Design on the Haus
Editor’s Note: April is World Landscape Architecture Month #WLAM2015. In recognition of this month-long celebration, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) held numerous events to bring greater awareness to the discipline. As part of that effort, Dr. Tami Hausman, president of Hausman LLC, participated on a panel about social media for the ASLA NY Chapter. The following is based on her presentation.
One of the most important keys to marketing and PR, even social media, is that it’s about developing relationships. In fact, unlike traditional media where information is presented without interaction, with social media you can start and participate in conversations.
To be effective, however, social media must be part of an overall, integrated communications strategy. Integrated communications is a holistic approach that can help you in three ways:
- First, it’s proactive. Take clear steps to disseminate messages about your service and products.
- Second, it’s targeted. Focus on building relationships with people who are receptive to your messages.
- Third, it’s strategic. Articulate your value proposition and talk in your clients’ language so you connect with them.
So how can an integrated communications approach help your social media efforts? Keep the following strategies in mind when you’re writing your next LinkedIn post or drafting your next Tweet:
Address your various audiences. You will never have just one audience; you have many. So it’s important to remember that your messages must be targeted to different groups, which include:
- Potential clients
- Existing clients
- Decision makers
- Your own broad network of people
Focus the information you share and target it to each audience. Give them new information about your firm that will be useful for their business and what they do. And, if you really want to connect with them, you must use clear language that’s free of industry jargon.
Define your messages. It’s really important to craft your messages so you can differentiate your firm from your competition and define your identity in the marketplace. What makes you different from the other firms in your area? Are your firm’s principal’s hands-on and accessible? Are your designs traditional or cutting-edge?
Above all, remember that you’re selling landscape architecture services. So you need to be able to explain what you do to potential clients who may not have the knowledge of your field – or even what the difference is between LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTS and LANDSCAPERS. Don’t assume that your audience already knows your message. Be clear!
Get Visual. Visually based social media platforms are the places where landscape architecture firms can really excel. You can use Instagram or Pinterest, but now Twitter and even Linked In have added photo send capabilities, and Twitter is even adding the ability for you to tweet short videos. Statistically, it’s been proven that Tweets with images get the highest response.
The other reason that these social media platforms are so useful is that you can start a conversation about a project even while it’s in process. We all know it takes a long time for landscape projects to be designed, built, and then developed. But you don’t need to wait until your project is finished to start a Pinterest board or launch a campaign on Instagram.
Video is also really important because it allows you to actually describe a project in real time. It’s also a good way for people to get a sense of your “on-camera” style if you are trying to book speaking engagements or get interviewed on broadcast TV, for example.
Above all, remember to keep it brief. With social media, less is more. You have to be able to say what you want to say in just a few words or pictures. Make sure your message is focused, you know your audiences and you use all available channels for communication, as we’ve mentioned above.
Grab their attention and excite them with your dynamic projects and ideas. And, above all, be true to yourself: just as nothing beats good work, sincerity is the most effective tool you’ve got in your social media arsenal. Don’t forget to use it!
April is Landscape Architecture Month, and the profession is in the spotlight. What can landscape architects do this Spring and throughout the year to get the attention of the media?
Landscapes take a long time to design and a long time to grow. Unless you’re Michael Van Valkenburgh, you probably don’t have a ribbon cutting every month. What can you do in between major milestones to stay in the news?
You don’t have to start a project campaign from scratch. If you’re working with an architect or engineer, then piggyback on their PR efforts. Engage with all members of your project’s design team to collaborate on press releases, award submissions, and project updates on participating firms’ websites and social media.
If your client is the owner or owner’s rep, suggest the same sort of collaboration to promote your project. This can be a sensitive area, so it may be helpful to set down the PR terms in the contract. If your side of the project is getting surprise media coverage, give your collaborators a chance to share the glory. Your generosity will strengthen your professional relationships with other team members.
But what if you’re on your own? Here are some specific ways to raise your visibility in the landscape design press and beyond:
Watch for trends and jump on the bandwagon. Three instances constitute a trend. For instance, a survey conducted by the ASLA revealed that sustainable, low maintenance designs are rated the most desirable. If you have any such projects in your portfolio, use the survey as the news hook to spread the word.
Grow your presence on social media. It’s not going away, and it’s not that hard. You may not land a project through a Tweet, but Twitter is where news breaks today. It’s where the journalists are. Pinterest is a great showcase for your residential work.
Connect your project with current events. Hillary Clinton’s announcement to run for president may not, on the surface, have much to do with placemaking – until you read this elegant commentary in ARCHITECT.
Become an expert for local news sources. Is there a flood or a drought in your town? Journalists will be looking for quotes from an expert on stormwater management or xeric landscapes. Make sure you’re their contacts list.
Create your own newsworthy event. Curate an exhibition on landscapes or design at the local library or gallery. Organize a fundraiser for an earth-friendly charity. Do a pro-bono project for a school, center of worship, or charitable organization.
Don’t forget to use the resources of the ASLA and its amazing team of public relations professionals who, like you, are out to promote the profession. If you’re not a member, join. Call and introduce yourself. Ask for advice. Ask if they have a media list they could share with you. Are they working on a pitch that your firm could contribute to?
Above all, if you’re getting coverage, don’t sit back and bask: mine it! News begets news. Email links to other journalists, clients, would-be clients, colleagues. Send newsletters. Update your website. Post to social media. Shine your light!
Some of the most needless words in press releases are also the most common.
Many wasted words are holdovers from the early days of PR, when press releases were written on stone tablets. Others are borrowed from the corporate jargon that emerged since the advent of the corporate website.
It’s not just the words but also the number of them that are strung together to say so little. The elements of a bad press release are so familiar that they seem obligatory. And therein lies the problem. Like a virus, they never die.
Here are five common flaws to avoid.
For immediate release. Stop the presses! A company just issued a press release. This line often tops releases. In most cases, the sense of urgency is a bit overblown. It’s an old joke in newsrooms to hold a printout as if it’s hot coal, saying “hot off the press” or something silly like that. You can get off to a better start by removing this piece of old furniture.
We are excited. We’ve all seen the “we are excited” quote so many times that it is easy to fall into the trap of sounding just like all the other excited people quoted in press releases the world over.
Whether you are thrilled, delighted or ecstatic is beside the point. Instead, make an appeal to the emotions of your readers. Why is your news interesting, important or beneficial to them?
Innovative solutions. This corporate phrase has done its duty and has earned its retirement. It conjures stock images of smiling office workers pointing at computer screens in a brightly lit office on the homepage of a once stylish website that’s due for an update.
If you think about it, all companies are in the business of providing solutions. Except for companies that are in the business of creating problems. And we know how well that goes. Instead, tell people what your company does and why it is good for them.
The self-aggrandizing quote. “We are thrilled about our exciting innovation, which is just the latest example of our company’s preeminent position in the solutions industry. It is no wonder we are the market leader in the thing that we do,” said Brag Toomuch, CEO of Boring & Bland.
Don’t be that guy. Use quotes as an opportunity to explain the big-picture significance of your announcement. Why does it matter to the world outside of your headquarters?
Continued on page three. There is no page three. The optimal length of a press release is one page. Two pages is a pardonable offense. Press releases are often written by committee. Passages get added as the work moves up the chain. Aim for one page. Accept the reality of two. Save page three for the “urgent, exciting, solutions” that you’ve “proudly” avoided.
Our firm just completed one of the highest profile projects in our 15-year history – it’s a 30-story residential tower – and it’s also one of the best projects that the firm has ever done. As the design partner on the project, I want to get as much coverage in the press as we can. In particular, I’d like to get the project on the radar of architecture critics and the design press. So, my question is, how do we make these connections? Do we go to one person first, or should we submit it to everyone and see who writes about it? Our internal marketing and PR team has varying opinions on our best approach, and I need to make a decision. Can you help?
Well, Mr. High-Riser (or Ms. High-Riser, as the case may be!), first, I want to congratulate you on a job well done! As you know, the Doctor is not an architect, but she knows how hard you and your teams work on your buildings. It is no small feat. Look, I am currently renovating my apartment, and you would think it was as complicated as building the Burj Khalifa – and it seems to be taking just as long (sigh!). Ah, but I digress. The good Doctor wants to talk about YOU.
So, look, there are a number of ways to connect to the design press. It’s important to have a good project, as you do – so, you are already starting off on the right foot! Also make sure that you invest in good photography, because you want to show your project to best advantage. For more tips on that subject, check out architectural photographer Brad Feinknopf’s post on our blog.
As for reaching out to the press, you should certainly send out a press release, which can get you great coverage. Put together a smart, targeted list of contacts in the design press (print and online) and also make sure you include all your different audiences. For example, you want to send out the release to residential publications and real estate reporters as well as design reporters. If there is a sustainability story, put those publications on your list as well.
But! Remember that press are people, too. How would you like to get a mass e-mail? Believe me, the press gets tons of them. It’s like getting a recorded phone message from a political candidate right before an election. That fools no one! So, if you really want to connect with a critic, then the Doctor suggests that you handpick your favorite or favorites. And I’m sure that I don’t need to tell you that all critics are not created equal. For example, you will want to reach out to local critics who have written about tall buildings and/or residential buildings – these will probably be most receptive to your project. Target one person first. Give the writer a quick overview of the project and highlight the most important things. Be clear, compelling and succinct. I mean, in this day and age, who has time to read?
If he or she doesn’t bite (give your first choice a reasonable amount of time to consider the project), then go onto the next. You don’t want to promise the same project to two publications. I know this can be tough, but it’s really the right thing to do. It’s often the same with design magazines, such as Architectural Record and Metropolis: they’ll want an exclusive story – and you can’t blame them for that, especially if you have a great project! On the up side, make sure you build a good relationship from the start and then keep the good work coming!
When you give reporters what they need, you get more and better media coverage.
It sounds simple. But we become so focused on what we want from the media that we sometimes forget to consider their needs. If you help them do their job, yours will be easier, too.
You can’t cater to every request. Reporters often want access to information they cannot have.
What they need is a good story.
Every day, sometimes every hour, journalists must “feed the beast.” It could be a magazine article, a news story, a blog post or a tweet. They are forever filling an empty space.
Here are five ways you can help journalists cover your organization.
Be a Source. Reports rely on sources for several aspect of their job. A source can be someone who keeps journalists informed of the latest developments on the topic they cover. A source can also be someone who offers background information, or shows a reporter where to find it. Or, a source can be a subject matter expert they call upon to provide analysis and commentary for their stories.
Offer News Tips. There is a difference between a news tip and a pitch. It comes down to intent and delivery. If the information is valuable and its publication would be mutually beneficial, you are providing a news tip. If you push a self-serving story that is of no use to a journalist, it shows a lack of concern or respect. As an analogy, a professional sales person helps customers make wise choices. And then there are the cold callers. Don’t be a PR telemarketer.
Provide Quotes. Every news story needs quotes. They are hard to get. A reporter has to find someone with something to say and then convince that person to speak on the record. Quotes are statements that journalists hear with their ears, in person or over the phone. Or, in some cases, quotes can be taken from a digital conversation. Press release quotes don’t count; journalists have no easy way to verify that the person quoted actually said that. Let your people talk.
Share Your Data. Reporters always need facts to back up stories. Data-driven journalism is on the rise. Data you gather on industry trends, for example, could be repurposed for media consumption. Not everything is a trade secret. Sometimes, it is worth more to share information than to hoard it. Being the source of valuable data, builds your influence as an industry leader.
Facilitate News Gathering. Facilitators are the people who help reporters get all of the above. They come in many forms: the mayor’s press secretary, a friendly courthouse clerk, a CEO’s administrative assistant, a political operative or a corporate communicator. You can be that person.
Don’t be a palace guard, but don’t become a concierge either. Your relationship with journalists should be a strategic alliance: mutually beneficial, sometimes guarded, and always professional.
To borrow from the Rolling Stones, you can’t give reporters everything they want. But if you try, you can give them what they need.
by Steve Whitehorn
The financial success of any firm is built upon its personal relationships. However, many firms often fail to realize this basic truth. The endless pursuit of new clients to expand market share is an outmoded, counterproductive strategy. You can spend an overwhelming proportion of your marketing budget trying to win new clients, but in the process you miss out on the bottom-line benefits that come from nurturing existing connections.
According to Donna Fenn, contributing editor for Inc. Magazine, acquiring new clients can be costly, while existing relationships are more reliable and profitable. In fact, repeat clients spend close to 70% more than new ones. By investing in existing clients, firms earn trust and fortify their alliances. For example, if you need to renegotiate a fee during the design phase of a project, a long-term contact is more likely to approve a higher fee than a first-time client.
Furthermore, adding a new client to make up for those that leave you is actually decreasing your profits and increasing your marketing costs. If you gain a new client, but lose an existing one because you were unable to give them the attention they need, you end up with the same number of clients as before. Except now, your profit margins will suffer because it costs more to get new customers than to nurture the ones you already have.
Sometimes, however, you need to shake off the dead weight. Just as you can benefit greatly from nurturing your best connections, you should let go of those that aren’t working in your favor. Parting ways with a client may seem counterintuitive. However, difficult clients waste resources and diminish profits. Assess your client list and separate them into three categories, identifying your favorite clients, those you like or need to get to know better, and then those that you would rather not have to deal with. Hopefully, you don’t have anyone in the third category but, if you do, take stock of why you don’t like dealing with this client. Do they always pay late? Do they consistently expect you to double your workload without adjusting your fee? Are they constantly eroding your time with incessant e-mails and phone calls for things that can be addressed at your regular meetings? If your answer is yes to any of these questions, it may be time to part ways.
As an architect or other design professional, you can’t afford to spend time on negative client relationships, especially since your business is subject to unique pressures that often result in diminished budgets and strained cash flow. Think of it this way: the Pareto Principle, also known as the “80/20 Rule,” cited here by Forbes contributor Dave Lavinsky, can demonstrate that 80% of a firm’s profits are generated by 20% of its clients. By keeping strong client relationships and discarding unprofitable alliances, firms free up time and energy to devote to their top 20% clients, resulting in greater financial stability overall.
By recognizing that client relationships directly influence your profitability and by nurturing these relationships as your best assets, you can create a solid foundation on which your business can grow.
Steve Whitehorn is the author of the upcoming book, Ensuring Your Firm’s Legacy, and Managing Principal of Whitehorn Financial Group, Inc. The firm is the creator of The A/E Empowerment Program®, a three-step process that helps firms create a more significant legacy and empowers them to achieve greater impact on their projects, relationships, and communities.
I’m an architect with a strong professional network, including over 500+ connections on LinkedIn. I’m also a member of the AIA. But my network is predominately made up of other design professionals and colleagues in the AEC industry. I feel like it’s a new year, and I need to do something different. I’d like to broaden my reach and meet new people. And I was just promoted to associate, so I need to be able to bring new business into the firm. Can you suggest some ways that I can develop a presence beyond my immediate circle of colleagues and get to potential clients?
Off the Radar
Well, Off the Radar, you are certainly asking all the right questions. And you’re in luck, because the Doctor has answers. But, I have to admit, your timing may be off by just a teeny weeny bit, because it’s been a brutally cold winter – at least for those of us who live in the Northeast – and who wants to be running around proverbially knocking on doors to meet people in this cold? However, don’t you worry, because the Doctor has some ideas! And you don’t always have to brave subzero temperatures to make important connections.
Let’s start with LinkedIn. It’s great to have so many connections. But have you tried to take advantage of the people you know? I mean that in the best possible sense! For example, you may find that one of your LinkedIn connections knows someone who you want to meet. Maybe he or she can make an online introduction for you. Or, even better, you can all get together for coffee. Just make sure that you dress warm and wear plenty of warm clothes when you go out. (I know, I know, I’m not THAT kind of doctor, but I still care about you).
Another way to build your influence is to start a conversation about a topic on LinkedIn. If you don’t want to dip your toe in such deep water, at least you can start to post updates on LinkedIn on a regular basis. It’s good to show your network that you’re alive and kicking!
As for meeting new people, well it just means that you need to change up your surroundings and the company you keep. Other architects are great, but you can’t just hang around the same people all the time because, ya know, that just gets BOR-ING. And if you want to meet potential clients, then you need to start stalking professional events where you know those folks might be (ok, I’m not advocating the creepy kind of stalking, of course, just saying that you need to put yourself in the company of people who you want to do business with). When you go to events, make sure you get there early and actually talk to people. The great news about networking events is that…just like you, people are there to network! Imagine that! Even better, if you find an organization that you like, get involved in a committee or seek out a board position. You can attend as many breakfast meetings as you like, but there is no substitute for digging in your heels, really getting involved in an organization and forging strong relationships that really matter.
Remember, too, that you can meet potential clients anywhere. Get involved in a charity or do some pro bono work for a local community group. You never know where your next client may turn up. And you’ll feel gratified by helping others – a double win!
You could also consider writing some articles about your expertise. Many trade journals and other publications are always looking for good content. This can be a great way to start building up your visibility in front of potential clients. And, even better, you don’t have to go out in this freezing weather to do it!
However you decide to begin, Off the Radar, stay warm and try not to get “cold feet”…and remember to have fun!
Whether you follow-up after a meeting with a brief, friendly email, send a client a card for their birthday, or simply pick up the phone to check-in and say hi, every “little thing” that you do to reach out to clients, colleagues, and journalists can help strengthen your professional relationships. These seemingly small actions place you top-of-mind not only with people that you want to do business with, but also with those who can help build your influence. Here are some “little” tips to help build your relationships and get larger returns as a result.
Use a personal touch. In today’s world of e-mails, texts and tweets, don’t underestimate the value of a personal phone call. Take time every so often to pick up the phone to say hi to a prospective client or to catch an editor up on your latest project. You can also stop by a client’s office to say hello or drop off a small token of appreciation you’ve picked up during a recent trip. The idea is that you let people you know know that you’re thinking about them and that they are important to you.
Perfect your timing. Reaching out is important, but don’t forget to factor in when you should be reaching out. Don’t just get in touch with writers and editors when when you want them to write about you or cover your project. Instead, suggest meeting for a coffee to talk about the stories they are covering, your treat. Make a friendly introduction to a third party that shares common interests with your writer friend. Send a thank you note and connect on social media by sending a LinkedIn invitation within 24-48 hours after your meeting. On the other hand, if you know the person is swamped, don’t pester them to meet or call them, they probably don’t have time to talk to you. People appreciate it when you have a sense of their schedule and you work around it.
Socialize on social media. Social media is an essential tool for successful marketing. You can share your work and ideas in real time, while simultaneously making connections with other design pros. Maintain an active Twitter and LinkedIn account and open up communication channels with writers, peers, and potential clients. Connect with, or ask for an introduction to, those folks you want to know. Familiarize yourself with journalist’s Twitter handles and say hi once in awhile. Of course, don’t forget to mention your latest project, too!
Really get to know them. If you take the time to find out what’s important to the people you want to connect with, your chances of establishing professional relationships with them will increase. That means understanding who the journalist is and not just what publications they write for. Make a list of personal as well as professional data about each person, ranging from their alma mater to their extra-curricular accomplishments to what non-work-related subjects in which he or she is interested. If you demonstrate that you know details about the person’s life outside work, it shows you’re interested in building a mutually beneficial relationship.
Strong professional relationships don’t happen overnight. It’s worth investing the time to develop real, lasting relationships with editors, writers, potential clients and peers because it builds a foundation that’s beneficial for your business in the long term.
Dale Walker is the Director of Communications at Francis Cauffman, a Philadelphia and NYC based architecture firm that has supported its clients since 1954 with innovative architecture, planning, and interior design services. With close to three decades of experience in marketing and communications for the AEC industry, Dale’s expertise includes marketing and proposal strategies, positioning, competitor analysis, collateral development, budget development and administration, as well as networking training.
By Dale A. Walker, CPSM, Director of Communications at Francis Cauffman
You made it through the first hurdle and agreed that you need a PR program. Your next big decision involves how to implement the program. There are a couple of different approaches: you can assign the task to an internal staff member and/or hire a new staff member, or you can hire an outside PR firm. Each has pros and cons. I will give you my experience with both.
PR as an internal function
The internal staff member will have access to all the latest and greatest as it relates to the inside information you are hoping to publicize. This includes images, descriptions and direct access to your key team members. The internal staff person can multitask, giving you expanded options, because he or she can also help out with other roles in your communications department. Just a word of caution here: this same pro can be a big con. If the team member is pulled into too many additional duties, then the PR program can wind up taking a back seat and your desired goals will suffer. Remember, if the effort is not consistent, the same will be said for your results.
One other note, most publications know that you want your information to be published. They may dismiss an internal effort on your part as self-promotion versus, say, getting the same information from an expert in the field.
PR as an outsourced service
If you have made a wise selection, the PR firm that you hire will already have solid industry contacts and can help guide you through development of your specific plan. Together, you will create and establish a budget based on the activity level that your plan requires. This can begin small and grow until you feel you have found the right balance between results and desired exposure.
The outside PR firm will be able to make this a consistent effort: this is what they do, and there will be no interruptions or loss of momentum.
Next, you need to make all your resources, images, descriptions, and experts available to your outside team. Your outside consultant will help give you more credibility in the marketplace since their team will work their relationships to promote your firm, and results will usually happen on a more accelerated scale.
In summary, don’t worry about how big or small your budget is. This is just the beginning and, regardless of the direction your take, this will be the starting point. Even if you just have a small budget, I recommend working with an outside consultant. Their energy and effort will maintain a consistent level of exposure and credibility. You will achieve much more in a shorter time frame.
I just started working at an architecture firm, after spending many years in the financial industry. It’s been an exciting career change. As part of my business development activities, I have been attending rehearsals with the partners and project teams as they prepare for interviews. Since I’m a newbie to this industry, I’m struck by the way the architects talk about their work and how they describe it to clients. Most of the time, I have no idea what they’re saying, and I’m concerned that our clients don’t either. Maybe this is the way that architects sell their work, but it seems that there must be a way to communicate that resonates better with potential clients. Any ideas?
Lost in Translation
Dear Lost in Translation,
Well, I certainly relate to your frustration! Don’t worry, the Doctor assures you that what is lost can certainly be found. And it’s not just design professionals who have a hard time communicating their expertise. Believe me, when our IT guy tries to explain what’s wrong with my computer, I think we are talking a different language – and that’s because we actually ARE. I am just glad that he is fluent in Macs, because certainly I am not.
Okay, so back to you, Lost. You are not lost, by the way, you’re on the right track. It’s critical for you, your principals, or indeed anyone in your firm to clearly describe what you do for your clients, how you do it, and why you’re the best at it. Design language isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, your experts will do themselves a disservice if they can’t speak in a way that clearly explains their vision and value to their clients. So what can you do about it? Keep these things in mind.
- First, know your strengths! Call it an elevator pitch or whatever you want. You need to know why you’re the team that the client needs to hire and how your design will make your clients’ businesses soar. You need to be able to articulate your value proposition in a snap. Show how you have done this for other clients in the past. This is why your partners became architects in the first place, so show your expertise to your best advantage.
- Keep it simple! Look, you’re architects, and you’re all about design. That’s a great thing. But you shouldn’t have to bring a translator to a client meeting. It is your goal – and it’s also a great opportunity – to educate your clients and bring them on board. They need you, but they may not understand your industry. They may be anxious about the look of the building – not to mention the process, fees, and schedule. You can navigate them through uncharted territory. Describe the experience that they will have in your new building, not just the architectural details. Talk about your working process. Focus on how you will help them achieve their goals. These are all keys to a winning communications strategy.
- Speak your client’s language! Make sure, above all, that you do your homework and know what’s important to a client. A meeting or interview should not be a monologue; it’s a conversation. For example, do they want to be sustainable? Have big private offices or collaborative workspaces? Look traditional or hip? Find out their priorities and internalize them. They will use the building every day – you won’t – so demonstrate that you have listened to them and can deliver what they need.