In the development of materials for branding, marketing, public relations and social media, architects are reminded that all communications must comply with regulatory and copyright requirements for appropriate “credit for authorship.”
Brand: The image and personality of a product or service that a business provides. An authentic, well-considered, and established brand works to attract potential clients and future employees towards a practice.
Marketing: Focused on establishing and communicating a practice’s value proposition and position in the market to a specific client segment. It is usually focused on pushing information towards specific projects and/or clients with the purpose of securing a commission. Marketing is rooted in the business development stream of the practice.
Public relations: For architects, reinforces the practice’s brand and communicates the value of architecture and architectural practice to a wide range of audiences. Public relations is directed to the community at large.
“Marketing and public relations are an integral part of every architect’s practice. Firms of every size and type must devote some level of attention to securing commissions and bringing their work before the public.”
– D. Cooper and B. Moore
As the above quotation points out, today’s architectural practice must develop a brand, public relations and marketing strategy to succeed and flourish. A coordinated and integrated strategy is a necessary part of promoting and growing a successful architectural practice and acquiring new projects.
This chapter briefly discusses brand, public relations and marketing within an architectural practice.
“A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”
– Seth Godin
A brand is an architectural practice’s promise to the client, the community and its people. A brand is comprised of the practice’s culture, its identity and its reputation. Brand should convey the essence of the architectural practice and its services. Brand essence and brand recognition are often amplified by attributes and symbols such as name, logo, slogans, symbols and designs.
The architect should promote the practice and its services, and disseminate the following information:
- the name of the practice and all contact information;
- what distinguishes the practice from the competition;
- the services available;
- the preferred building type(s);
- business, architectural, and financial credentials;
- the reasonableness of fees in relation to the quality of service;
- the performance record;
- the skills and availability of principals and staff;
- community activities, academic participation, volunteerism;
- evidence for substantiating all such claims.
Many architects contend that marketing should be a significant element of the strategic plan of all architectural practices. (See Chapter 3.1 – Starting and Organizing an Architectural Practice for a brief discussion of a strategic plan.) Marketing activities can vary widely based on the size of the practice; however, all firms should establish an appropriate annual budget and planned objectives for marketing. Marketing is not merely overhead; there is a correlation between a firm’s profit and growth and the amount spent on marketing.
Some people distinguish marketing from selling. In an architectural context, marketing includes everything related to business development, including the planning and administration of all marketing activities, as well as obtaining new clients and ensuring the delivery of high standards of architectural services for repeat business. Selling essentially means identifying who requires architectural services and securing the commission. Marketing should engage the architect in the never-ending pursuit of client satisfaction. It compels every architect to search out new ways of efficiently meeting, or exceeding, client expectations. The architect must learn to be client-oriented in addition to being production-oriented or design-oriented.
See also Chapter 2.2 – The Client.
Marketing as a process involves identifying potential clients. Marketing must be part of the practice’s strategic plan. An effective marketing strategy subdivides market demand into manageable segments. Each segment is made up of a group of potential clients who share common needs, attitudes and behaviours that are different from other market segments. By bringing these similarities and differences into clearer view, it is easier to identify:
- whom to pursue for future projects and architectural services;
- what to include and highlight in presentation material;
- potential risks and rewards from each market segment.
See also Appendix B – Additional GO/NO GO Considerations to Assess the Degree of Firm and Project Risk in Chapter 3.8 – Risk Management and Professional Liability.
The marketing terms and concepts of client satisfaction, value creation and market segment require that marketing be integrated into the daily operations of the architect’s practice. It is useful to track the proposal closing rate, that is, to identify the number of successful commissions compared to the number of proposals prepared. The proposal closing rate can be compared with various marketing activities to determine which methods work best for the practice. Ongoing marketing as a part of the daily routine of all principals will help control the type, amount and pace of the practice’s work.
In developing a marketing plan, all activities must be viewed from two different perspectives:
- the perspective of the architect or architectural practice;
- the perspective of the secured or potential client.
The Architect’s Perspective
To develop a marketing strategy, the architect must answer the following questions:
What types of clients and projects does the practice want:
- Individual, corporate or institutional?
- What type of reputation?
- What size of construction budget?
- What type of building?
- What values regarding design and project management?
What services does the practice want to provide for these clients?
- What are the firm’s strengths?
- What are the firm’s interests and aspirations?
- What are the firm’s capabilities?
How does the practice want to provide these services:
- With what resources?
Why does the practice want to do this?
- To meet lifestyle goals?
- To meet career goals?
- For financial reasons?
- To satisfy architectural goals?
- To satisfy ideological or altruistic beliefs?
How will the work be carried out?
- What is the composition of the design team?
- What are the financial arrangements?
- What are the operational arrangements?
- What are the technological (delivery) arrangements?
What are the risks involved with the following:
- With this particular client?
- For the services offered?
- For the fees charged?
- In the place of the work?
- For marketing and promotion to win the project?
The Client’s Perspective
The client is the audience. Marketing must be considered from the client’s point of view, ensuring the language and information conveyed is meaningful to the client.
The strategic plan should help to identify the following:
- the market segments that are of interest to the practice;
- the prevalent needs, wants and behaviours among prospective clients in these segments;
- the financial metrics of working within this particular market segment;
- the future of this market segment.
To determine the competitive position of the practice, it is helpful to ask questions about competitors, such as:
- Within each market segment, who are the main providers of architectural services?
- What is their share of the market?
- What is the basis for their competitive advantage:
- Personal relationship?
- Specialized architectural services?
- Reputation for quality/leading-edge design?
- Can the practice make an offer that is unique and compelling to prospective clients, given the other choices available to them?
- What drew former clients to the practice?
Once some of the elements of a marketing plan have been determined, potential clients or “leads” need to be identified. Some techniques for identifying leads include:
- compiling names of the potential clients or purchasers of architectural services in each of the preferred market segments;
- developing a list of organizations and the person(s) responsible for decisions related to architectural services, and for the selection of the architect;
- researching websites;
- monitoring relevant articles from the media;
- organizing business development meetings;
- surveying past clients;
- consulting MERX, BidsandTenders.ca, buyandsell.gc.ca, the Ariba network, or other similar websites hosting project opportunities.
Several web-based procurement systems are available to support architects in their marketing activities. These systems operate as procurement portals, allowing organizations to publish their procurement opportunities and architects to review opportunities and identify leads. MERX (www.merx.com) and Biddingo (www.biddingo.com) are two popular systems, but there are others. The federal government, along with some provincial and municipal governments, has developed its own online procurement portals. Federal government opportunities can be sourced at https://buyandsell.gc.ca. However, federal projects managed by the federal government’s project management services provider use the MERX platform. The use of web-based procurement portals is predominant among government bodies and agencies, including municipalities, publicly-funded academic institutions, school boards, and health and social service entities, known as the “MASH” sector. They are also used to a lesser extent by the private sector.
The best source for both new business and new business leads is current or former clients.
Once leads have been identified, these prospects should be qualified by determining:
- their current and potential demand for architectural services;
- the main criteria they will use to select an architect.
See Chapter 2.2 – The Client for further discussion on firm selection in competitive procurement.
A wide range of client resource management (CRM) software is available. This type of software tracks leads and potential clients as well as the frequency/type of contact (e.g., e-mail/text, telephone call, letter, luncheon date, etc.), and personal information about the individual (e.g., birthday, spouse’s name, dietary preference, favourite team, preferred cultural event, etc.).
The practice should situate each lead in the appropriate stage of the relationship-building process and plan the details of subsequent marketing and promotion. An action plan can then be prepared for each lead or prospect.
After an initial contact, the practice should evaluate the response from each lead and adjust the action plan based on:
- the prospect’s reputation and potential as a client;
- the likelihood of the project proceeding;
- the architectural practices from which the prospect will solicit proposals;
- the likely value of the commission;
- the risks attached to winning the commission;
- the cost of pursuing the prospect further.
In pursuing the lead, the architect should remember that their marketing message may need to be tailored to reach not only the client who signs a contract, but others who contribute to the hiring decision-making process. They include those who influence the decision-makers – “influencers” in marketing jargon, and the decision-makers themselves – “buyers” in marketing jargon.
Public relations is a series of activities which provide opportunities for the architect to become known in the community. It is distinct from promotion in that it targets the broader community rather than specific individuals. Good public relations sets the stage for successful marketing.
These activities may include:
- community involvement, such as:
- giving lectures and speaking in public on architectural topics;
- teaching classes at post-secondary institutions;
- hosting online discussions/idea-sharing sessions;
- conducting seminars;
- sitting on volunteer boards;
- joining service clubs;
- providing “pro bono” architectural services to community organizations (check provincial requirements);
- fundraising assistance;
- conducting design charrettes;
- sponsoring community events;
- attending industry networking opportunities.
- good media relations, such as:
- providing firm/project/news updates on digitally branded sources (website, social media, etc.);
- issuing news releases;
- contributing to architectural blogs;
- publishing technical papers, or articles in journals or other print media;
- participating in trade shows;
- undertaking professional criticism of architectural projects;
- entering design competitions;
- preparing and distributing newsletters for the practice;
- promoting design or architectural awards.
Architects should strive to better inform the public about the value of design and architecture and architects. They must always be advocates for the value architecture brings to enhanced quality of life. Public awareness about the value of architectural services can open new markets for the architectural practice and helps to create a receptive environment for the architect in future marketing activities.
Social media include web-based communication tools that enable people to interact with each other by both sharing and consuming information (D. Nations, 2019). “Social” refers to the sharing and interaction, while “media” refers to the instruments of communication, or the particular technologies used to communicate the messaging. For architectural practices, social media can be a powerful tool in reaching existing and new markets, clients and demographics. While it is common for a practice’s marketing department to develop, lead and monitor all social media efforts, these responsibilities can be shared throughout the firm across various departments as necessary.
While there are many different types of social media available to architects for sharing and consuming information, there are several platforms that are firmly established as leaders in today’s social media environment. As of 2019, popular social media tools for architects include:
A website can also be categorized under the terminology of social media, although it is commonly distinguished as a separate entity from the social media lexicon.
Social media offer a cost-efficient and effective opportunity to leverage and promote an architectural practice’s brand and messaging. While a social media campaign mainly includes visual elements, it can psychologically parallel the culture of a practice, what a practice does, the type of persons employed by the practice and the nature of a practice’s customer interactions. Therefore, a robust and consistent social media campaign helps to establish awareness, trust and credibility of the practice, and its targeted marketing positioning. Social media content can include:
- project photography (professional);
- project renderings;
- project sketches/floor plans/site plans/elevations/sections;
- project descriptions;
- project videos;
- firm news and updates;
- firm milestones;
- award/shortlist notifications;
- announcements, such as recently awarded commissions;
- staff updates;
- staff profiles;
- staff opinion pieces;
- extra-curricular staff activities;
- volunteer and community engagement activities.
Recent online metrics indicate an average of two hours and 22 minutes a day is spent perusing social media, with 91% of users accessing social channels via mobile devices (M. Moshsim, 2019). Therefore, it is imperative that architectural practices consider social media as a primary marketing tool and that presenting clear, consistent, engaging, high-quality and to-the-point content is key to building a robust and effective social media campaign. Architectural practices must design their content with a high priority on mobility, using non-resource-intensive data, and linking to other social media channels in order to make their users’ experiences as streamlined and comfortable as possible. This will ensure users return to visit existing or current content in the future and promote the practice’s social media presence.
If one function of marketing is to create value and client satisfaction, the best form for achieving these is through a long-term, contractual relationship. True value will emerge from the provision of consistent, committed, efficient and high-quality service over time.
Service in this context is not limited to design; architects are often asked to fulfill a number of roles such as facilitator, efficiency expert, construction cost control, mediator and problem-solver. Building professional relationships, or “relationship marketing,” should be a major part of a marketing plan.
A professional relationship is started when a prospective client draws a positive association with an architect or an architectural practice. Brand campaigns in advance of attempting to enter a new market or establish a relationship with a new client are often an effective way of communicating the practice’s identity and position in the market. An important objective in developing a brand is to convey a relationship of trust with potential clients.
A professional working relationship begins when a prospective client is about to select an architect. Although the initial contact may not always result in a commission, the architect should take advantage of the situation and start to build a solid long-term relationship with this prospective client.
Promotion is providing information, motivation and direction to specific individuals who will decide on the timing and terms of selection of an architect. Promotion leads the architect to prospective clients and provides the opportunity to propose a potential offer for services, instead of leaving the opportunity to chance, circumstance or the competition. If the architect or architectural practice has established a positive brand, the chances of successful promotion are increased, often significantly.
The success of effective promotion, like effective design, is based on the efficiency with which the promotion brings about the desired response. Effective promotion brings the right message at the right time to the right audience using the right medium. Promotion must be a proactive activity that aligns with the strategic plan and business plan of the practice.
Market awareness and “awareness-building” should result in prospective clients wanting to learn more about the kinds of services the architect can provide. The objective at this stage of promotion is to motivate potential clients to want to learn more about the architect, and to tell them how to get more information about the practice.
Some techniques for building market awareness include:
- websites which create an effective client-oriented presence with a focus on projects, practice, accomplishments, and services;
- active, online contributions such as social media campaigns and blogs, including:
- promotion of past, present and future projects;
- presentation of research;
- promotion and awareness of staff, staff pursuits and brand initiatives;
- community involvement;
- corporate stationery and business cards;
- directory listings;
- articles, including findings from research or op-ed pieces, such as those published:
- by members of the firm;
- about the firm and its work;
- lectures and speeches;
- membership in community organizations;
- philanthropy, including volunteerism.
“Awareness-building” should result in prospective clients wanting to learn more about the kinds of services the architect can provide. In reinforcing the interest of a potential client, communications should progress from general to more specific information on how the practice can fulfill the client’s needs. If the architect or architectural practice has established a positive brand, it is easier to build awareness with the prospective client.
To reinforce and strengthen client interest, an architectural practice may prepare:
- targeted brochures that contain professional photography of past and current work;
- targeted web pages that contain professional photography of past and current work;
- targeted communication utilizing social media;
- digital presentations and videos;
- 3D models;
- virtual walk-throughs/demonstrations;
- display boards;
- letters of introduction;
- client testimonials;
- postcards or greeting cards;
- direct mail;
Although promotion may involve establishing a relationship with a potential client through various forms of communication (social encounters, submission of information, etc.), the most common method of building client awareness and reinforcing interest is by responding to formal requests for qualifications or requests for proposals.
If the prospective client’s interest is met or surpassed, the prospective client should perceive that a “fit” is possible. It is critical at this stage to “know” your client. The challenge then becomes to discuss, and then negotiate, the various terms of an agreement. It is important to note that the prospective client may be conducting similar negotiations with other architects at this stage.
In order to generate client commitment, consider:
- one-on-one interviews and presentations;
- portfolios (including targeted portfolios);
- invitations for office or project tours;
- professionally produced photographs and videos;
- customized digital presentations;
- renderings and 3D modeling of past related work;
- physical models of previous projects;
- customized proposals.
Once the contract has been executed, the architect should take steps to ensure that the new client understands how much the architect values the commission. Just what action should be taken to develop and maintain a professional relationship depends on the architect, the client, and the value of the contract. This relationship should be sustained even beyond the completion of the project (to increase the probability of repeat work and promote positive referencing) through the following methods:
website and social media newsfeed announcements and updates;
- news releases;
- special events;
- greeting cards;
- direct written and verbal communication.
Promotional material should be gathered during the course of a project. As projects are completed, every architectural practice should establish standard procedures to document information needed for presentation material or firm brochures. See Chapter 5.1 – Management of the Design Project for details on assembling material as part of the office routine at project closeout.
In preparing promotional materials for online websites, social media platforms, print or digital brochures and/or proposals, the architect must:
- always provide the proper credit for all projects (to avoid misrepresentation);
- ensure that any professional photography and other media is credited to the author if required by contract;
- describe the role of the architect in each project accurately;
- notify references that their names will be used and request permission for their use (if the response is enthusiastic, request a letter of reference which can be used in promotional material and brochures; however, if the client is reluctant, it may be prudent to avoid using the reference).
See also Chapter 5.3 – Communications Management.
Architects can further establish their reputations, brands and design vocabularies through architectural competitions.
Guidelines for the conduct of competitions can be found on the RAIC website at: https://raic.org/raic/architectural-competitions-introduction
Architectural competitions for buildings must be approved by the provincial or territorial association of architects in which the project is located. Open and limited competitions for buildings require endorsement as most provincial associations of architects prevent their members from participating in competitions that have not been approved by their respective councils.
Endorsed competitions require the engagement of an architect as a professional advisor who is responsible for:
- advising the owner or sponsor;
- preparing the conditions of the competition;
- making arrangements for the competition.
International competitions for architectural projects may be conducted under conditions unique to the country holding the competition. The International Union of Architects (UIA) has also prepared guidelines for conducting international architectural competitions in its publication: UIA Competition Guide for Design Competitions in Architecture and Related Fields.
Architectural competitions can be a high-risk activity for any architectural practice and therefore each practice must evaluate the effort and return on investment for participating in authorized architectural competitions.
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