Design on the Haus
There’s no better way to start the New Year off than perfecting your firm’s PR strategy. The first step to improving your firm’s communications plan is developing a clearer understanding of what PR is and what it can do for you. We’ve put together a mini pop quiz of several common misconceptions of PR. How well do you think you’ll score? Take our quiz below to find out.
True or False: Use as many social media platforms as possible to promote your projects.
FALSE. Social media may appear daunting at first, especially when it seems like new platforms are launching everyday. It may be tempting to set up as many profiles as possible in the hopes of reaching a wider audience. However, there’s a reason the phrase “less is more” can be applied to most situations and social media is no exception. It’s important to choose the platforms that will best reach your target audiences. Factors to consider include the amount of time you will spend updating your profiles and also which ones your target audience will be using most frequently. For example, Instagram would be ideal for showing your firm’s creativity through images or short videos as a way to engage with your audience. Remember that it’s the way you use your social media platforms that matter, not how many you use.
True or False: Designing a great building means your firm will get noticed immediately.
FALSE. Your latest project may be the best work your firm has ever done, but that doesn’t guarantee that you will get top press coverage overnight. Quality press coverage requires solid strategy. Developing an effective PR campaign for your firm and projects takes time and starts months before the actual completion date. Getting the word out about your work should start long before the project is finished, so it is helpful to establish a schedule for all press related activities. For instance, update your social media profiles regularly with photos of the project on its way to completion or alert the press to key milestones during the construction process. Sending out a media alert or press release about your project’s topping out or groundbreaking can be an effective way to getting media attention well in advance of the project’s completion.
True or False: If an editor doesn’t answer your follow up about a project, it’s helpful to reach out again.
TRUE. If an editor hasn’t answered your follow up about your latest project, it doesn’t automatically mean they’re not interested. Editors are extremely busy people, and many receive hundreds of emails a day. The key to grabbing an editor’s attention is to find new ways of pitching your project; don’t just repeat the content of your last email. Remember to keep your emails concise. Make the most important information easy to find by leading with it or putting it in the first few sentences.
True or False: Social media is impersonal and time consuming.
FALSE. Social media offers a great advantage in showcasing your firm’s personality by engaging your target audiences with a quick “behind the scenes” look at your firm. You can offer brief and personable updates—providing insight into your firm and work—that don’t need to follow the formalities of press releases or media alerts. For example, tweet about what stage your latest project is in or update your LinkedIn with a status on the latest conference at which you’ll be speaking. Updating your profiles just once a day or a few times a week takes only a couple minutes out of your day, but can help keep your firm’s name top-of-mind with clients and target audiences.
True or False: Developing relationships with the media is not as important as sending out lots of press releases.
FALSE. To create meaningful exposure for your projects, quality content is essential, not the number of press releases you send out. It’s important to keep in mind that while reporters might not cover a story the first time you pitch to them, maintaining regular contact with them can help lead to an exclusive story down the line. That’s why building a professional network of media contacts is so important if you want to get the right kind of press. By establishing a solid rapport with an editor, it will increase the odds that he or she will remember you the next time they’re looking for a story on a specific type of project.
The New Year is only days away! While you’re making your list of personal resolutions, why not take this opportunity to think about what you can do to improve your business next year? Since our theme for December was branding, we’ve put together some resolutions that you can enact in 2015 to strengthen yours. To take your brand to the next level in the coming year, resolve to:
Analyze. Conduct a one-day workshop with your firm’s key leadership to analyze all available information about your company. Review everything from your mission statement and core values, to your list of services and marketing initiatives to date.
Use this workshop to help define/re-define your brand. For example, through discussion you may find that being a trusted advisor is an important value to you, your team and your clients, but your published list of core values doesn’t mention it. Try to find other areas where your messaging and branding do not accurately portray your firm’s values or identity.
A review of your website and other visual marketing materials, such as your logo, may also be helpful. Are they effective? Do they express your firm’s identity? Pinpoint what could be improved upon or changed entirely. After this meeting, use the information you have gathered to tweak, adjust, and further define your brand, messaging, and marketing materials.
Discover. Perform some in-depth research and analysis to understand your firm’s respective markets and services, including interviews with your firm’s key leadership and clients, audits of your visual marketing materials and website, and a review of your competition’s brands.
Internal interviews help you better understand how your team is talking about your firm, and how they are presenting your brand to clients and prospects. Client interviews will help you understand how they perceive your firm and services in the marketplace.
Finally, take a look at what your competition’s brands are like and how they are perceived in the marketplace. What are successful elements of your competition’s brands? How can you present your firm in a different, more effective way than they do?
Communicate. Following your brand analysis, interviews and audits, reconvene your team to discuss what you’ve learned about your firm, your competition, target audiences, and internal/external perceptions of the company. Use this information to develop new internal and external messaging, including a new or revised mission statement for your firm, a tagline, and key messages for different audiences and regions. Decide what you’re going to do to strengthen your firm’s visual brand identity – including changes or updates to your website, logo, and marketing materials. (If you don’t have the services in-house, consulting a graphic designer can be very helpful at this stage.)
Strategize. Next, develop a new strategy for your new brand. Determine which clients and market sectors you are going to target with your new branding. Maybe you find that your target audiences have changed over time, and the majority of your work is coming from a different sector than you had originally targeted. Develop a strategy to adjust your marketing focus and reach your new target audiences through revised messaging, social media, visual marketing, and other business development initiatives.
Activate. Take action with your new brand! Make sure your new mission statement and core values are prominently displayed on your website. Launch a new digital marketing campaign to announce your new branding with an e-blast newsletter series. Start a blog and focus your posts on topics that are of interest to your target audiences. Display your tagline on all company e-mails and marketing. Reinforce your key messages in all your correspondence, social media, and marketing materials.
While defining your brand is not a simple task, it is essential to your long-term success. Just as with all New Year’s resolutions, if you’re consistent and take our suggestions step-by-step, you’ll be well on your way to a strong, effective brand and a prosperous 2015. Happy New Year from all of us at Hausman LLC!
Recently, our partners told me that they want to refresh our brand. We’re a 53-year-old architecture firm. I’ve heard a lot about branding, but I’m not sure what that means. Do we have to design a new logo, create a new website, change our name? It sounds like a lot of work, and I don’t even know where to start. Please help!
Need Some Brand-Aid
Well, look Brand-Aid, it’s the holidays, so you have a little time to relax and think about your big moves for 2015. The Doctor is not such a Scrooge that she doesn’t think that you need a few days off to recharge, just like your smartphone.
But! It will be a new year very soon, and that’s the perfect time to refresh your brand. Ok, so let’s get down to some specifics, because different people define branding in different ways. For example, some consider your logo and graphics to be your brand – the things that we simply used to call your “corporate identity.” And that’s part of it. We’ve all seen outdated logos and graphics, and it’s not a pretty sight. Think about it: you wouldn’t wear a Santa suit on July 4th, so you don’t want to start 2015 with a logo that’s stuck in the 1980s! But there’s more to branding than just your visual identity.
Here at Hausman, we define “brand” as the core values that distinguish your firm. Let’s be clear about this: you’re a professional services firm, not Heinz ketchup! So while you want to promise and deliver great architecture, it’s not just the quality of your product (i.e. buildings) that help you build your brand, it’s also the quality of your services and the level of knowledge that you bring to clients. You need to know what your clients want and need, and then figure out a good way to give them what you want. Hotels here are a good analogy – are you the kind of firm that provides room service and has a spa, or do you have a breakfast buffet and Internet service? Your firm has to figure out what it wants to be. After that, you need to reinforce that brand in every way possible. This includes your “look” or corporate identity (including your website), how you describe yourself, and any proactive communications, such as articles and press releases.
It’s critical to have unified messages about your firm when you talk about how your design process operates and how you pitch the firm to targeted client groups. Just as you are all using the same logo and the same font, make sure you are all making the same promise to clients – and meeting that promise. Most important, branding is about building a strong, solid reputation, and there’s no better selling point than that.
As Andy Williams’ iconic holiday song goes, it’s “the most wonderful time of the year” once again! This month, our topic is branding, so we thought we’d discuss one of the strongest brands ever – Santa Claus. We can all learn a lot about branding from Ol’ St. Nick and we’re going tell you why.
What makes Santa so special? Certainly, his enchanted sleigh pulled by eight flying reindeer– make that nine, including Rudolph – is one sweet ride. He’s obviously got his logistics and technology in sync, with throngs of magic elves to staff his manufacturing and deliveries. UK ad agency, Quietroom, has produced a fantastic spoof brand book, outlining the formula and guidelines the jolly old elf might have developed to solidify his magnanimous brand power. But there’s more to Santa than all those jingle bells and whistles, and all joking aside, there are several reasons why Santa Claus really is a strong brand.
First off, let’s define what a brand is. In a recent article, Forbes contributor, Jerry McLaughlin writes that a brand is “the perception someone holds in their head about you, a product, a service, an organization, a cause, or an idea.” To build a solid brand, he explains, you need three key components: what, how and feeling.
With Santa, the “what,” or in his case “who,” isn’t hard to define. In the most basic, perfunctory of definitions, he brings gifts to good children on Christmas Eve; he’s a service provider. But beyond that, it’s very clear who he is, what his mission is and the values he stands for.
Santa is the embodiment of generosity, goodwill, and the spirit of giving. He’s tirelessly dedicated to his mission, and he consistently exercises fairness in judgment. These qualities clearly express who he is and what he stands for and they define his identity. As a result, his brand resonates with people from all over the world.
And how does he accomplish this solid brand identity? Well, one way he does it is by being consistent. With Santa, you always know what you’re going to get: a jolly, happy, loving, giving, magical old guy. He’s friendly to everyone and everyone wants to be his friend; not just because he brings gifts, but because he’s, well, authentically himself. He’s eternally both child-like and fatherly at once, a character whose warmth and charm are gifts in themselves. And no matter what the temperature outside, he wears the same signature uniform that’s instantly recognizable from Sydney to San Francisco, Bombay to Buenos Aires, or Milwaukee to Moscow. Even celebrities understand the benefit of mimicking his brand. When was the last time you saw Mariah Carey – the undisputed Queen of Christmas – dressed as the Ghost of Christmas Future? Even in fishnet stockings and a short skirt, a Santa hat can make any dicey diva seem wholesome.
Lastly, his brand is palpable and it creates a positive feeling in his target audiences – parents, little kids, teens, old folks, everyone. His image is the ultimate warm-fuzzy-inducer to kids of every age, for a range of reasons from naïveté to nostalgia. It’s no surprise that commercial companies and charitable organizations from Coca-Cola to The Salvation Army use his image to sell their products and raise billions in charitable funds. And even though you rarely see him in person – and even then, only once a year – you know you can count on him. He’s dependable and that creates a sense of security and a feeling of familiarity and deep satisfaction.
So the next time you see him at the mall, or lit up by a million lights on someone’s front yard, contemplate the notion that Santa may very well be the world’s most effective brand. Then, think about how you can become more like him: Define who you are and what you stand for. Differentiate yourself from your competition. Be dependably consistent with your messages. Build emotional connections with your target audiences that will, in turn, create a positive feeling that they will associate with you and what you do. We always knew Santa was a great role model. Who knew he was a great brand model too! Happy Holidays and happy brand building in 2015!
Our firm finished a great project six months ago, and I feel like we missed the boat in terms of getting PR. Although it’s a great project, we never told anyone about it. We didn’t send it out to a lot of publications, and we didn’t do a press release when it finished, even though the client was very happy with our work. One magazine wanted to do a feature story, but they never followed through. However, there is a great story that we could tell about sustainability, among other things. I am afraid that we are too late to fix this. At this point, is there anything we can do?
Dear Behind Schedule,
A lot of people don’t like to go see the Doctor, but this Doctor never judges, she is just here to assess your symptoms, make a diagnosis, and then come up with a cure. And, never fear, this is a fairly common ailment with a pretty fast recovery. We can help!
You need to act quickly, but you can definitely get press for your project. Most print publications will still publish a project up to about one year after it’s completed – after that, you might have a tougher time, but you’re still in the game! Although it’s no longer hot-off-the-press “news,” consider sending the project to architecture publications and green/sustainability publications that might want to write about its unique design features. If you do a post-occupancy survey about the performance of your sustainable systems (hopefully, they meet your anticipated goals and projections), that is another great opportunity to reach out to the press or even invite a local editor or writer for a site visit. Look at editorial calendars that might be featuring green projects or specific project typologies (schools, hospitals, commercial buildings) that might be a good fit. Remember that there are a lot of online publications that are constantly looking for good content. Finally, don’t forget awards programs – there are a ton of them and, if you win, you can get a lot of exposure and bang for your buck. Good luck!
I am a 40-something marketing director at a mid-sized architecture firm in New York City. Our firm works with many of the city’s top developers, and we seem to be on the radar of most of the editors and journalists that cover architecture.
Here’s my dilemma: our partners are do not naturally gravitate towards digital marketing tactics, and they don’t think we need to engage in social media. However, I believe that participation on these platforms is necessary for success in today’s marketplace. How can I convince my bosses that social media is not just a fad or only for younger firms? Help!
Social in Soho
Dear Social in Soho,
I’ll start by telling you a little story: the Doctor does not generally consider herself a luddite, but I myself had reservations when e-mail first came around (yes, the Doctor is old enough to remember fax machines, telexes, and even ditto machines!). I couldn’t remember why anyone would send an e-mail when it was so much easier to pick up the phone. For the record, though, I thought cell phones were a great invention! So go figure.
Look, you’re right, there’s no question that we communicate much differently than we used to. The way I see it, social media does not replace all the good things you’re probably doing already: print publications, conference papers, professional organizations, and let’s not forget the all-important lunches with potential clients and key people in your network! On the other hand, it does offer you more avenues for getting your name out there than ever before.
There are all sorts of reasons why you need to invest time in social media (and I mean hours, not days). Your competition is doing it. Even if you don’t do anything about it, your firm is going to show up on social media. By being proactive, you put yourself in the driver’s seat and determine the messages about your business and the stories that you want people to know about your firm. Journalists are trolling social media for people and ideas, so it’s another way to make connections with the people who you want to know. But if this doesn’t convince your bosses, see our recent blog post. If they’re still scared, call a real (medical) doctor and get a prescription.*
*The Doctor is not a real medical doctor and does not purport to give medical advice.
Editor’s Note: Introducing a brand new column by our very own Dr. Tami Hausman, where she offers practical integrated communications advice to AEC professionals. If you have questions for the Doctor, don’t hesitate to send them to email@example.com. The Doctor is in!
I am an architect with ten years of experience who recently opened my own architecture firm with three colleagues. Each of us comes from large, well-known firms with very high profiles, so getting press for our projects was relatively easy.
Now that we have our own firm – although we have strong connections – we are relatively unknown. Going forward, how can we best approach the media to get noticed and get more work? While we have set some funds aside for marketing and publicity, as a small firm we do not have unlimited resources for these activities at the moment. Where should we start?
Building from Scratch
Dear Building from Scratch,
Well, the first thing I have to say to you is: Congratulations! Starting your own firm is a big leap, and it’s not always easy. It’s important that you recognize the need for outreach to make a name for yourself. Building your reputation, and your influence, is key to building a healthy practice.
So what is the prescription for success? There are a number of things that you can do immediately. First, make sure that you and your partners are speaking with one voice. That’s critical, because you need to communicate clearly about what kind of projects you want to do and where you want to practice (regionally, nationally, globally). Get that elevator speech down pat so you can explain to a potential client why they should hire you, not your competition. And don’t forget to throw a small party to celebrate your new office and make sure everyone knows about it!
Young start-ups don’t always have a portfolio of built work, but there’s no need to worry: editors are always on the lookout for news stories, so send out those renderings even before a project is complete (make sure you have client approval, of course!). If you have some really good projects in the works, set up a meeting with a design editor and show them what you’ve got. You can also take advantage of social media to build a following for your ideas and projects – it’s free and doesn’t need to monopolize all your time. And, finally, make sure you get out and about by attending events where you may meet potential clients. Even in this digital age, nothing beats the opportunity to connect with people face to face.
The scary truth about using social media is that it’s not as hard as you think. It’s up to you to decide how you want to use it and which platforms suit your firm best. Social media is an essential tool for successful marketing efforts. Design professionals can share their work and ideas in real time, while simultaneously making connections with one another. Once you start to integrate social media, an inactive social media platform will be about the most frightening sight you’ll see. Here are some tips for how to scare away those communications ghosts that may be lurking in your closets.
Don’t be scared, it’s easier than you think. Twitter and basic LinkedIn accounts are free. They are fast and inexpensive ways to open up communication channels with professional peers and potential clients you don’t know and those you already do. It doesn’t cost anything to maintain, so there’s no need for those hairs on the back of your neck to stand up! If you’re nervous about handling multiple social media accounts at once, consider using dashboard applications such as TweetDeck and Hootsuite to help organize your social networks and make posting a little easier.
You can network quickly. A popular social media platform like Twitter allows you to share information about your work and firm in real time to your followers. Use #hashtags to share your tweet information with an entire Twitter network of like-minded people looking to engage on a similar topic. LinkedIn is an interactive way to make those same connections in a more professional online setting. Do you feel like a petrified mummy about sharing information because you fear it could be misinterpreted? Don’t worry. What’s valuable about social media is that it’s more personable and there are fewer formalities than traditional forms of communication, so leave the dark side and come see the light!
There are design-specific platforms. If it feels like you’re stepping into a house of mirrors and you don’t which way to turn, don’t be afraid! There’s no reason to fear that social media is not geared to the AEC industry because online platforms exist specifically FOR the industry. Useful AEC-centric social media sites include Architizer, Houzz, and Honest Buildings. Each of these web platforms is user-friendly and many have guides to walk you step-by-step through the sites. Their large online communities allow firms and professionals to showcase their projects, and many offer easy-to-navigate forums for exchanging ideas and making connections.
What frightens you most? Creepy crawlers in the night, werewolves howling at full moons, haunted houses, or skeletons in the closet? Well, we’re scared of all those things, too, but what really frightens us is how some people communicate.
You may laugh, but it’s true! We have so many ways to communicate these days (some may say that we have a lot of ways to communicate badly) that it can seem like you’re always walking the plank over the treacherous and deep waters of messages and meanings.
Let’s take just the easiest example – and we’ve all done it. Did you hit “reply all” when you wrote a message that was just intended for one person? Did you send the right e-mail to the wrong contact? Or, just after you tossed off that angry e-mail to your (fill in the blank) boss/ex-boyfriend/brother, did dread and fear of the future consequences start to invade your body like a quick poison? For more on that topic, see this recent Wall Street Journal article here.
There are many frightening examples of the scary ways that people communicate. And, in many instances, you can’t blame it on e-mail or digital technologies. In fact, the following examples are downright terrifying.
Take these examples from The Toronto News of July 26, 1977. Keep in mind that they are actual statements from insurance claim forms where drivers attempted to summarize the details of their accidents:
“I thought my window was down, but I found out it was up when I put my head through it.”
“I pulled away from the side of the road, glanced at my mother-in-law, and headed over the embankment.”
“I saw a slow-moving, sad-faced old gentleman as he bounced off the hood of my car.”
If these sentences make your blood turn to ice, check out these examples and figure out what the author is trying to say:
“I urge you to waste no time making this candidate an offer of employment.” (Are you urging the person to hire the candidate or are you saying the candidate is not worth further consideration?)
“You will be fortunate to get this person to work for you.” (Is this person a great job candidate, or is this person extremely lazy?)
So, now that we’ve discussed the perils of communication, here are some ways to get the spook out of your spin:
- Chase away the miscommunication. It’s great that you can send an e-mail from a smart phone, but you need to remember that that e-mail is still a professional document. Make sure that you are being very clear and concise. If you’re not sure if you’re getting your message across, ask someone to take a look at your e-mail before you send it. By all means, don’t put a tagline on your e-mails that says “please excuse typos” – that’s for goblins and ghosts. Read over your e-mails thoroughly before you send them. There’s no excuse.
- Don’t be scared to pick up the phone. E-mail can be a terrific communications tool – it’s easy, it’s fast, and you can send an e-mail almost anywhere. At the same time, it’s not always the perfect way to get your point across, and your tone in an e-mail can be easily misconstrued. Don’t send an e-mail to someone sitting three feet away from you. And don’t send a four-paragraph e-mail to your printer to clarify how many business cards you need. Before you send a dozen e-mails back and forth in the same e-mail chain, do yourself a favor and pick up the phone. It will be a treat, not a trick!
- Bury the jargon. When you’re in a profession like architecture, you’re going to use a lot of words and phrases that help you communicate with your colleagues. Unfortunately, when you use this jargon around other people, they’re going to think you’re Frankenstein. If you really want to talk to potential clients and other audiences – and get them to understand you – then go to the cemetery at 2 a.m. and bury that jargon in a deep grave (full moon optional). Going forward, make sure you use plain language to convey your ideas and messages. You’ll be amazed at how clearly you’ll be able to communicate.
Image courtesy Platt College
It’s October once again; when bumps in the night and creepy creatures can rattle even the bravest folks. But the scariest thing that can happen to you this season is when you realize you’ve let your professional profile slip into the darkness! Here are a few tips to help you change from an industry ghost into a highly visible professional and raise your profile from the dead.
Jump-start your presence on social media. We know that social media can be a scary prospect for those of you who have yet to become actively engaged in using it to promote your business. In fact, in our next post, we’ll lay out a detailed plan for how you can conquer your social media fears and get with the rest of the cyber-verse. But for those of you already on social media – and who may have let their activity fall into oblivion – a focused approach is the best way to get back into the land of the living.
If you haven’t already, you can create a blog that’s connected to your website. Write about topics that demonstrate your expertise, current projects, or design trends. Try to post to your blog at least three times per month.
Next, use Twitter and LinkedIn – probably the two most important social media tools you can use to raise your profile – to further augment your exposure to current and past clients, potential clients, and the media as well as to other architects, engineers, and designers. Use Twitter to lead audiences to your website, blog, and vice versa. A LinkedIn profile will help you maximize your professional connections. Additionally, A/E/C industry networks like Architizer, Honest Buildings, Houzz, Porch, and others are excellent ways to network with other industry professionals, build relationships, and get more work. Set a goal to post at least three times per week.
Get involved with professional organizations. Participation in key professional organizations can help you build and maintain valuable relationships, be more accessible to potential clients, and get in front of the right types of clients. For example, if you want to reach developers and other real estate industry leaders to get more commercial work, then participating in pro organizations where they are involved is an effective way to reach these decision makers. For greatest impact, you need to attend events on a regular basis, and participate in committees or join boards, in order to gain access to the most valuable networking opportunities.
Share your expertise and thought leadership at conferences. Another thing you can do to pull your low profile out of zombie land is to begin participating in panels and speaking opportunities. These can be excellent ways to share your experience, expertise and personality with your target audiences. If public speaking scares you to death, start off small and practice with colleagues in your firm. For your presentations, focus on topics that demonstrate your expertise in particular building typologies or industry sectors such as healthcare. Once you get more comfortable speaking, participate in a panel discussion at your local AIA chapter. If you find you’re good at it and you enjoy it, you can start submitting yourself to speak at bigger meetings and conferences for greater exposure.
Just because the daily grind has caused you to let your exposure slip into an early grave, doesn’t mean it’s dead. All it takes is a strategic, steady approach to social media, networking, and speaking opportunities to revive yourself and get the professional exposure you deserve. Your audiences will be screaming “it’s alive!”