Reach the Press: Architecture Firms and the Media

Dear Doctor,

Our architecture firm is about to complete our best project to date—no, really!—and we’re gearing up to submit it to the media. I’ve read your advice about PR strategy for AEC firms regarding which publications to target, and it makes perfect sense. What I want to know more about is how to communicate to editors and design writers; we know it’s important to stay focused on the merits of the project, but we don’t want to sound canned or robotic—or, even worse, archi-speaky—in our responses to questions. Any public relations tips?

—Tongue Tied

Dear Tongue Tied,

I’m so glad you reached out, and I’m sorry to hear that the cat has got your tongue! I hope he (or she) doesn’t get too far with it. If that were me, and someone or some small furry thing ran away with my tongue, it would be a fuzz kill! Because you can’t wag your tongue all day long if you don’t have one. Of course, there are many ways that AEC professionals can converse about their design projects through online channels and whatnot (maybe too many), even if you can’t speak. But there I go again, off on a complete tangent—when all you are looking for is some good, free, and fast advice. OK, so the first thing to remember when you’re talking to the media or your key audiences is that you’re talking to real people, not robots, chatbots, or replicants. I mean, the living and breathing kind of people, whether they are in New York or Los Angeles. One size does not fit all. And while you might have a really good tagline for your architecture or engineering firm, your interpersonal communications need to be a little more nuanced. Each of your audiences will want to hear different things, whether you are reaching out to clients, potential clients, or reporters from the general press like The San Francisco Chronicle or Crain’s Chicago. Now, you’re probably thinking to yourself that the Doctor is making this so complicated, but the good Doctor is just here to help. And there is one grand principle that I will share, and that is the golden rule of outreach for AEC firms, so write this down: no matter who you are talking to, it’s about them (meaning, your audience)it’s not about you. Because, say, if you are talking to a potential client, then he or she really wants to know that you understand that person’s business. If, for example, you want to explain how your design adds value, then just say it in plain English. And, second, if you want to connect with a specific audience, you need to speak in language that is jargon-free, whether you are posting to Twitter or pitching a project. To make sure you have your messages down pat, it’s good to write out talking points that you can use for social media as well as a conversation with a potential client or reporter. Even jotting down a list of bullets will do, but make them conversational (you don’t want to sound like you’re reading a script). And, if you really want to put the icing on the proverbial cake, then practice answering questions with someone who is NOT an architect, engineer, or construction manager. Finally, in this age of screens and digital media, there is one more way to communicate with the media, and it is really the Doctor’s favorite: if your best project to date is really newsworthy—it’s got great design, it taps into a trend, or has a great story—then go ahead and invite a member (or members) of the press to see your work in person. This is the best way to get someone excited about your project, especially if it’s complex or has features that you can’t really describe, even with images. Now, of course, like any other good rule, though, my friend TT, there is one exception. And that is the design press. If you want to tell a writer from Architectural Record all the design features of your project, have at it! But outside the industry, if you talk like an architect, most people will not have a clue what you’re saying (even though they may nod their heads and smile politely). So go strut your stuff. Be clear, convincing, and above all, TT, be passionate!