The RIBA Press Office's Media Matters: Ideas and Guidance for Architects sets out to give advice to architects to better enable them to take advantage of media opportunities. As part of the RIBA's website (www. architecture. com) it is a free online publication (in PDF format) and full of information, writes Kate Trant .
There is already helpful advice out there; the AJproduced a good series in the late '80s which is still relevant and, more recently, Ian Martin has written an entertaining document, A Guide to Marketing on a Shoestring, for RIBA Publications. So is there a need to reinvent the wheel yet again?
Paradoxically, Media Matters inflates the intricacies of press relations by producing an idiot's guide. Explaining the mysteries of how to communicate with the media should not mean addressing the text to the lowest common denominator. The book gives no credit to the architect seeking advice and simply suggests that the media is so mysterious that the architect can never really understand the processes. Furthermore, the document is written in such a pedestrian fashion that it is a poor advertisement on how to communicate with potential clients.
Like a hairdresser with a bad haircut, boring language, conflicting information and typos never go down well in a document about presentation. For example, the book advises architects to: 'Contact the RIBA Press Office at 66 Portland Place.We can offer advice and contact details for your area.' Later it informs the bewildered reader: 'Sadly we cannot answer questions from architects themselves.'
Media Matters launches straight into emphasising the benefits of tapping into the regional media. But media relations are only one part of the equation (and regional media may be setting one's sights too low). Rather than just talking about how to deal with the media, architects would be better advised to assess their overall strategy.
What is needed first is a coordinated approach, a planned and sustained effort based on the marketing needs of each practice.
It would have been more coherent to open with a look at building a general marketing and PR strategy before moving onto the specifics.
For example, once the media become involved, images are not, as they say in the document, simply 'another way' of gaining media coverage; they are crucial. There is nothing more frustrating for the media than asking a practice for graphic information only to receive ill-considered, inappropriate drawings. Every practice needs a database of professional images so that technically and visually stunning images can be provided as soon as they are required, in whatever format.
In that way, media 'deadlines' can be met effortlessly - while your competitors are still floundering about, trying to find a photographer. Clear, concise and accessible information means that a practice can be both proactive and reactive.
Media Matters massages the architects'ego and doesn't talk about some of the harsh realities of life. No mention is made of crisis management of the media. For example, just how do you deal with your local press if a planning application goes wrong? How do you turn around bad publicity? When does a project stop being newsworthy?
Ultimately, trying to go it alone, or choosing to go for no professional public relations help at all, might turn out to be a false economy. In reality, the amount of time and effort spent by a practice trying to learn media skills could cost more than employing a consultant. Buying the services of a consultancy so that architects can get on with what architects do best - architecture - does not have to mean retaining them for a huge fee. A consultancy can kick-start a PR strategy, with the practice taking control once it is equipped to sift through all the advice that has been provided.
If, however, you chose to try it yourself, read Media Matters with a few handfuls of salt.
Kate Trant is the principal of exhibition and media consultant KT Projects. Tel 0207 713 7055. To download Media Matters, visit www.riba.org/press/regmpk.pdf