Getting the Word Out

Dear Doctor,

We’re an architecture firm that’s trying to get press for our projects. But it often feels like we’re hitting a wall: most of our clients have made us sign NDAs, or they have put clauses in our contracts that prevent us from using our own architecture for marketing and public relations. What can we do if our clients are saying “no” to PR? We’ve done great buildings and feel like we should be able to get credit for them!

Press-less in Boston


Well, Press-less, I’m sorry to hear that—it’s a very unfortunate state of affairs. You work really hard and then you finish some high-profile, press-worthy buildings that take years to complete. And yet, when you reach out to your client to get all that juicy press for them, they stop you abruptly in your proverbial tracks. I’m here to tell you that just like there are many shades of green, there are many shades of the word “no.” And “no” doesn’t always mean “no.” In fact, sometimes “no” even means “yes.” And I’ll tell you what I mean! For starters, your client may want to be the first to announce their project. And that’s ok, because they are excited about it, too (or, on the other hand, that client may have control issues, in which case, I am not the right kind of doctor!). But, that doesn’t mean you can’t highlight your expertise. So, let’s call this approach the “Detour”: Say you are working on a school that’s high security. Well, you can write a thought leadership piece about security for schools—the challenges, the successes—and you can place that story in a trade publication or submit it for a speaking engagement or reach out to media to tell them that you are an expert source for security in schools. I call this the “Detour” because talking about your knowledge, not the project, is analogous to taking the scenic route around a press campaign. But it allows you to talk about your ideas and expertise, all the same, even if you can’t mention the project.

Ok, next! A client might say that they want to control press on a project, but they may just want to review everything before you send it out. Let’s call this approach the “Mother May I?” scenario. It allows you to come up with an idea for an article or even reach out to a writer about it…but then you have to ask the client for permission before you can pull the trigger. Worse comes to worst, it adds an extra step, but you will get your piece out there if the client agrees. And to sweeten the little honey client pot, you may want to include the client in your bylined article or ask the writer to include your client. Many times, and especially if the article or publication is high profile, the client will be as delighted as you are.

Ok, next! Let’s call this approach “You Go First.” As you count down to a milestone, like a groundbreaking or project opening, your client may be planning some sort of event. Now you may not be able to talk about the project before that milestone, because the client may want to be the first to announce it. There’s that. But then you could ask in a very nice way to give a tour of the project before it opens, and ask the client to join you. Or, you could ask to be included in the client’s press release that they are preparing. If that’s the case, here are a few tips (and tricks), courtesy of the Doctor: You can ask the client to mention your firm and the rest of the project team. Or you can get a quote from one of your senior leaders and/or write a paragraph about your firm and ask the client to include those things in their release. I know you’re skeptical and, just like life, with clients there are no guarantees, Ms. Press-less! But it doesn’t hurt to ask. If all else fails, and that doesn’t work, then you can issue your own release after the event (you might need your client’s permission, but get it and then send that baby out!). So, the Doctor’s bottom line is, don’t be shy: you don’t always have to take “no” for an answer. You’ve got lots of opportunities, so go out there and get them!