Design on the Haus
Summer is the perfect time to do some strategic thinking, so we’ll continue our snapshot of “A Three-Phase Program to Fast-Track Your Design Business for Profit.” Dr. Tami Hausman participated in the panel at the 2015 AIA National Convention in May, along with Lisa Henry, CEO of Greenway Group, and Stephen Whitehorn, managing principal of Whitehorn Financial Group.
In this installment, “The Doctor” gives her prescription for communicating more effectively about your projects to win the next ones. And we’re particularly excited about this post because it’s the 200th for Design on the Haus. Go Team Hausman!
Communicate with impact!
Now that you have your strategic plan underway, you want to communicate more effectively. It’s essential to define your message(s) so you can differentiate your firm in the marketplace. Knowing your message or messages will point you in the direction that you want to go.
Mark Twain said that “Most conversations are monologues in the presence of witnesses.” But, sarcasm aside, clear and precise communcations is the cornerstone to any business. It sounds obvious, but we all know the kind of people who talk on and on and on and don’t listen, don’t we? My father calls these people “Books on Tape.”
But really good communication is a conversation between people. So whether you’re networking or selling or publicizing your work, you need to engage your clients and audiences – not talk at them.
This is particularly important in the AEC industry, because many clients do not understand exactly what designers do. It’s your job to educate them. The best way to engage with your audience is to provide information that they don’t already know. In other words, you should “teach not preach.”
Who are you talking to?
Keep in mind that you will never have just one audience, you have many. So your messages must be targeted to different groups, which include potential clients, existing clients, decision makers, your peers, and your broad network, among others.
What do communications with all these audiences have in common? That’s the golden rule of outreach, which is: It’s about them, it’s not about you.
First, they want to know that you understand their business. And, second, if you want to connect with them, there is no substitute for clear language that’s free of jargon. You also have to customize your language to your audiences, because different audiences will want to hear different stories about your work. The good news is that you can tell plentiful stories about each of your projects. It’s a great way to get wide coverage.
Make it matter
No matter what kind of outreach you do, remember that you must first, number one, support your strategic business goals. Focus your efforts on the PR campaigns that are going to yield the greatest results for you and your firm.
Second, use your resources wisely. Say, for example, you just finished a private house, but you’re really interested in designing hospitals. You need to decide where you should spend your time and money. You may not want to do a big campaign that’s focused on your residential work.
Last, you need to be timely. When you’re getting started to launch an outreach campaign about a project, always think big and be relevant. Connect the project to a holiday, a trend, a topical news issue, or an event.
One more good reason
Still on the fence? Here’s another good reason to do outreach: in most instances, your competition is probably already doing it. And if they are not, and you start an outreach program, it will put you that much ahead of the game.
May is National Photography Month, so we are going to explore how you can use professional and snapshot photography to promote your firm and projects on social media.
Using photos and imagery in your social media will boost your company’s virtual presence, promote your projects, and engage your audience. In fact, Tweets with images get 2 times the engagement rate of those without them. The following are a few strategies for using photography to communicate about your work.
Tell a story with your photographs. Social media platforms allow you to take your audiences – clients, colleagues, potential clients, fans – on a story-telling journey. Your followers want to see snapshots of your projects at every stage, from design concept through completion. Showing them your process through photos is a great way to show them your personality as a designer, what your office culture is like, who your employees are, and so on. Tell them a story with the photographs that you upload on social media channels like Instagram and Twitter. For example, you can choose a collection of project photos that represent your firm’s signature style and post them as #signatureproject. Or you could choose a different photo every day of projects, people, and places that tell a story about your firm and its work as #photooftheday. Whatever you post, choose photos that tell a story and share them!
Build your virtual portfolio. You probably already have a portfolio of your projects on your website. But you can also use platforms like Pinterest or Instagram to create a virtual project portfolio on social media and use it as an active way to engage your audiences. For example, you can create a Pinterest board to show off all of your projects in one typology such as healthcare or cultural buildings. In fact, the more boards you create the more opportunities you create for other users to pin your photos to their boards. Showcase your projects, from renderings to final photography. Optimize all the images that you upload and remember to link back to your website.
Take control of your firm’s existing presence on platforms like Pinterest, where users may already be pinning images of your projects. Photos of your projects may already exist on other people’s Pinterest boards. Take control of those images by re-pining to your board and expand your audience by following other users who admire your work. This will not only increase your exposure but it will also build your network.
You can also create a virtual gallery on Twitter. You can tweet links to your gallery and use it as yet another way to engage your audience and promote your projects.
Show the evolution of a project. You do not have to wait until the completion of a project to promote it. The power of social media, specifically Instagram, allows you to keep the conversation going, from planning to completion. Instagram is a good platform that delivers informal snapshots to your audience and gives them the opportunity to follow, share, and comment as a project progresses. Use Instagram to take your audience through the journey of your project and capture moments throughout the life of the project to tell a story. Choose a project in the beginning stages of design and show it’s progress by posting photos as the project progresses from concept to construction through opening day. Your audience wants to see photos of behind-the-scenes (you could use a hashtag like #bts), events, and people. Always remember that it’s important to use hashtags because they allow your tweets to trend on other users Twitter feeds, sparking new conversations and re-tweets.
So, whether it’s an informal snapshot of your team hard at work on your next design or a professional photo of a completed building, remember that using photography on social media has huge potential to engage and grow your audience.
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!
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.
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 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.
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!”