experience and demonstrate that you are internet-savvy, without leaving your desk.
Face-to-face networking is still important and, if you think hosting a party might be out of tune with the new austerity, then facilitating a seminar or round table will enable you to discuss topical issues and may provide other collaborators to share the costs and increase the audience. This is also a good format for placing you as an authority and showcasing your skills.
Next year architects will be very careful with their budgets and, like their clients, will seek to increase value while reducing costs. But beware: this is not the time to go into hibernation mode. Now, more than ever, you need to be telling the market how architects in general and your practice in particular can deliver results that exceed expectations. Focus on drawing out what sets you apart, focus on your specialist skills and what really gives you and your clients an edge – and then shout about it.
Amanda Reekie is director and co-founder of Stratton & Reekie, an agency specialising in PR and marketing for built environment rofessionals