13.3 THE BUSINESS OF ARCHITECTURE: INTERVIEWS

I am often amazed at how the Internet can bring people together and how there are small groups of people pursuing highly specialized topics and their names keep popping up around the world. I met Enoch Stears in 2012 through Eric Bobrow who I met at a AIA conference in Boston about 10-15 years ago. Enoch is a fellow architect that is a genius on the computer and has been very helpful to me streamlining the design of my website to get it just the way I want it. Enoch is really interested in helping architects market their businesses better and has written a book Social Media for Architects. His website features a number of video podcast interviews with architects and he invited me to do an interview – so I agreed. My podcast interviews are in two parts and are ‘live’ on his web site the Business of Architecture.

In preparation for the interview I decided to sit down and put a few thoughts on paper and it helped formulate a position on the topic. I decided to share my thoughts below.

THE BUSINESS OF ARCHITECTURE

The Context

  • Over the last 30 years the professional has changed dramatically
  • I remember when I qualified work more or less just came to the firm. There was no marketing, no strategy, no planning.
  • Today the practice of architecture is changing very rapidly. We are faced with:
    • Greater numbers of architects chasing declining numbers of projects;
    • More pressure and competition to reduce fees;
    • Specialization and the trend to bring in experts rather than the local architect;
    • Design-build; and
    • The Chinese syndrome.

Doing Good Architecture

Doing good architecture alone will not necessarily get you work:

  • Good architecture + poor marketing = poor architect
  • Good architecture + good marketing = profitable architect;
  • The need to educate your audience about design – ‘he who educates owns the category’;
  • The need to present your work really well – projects are often multi-million dollar investments;
  • Visual images are an essential method for communicating architecture;
  • Architectural photography is used in virtually every form of marketing for architects.

There is therefore a compelling case to invest in good architectural photography.

Prospective Client’s spend significant funds and they need to be convinced on many levels that you are the right architect for them.

  • I want one like that – beguiling photographs of projects;
  • You are an expert – lectured, attended courses, written or published studies on related topics;
  • Referrals from other trustworthy clients;
  • The client must first know you as a person before they can feel comfortable so as to trust you with their investment; and
  • You must also understand what are the client’s objectives and key buttons and then be able to convince them that you have the technical and aesthetic capability to deliver a quality product.

What Makes You Unique?

Some simple questions to answer:

  • In which market categories do we compete?
  • Who are the major buyers?
  • What do they want from us?
  • How do our competitors present themselves in these categories?
  • How do our target buyers perceive us relative to our competitors?

The Work

  • What sort of work do you want to do?
  • What work excites your passion?
  • Does your work have a social conscience or dimension that Client’s can relate to?
  • Where do these Clients hang out? Can you arrange to meet them in informal surroundings?

Branding the Firm

Once you have a clear vision and strategy for your firm, about who you are and where your expertise lies, about who are your preferred clients and projects and your general culture you are then in a position to brand your firm.

  • The branding of the firm then needs to align with the business plan and all the components of the firm;
  • The branding is in a sense a summary of the uniqueness of the firm;
  • The brand ultimately has to be delivered by the principals – not simply a letterhead or a brochure, but a culture or an emotional experience or expression of the firm;
  • The brand needs to reflect an authentic statement about who you are what you believe in and must align with the market the firm is pitching to;
  • Ultimately the branding needs to be converted into an action plan that delivers business for the firm;
  • The brand needs the commitment of all members of the firm and everything that leaves the firm; and
  • Finally branding should be revisited each year as the market and competition is constantly changing to consider:
    • Revisit the primary goals of the practice
    • How did the year proceed?
    • Where are we now?
    • What do we see in the short terms?
  • Do we need adjustments to the medium or long-term strategy for the firm?

Strategic Planning

Today strategic planning is essential for firms because it helps to focus, adjust and optimize an approach to get the best response so as to thrive during difficult times.

  • Precisely because most firms are now becoming marketing savvy it is even more necessary to be clear about how the firm is perceived in the market place and how it can stand head and shoulder above the competition;
  • There are marketing consultants out there that specialize on helping architects – firms should consider this approach;
  • Architects need to position themselves in the best fit for their skills;
  • If possible have an annual retreat to determine to what extent the current plan Is meeting with success and how to adjust it if necessary; and
  • Marketing for custom clients is hard work – it’s more effective to market for returning clients.

The Strategic Plan

Strategic planning is a comprehensive multi-faceted approach

  • I have organized it in three sections:
    • Media
    • Social Media
    • Profile
    • The firm profile is a key document that is used on the website, in power point presentations, printed project brochures, portfolios, in expressions of interest and requests for proposals and in presentations or lectures;
    • Social Media comprises LinkedIn, You Tube, newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and other social media;
    • Media includes magazine, trade journals, book publications, announcements, radio, television, newspaper, periodicals and advertorials.

The entire strategy is a comprehensive effort that requires time for:

  • Research and planning
  • Relationship development
  • Pursuing specific prospects
  • Reputation building/ external visibility

Unique Markets

Each market is unique so it is important to first analyze the market so as to determine what marketing strategy is best suited.

  • Some markets respond to direct advertising, others to e-mail and social media, while others rely on more traditional methods;
  • You need to determine why and how Clients hire in your particular market;
  • Some Clients hire because they share a common cause – they don’t hire a company;
  • Other Clients hire because they perceive you are an expert in your field – what area/ category do you own?
  • Do you do any research to provide your current thinking to your area of specialty?
  • Yet others because they know, trust and like you.

Understanding your Clientele and market can help to determine the most effective marketing.

Plan Execution

When all your material is in place you must focus on a plan that will actually get executed otherwise this will merely be an academic exercise. The challenge is to develop a Client Care plan that involves the key principals and also all officers of the firm. A Client Care Plan can include a list of three categories [in order of priority]:

  1. Clients we know that are considering a project;
  2. Prospective clients that we know who might have a project;
  3. Community leaders and project champions that the firm needs to target.

Once you have developed the list then plan who will be responsible for each target and what action is to be taken by when.

The Client Care Plan also needs to identify responsibilities and resources for:

  • New Client development;
  • Maintaining existing client relationships;
  • Pursuit of prospective projects;
  • External visibility [conference, seminar, lectures, article, interview, media and social media.

Review the Client Care Plan quarterly and adjust as necessary.