Brien McDaniel is the Director of Communications and Senior Associate of FXFOWLE Architects, a firm committed to innovative design inspired by urbanism, technology and sustainable strategies. He has over 20 years of communications, media relations, and special event management experience for higher education and cultural institutions, and architectural practices
by Brien McDaniel
Now that you’ve planned wisely and pinpointed your targets, you need to create a perfect pitch to engage your clients and audiences. Each new building, project win or milestone, and design award your firm receives can be a significant opportunity to increase your visibility and advance your brand – if you have the right story to tell.
Here are a few tips that can help you create a successful pitch:
Set-up the Pitch / Position the Story: Before you pick up the phone, send an email or draft a newsletter, you need ask some basic questions: “Is it newsworthy?”, “Does it have value and advance my brand?”, “What do I want to accomplish?” and “What about it will be of interest outside my firm, especially editors?” In order to create a more compelling and relevant story to pitch to the press, research your project to gather background information and material, develop a topical news angle and a few key messages, and then secure an expert spokesperson.
The Pitch: Now that you are ready to pitch, you should decide which publications and outlets to contact. Don’t forget to research what type of stories the publication publishes and the editor/reporter covers. One of the best ways to do this is through social media. Create a personal account on Twitter and follow all of the publications you want to pitch, and don’t forget to follow editors and reporters. It will give you a good idea of the types of news and stories they pursue and publish. When you are ready to pitch, keep these suggestions in mind:
- Email your pitch, follow-up with a phone call or another email a few days later.
- While on the phone with the editor or reporter, be sure to resend your pitch – don’t make him/her search for the email you previously sent.
- Pitch the story, not the project (or your firm).
- Keep your pitch brief and focused; pitch only one idea or news angle.
- Once the article is published, don’t forget to say “thank you.”
Build Influence / Increase Visibility: Although the A/C/E industry is moving away from traditional press relations, there are many options for communicating your news and content across multiple platforms. From 140 characters, a 1,000-word press release, an e-newsletter, a personalized e-mail pitch, or self-publishing, you can use a variety of strategic approaches to effectively build your influence and increase your visibility across all media outlets.
Lessons Learned: Each publicist has his/her own approach, and there are no set rules or guidelines. But I keep the following in mind for each story, event, initiative and project milestone I pitch. I hope it just might help you pitch perfectly, too.
- Think 360° – Each project has multiple angles, don’t settle on just one.
- Do your homework – Read A/C/E publications; ask your clients what they read; follow your favorite editors and reporters on social media.
- Do most of the work for the editor/reporter. Be organized. Be available. Be thorough.
- Expand your communications team to include subconsultants, client PR consultants and, in some cases, the client. This will (1) strengthen your message (2) provide consistency in messages and images (3) broaden your reach (4) and add depth to your story.
- Let go of the control (i.e. social media). Once you put it “out there,” it’s “out there.”
- It takes a long time for things to happen quickly; opportunities don’t end when the milestone is over.
This past spring, Dr. Tami Hausman participated in a panel at SMPS Northeast Regional Conference (NERC) that discussed the rapidly changing landscape for marketing in the A/E/C industry. The other panelists included this month’s featured guest bloggers, Kirsten Sibilia, Principal of Dattner Architects and Brien McDaniel, Director of Communications at FXFOWLE.
In this next post, Tami shares proven communications strategies that help firms effectively build influence in the A/E/C industry and attract new clients.
By Dr. Tami Hausman
Now that you have created your mission and vision, you’re ready to align your outreach program with your strategic goals. You want to give people information about your firm that highlights your expertise. Above all, you need to know your audiences so you can focus on where you want to get published and what you tell people about your firm, your projects, and your experience. The most successful outreach is proactive, compelling, and targeted to client groups.
Here are a few tips that can help get you moving in the right direction:
- Drop the jargon: it’s really important to create messages that differentiate your firm. At the same time, you must be able to clearly explain what you do to potential clients who may not understand your field. Business expert Stanley Bing defines jargon as “a business-specific term that implies knowledge of the subject and also injects unnecessary complexity into the utterance for the purpose of 1) obfuscation and 2) showing off.” So, if you want to engage potential clients, don’t use it.
- Write a story: people remember stories much more easily than straight facts (let’s face it: did your parents read you the newspaper every night when they tucked you into bed, or a fairy tale?). Every firm has its own story that relates to its particular DNA. At the same time, every project that you work on has multiple stories as well. It’s easy to think of the design or technical story – that’s the most obvious, but there are many more! Get creative.
- Grab attention: Look, we’re all bombarded by media these days, from e-mails to voice mails to social media. Before you send out a press release – or any other news – ask yourself: what would grab the attention of the media? What is the one key idea behind your project? If you can’t come up with a good headline, then maybe you need to go back to the drawing board.
- Teach, don’t preach: Your goal is to engage your clients and audiences – not talk AT them. Good communication is a conversation between people. And the best way to do this is to provide information that your audience doesn’t already know. They will walk away with more knowledge and you will walk away with a captive audience interested in hearing more.
Finally, we at Hausman LLC feel that the way to gauge whether or not a public relations plan is working is if you’re no longer having to reach OUT to other people. You can tell that you’re getting your name in the right places when people hear about your firm and come to YOU.
For our featured guest post this month, we welcome Kirsten Sibilia, Principal of Dattner Architects, a New York City firm known for design excellence and civic engagement. A vocal advocate for the value of design, the power of the built environment, and the importance of sustainability, Kirsten has dedicated her professional career to supporting the practice of architecture.
By Kirsten Sibilia
Articulating your firm’s mission and vision is the starting point for any communications strategy. Your mission speaks to where your firm is today; it synthesizes your values. A vision statement projects where the firm wants to be in the next 5 to 10 years; it is aspirational and focuses on what you want to be known for, the firm you seek to become.
To be meaningful, your mission and vision should both be short statements crafted with sufficient specificity. These are internal resources that will guide your communications program and help you shape the messages that attract the type of work you want to do. For example, your firm may want to offer a broader range of services including program management, become a leader in a particular sector, or, perhaps, get international design commissions.
To be achieved, each of these goals deserves a strategy that includes communications, marketing, and staffing – and sometimes operations. With regard to communications, the messaging, the packaging, and the outlets that will support each goal is different. The vision of the firm’s future will inform pitches made about market trends, a specific project, or an organizational change; emphasis may be placed on one area over another. Each story can build upon each other to develop an understanding externally of the strengths you are trying to promote in your firm.
Whatever your goals, consider the broad range of tools available to your firm, including traditional media, your website, blogs and microblogs, Facebook and Instagram, e-blasts, etc. You can use each of these tools to strategically convey your message and express the values that define your approach, your expertise, and your culture.