Design on the Haus
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!
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.
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!
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.