riba director of communications Roula Konzotis will next week present to council a fundamental overhaul of the messages emanating from and about Portland Place, including a 'branding exercise' and a 'gag' on staff members talking to the press out of turn. If approved it will also usher in a new regime of logging every single riba 'mention' across all media, a host of numerical targets for institute staff to meet, and possibly the creation of a new 'airport-style' executive lounge for members at the institute's London headquarters .
Konzotis' strategy seeks to 'promote quality architecture and position the riba as the voice of the profession through high-profile, mass communications', raising awareness of architecture, architects and the riba. It will focus on four key messages: 'the value of design; the accessibility of architecture; the importance of education in/about architecture; and the sustainability of architecture.'
Konzotis also aims to install a new full-time member of staff to kickstart a better relationship with government departments and influence legislation, and she wants to keep tabs on progress on all the new measures through a constantly- updated action plan and timetable which will also aid in budgetary prioritisation.
All the changes will cost money, however, and Konzotis warns that members need to remain 'realistic' in their aims 'until riba is in a position to invest further' in activities such as a programming budget for the Architecture Gallery, awards, expansion of the riba's press activity, and creating a marketing, research and database unit and events unit. In the latest budget round the communications department core budget was increased from £423,000 in 1999 to £684,000 in 2000 subject to council approval, but this 61.8 per cent rise didn't cater for the new proposals.
The strategy also includes a strict ban on members and staff 'approaching the media on riba matters' and from answering calls from them without reference to the press office or relevant regional office. Councillor Sam Webb attacked this 'questionable' step. 'I can't see how they're going to enforce it' he said. 'And what will they do if it doesn't happen? What sanctions will they have?' But the institute's press spokesman Tony Chapman denied it was a 'gag', saying rules - mirrored at other institutions - about inquiries passing through the press office have been in place for at least his four years at the riba.
The opening up of 66 Portland Place is also set to gather pace, with plans for a new space for members to include 'business and refreshment facilities', with costs offset through sponsorship. Conference facilities will also be improved.
Discussions on the riba 'brand' have taken place with Michael Wolff, who is head of imagination at design consultants the Fourth Room. He and a steering group agreed that the institute must become the 'voice' of architecture, using 'carefully chosen, elegant wording, in addition to compelling visual images,' to 'connect architecture with life' encompassing three main elements. These are described as showing that architecture can be 'a solution; that there is no need to fear design'; that it can demonstrate the 'possibility of the future'; and 'shape and improve the quality of life.'