Best practice: How to sell yourself
Mary Duggan & Joe Morris on how a sound brand and marketing strategy is key to winning work
Le Corbusier was a PR magnate, defining his own image from modest beginnings as the high-priest-come-architect-artist. In one of the greatest PR coups of all time, Frank Lloyd Wright answered ‘the world’s greatest architect’ when questioned about his occupation under oath.
Both Corb and FLW were tireless self-publicists and were always aware of each other’s notable reputation. FLW once wrote of Corb, ‘Well now he’s finished one building, he’ll go write four books about it’. This approach is synonymous with many of today’s leading architects; think Rem Koolhaas, David Adjaye and Bjarke Ingels Group – or BIG.
In contemporary culture, the message communicated and the method adopted are crucial to the survival of architects and practices, no matter how big or small. At Duggan Morris, we believe it is as much about ‘what you do’ and ‘how you do it’ as it is about ‘what you say’ and ‘who you say it to’.
Our marketing strategy is in many ways the most important document our practice has. It sets out our goals and ambitions for the practice, as well as how we will create, establish and develop our profile, define our USP (unique selling point), and above all how, and with what, we will communicate the strengths of our practice to a wide audience.
Of the many strands of marketing, getting published is vital. Even with quality built work, opening doors to publication can be difficult. Within the first year of operation we engaged the services of Caro Communications, who helped position the practice firmly in the minds of a number of journalists and editors, building the foundation for long-term relationships. This came at a cost, but there are many activities you can undertake in parallel with (or in place of) hiring a PR company which have a less detrimental impact on the bank balance.
Attracting new clients and running a successful business is still based on personal, face-to-face relationships. Thus attending networking events is a must, and needs to be sustained; the size, location and type of events varies massively. On a local level, we aim to attend as many industry events and award ceremonies as possible, and these are an easy, fun way of staying connected. On a global level, conferences like MIPIM help maintain exposure. During the last few years we have also learned that how you travel to and from MIPIM is almost as important as the event itself: ‘Cycle to Cannes’ offers the most intense networking platform. Last week we had a captive audience of 83 developers, investors and architects within arm’s reach for six whole days.
We also strongly believe in the positive effects collaboration with other small practices can bring. Who better to share the pain of professional practice with than like-minded practitioners? In 2009, in collaboration with Matthew Springett Associates, Harry Dobbs Design, Glowacka Rennie and Gort Scott, we established Form5, a platform for small practices to obtain a foothold in the education sector. During the following 12 months, we were invited to speak at numerous conferences on the virtues of small practices to audiences of sector experts. No coincidence that, this year alone, Duggan Morris is building five school projects.
Social networking is another priority. No longer simply a casual leisure-based pastime, through the many internet networking platforms (such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter) we can quickly communicate to a wide audience, with as much or as little information as appropriate. Our website is another vital communication tool. Too many architects’ websites are self-absorbed, overly graphic and too complicated to navigate. We have elected to keep our website as simple as possible, with our news placed on the front so the visitor is instantly updated on what the practice is doing. Prospective clients can find the range of our work within a few clicks.
All in all, your practice represents a brand – whether you like it or not. We maintain awareness of how the public perceives us by monitoring activity on our website and web-based networks. We have also registered for Google Alerts, and we listen to others when they speak about our work. We tend not to be overly precious about commentary and try to accept criticism, and respond positively to it.
Maintenance of the brand takes hard work and energy. Mobilise yourself by whatever means to position your practice in the best light. But don’t sell out, marketing isn’t everything: the most important thing is the integrity of your work.
Mary Duggan and Joe Morris are directors of Duggan Morris Architects