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Does your practice have a communications plan?

Aug 14, 2018
  • Article by Online Editor

As part of a regular series, AR asks a panel of experts their response to the following question: does your practice have a communications plan in place and do you think this is important?

Brooke Lloyd, director, head of interiors, Cox Architects

Brooke Lloyd

As an architect or designer, it’s natural to assume a circular relationship of ‘win work, do work, publish work’ in terms of marketing. To a certain extent this remains true, our work is the best marketing tool. Following such a singular approach, however, results in fragmented and ‘transactional’ messaging and limits our ability to tell a practice narrative that is coherent and holistic – beyond the business of projects.

‘Design excellence’ as a positioning has become so prevalent that it’s now meaningless and does very little to differentiate one practice from another (as a claim, if not as a reality). It also fails to acknowledge that non-designer audiences can benefit from being provided with additional context, tools, cues and messages, with which to interrogate our work. This is where the importance of planning comes in – proactive, holistic and based on the desire to differentiate the what, the how and, most important, the ‘why’ we do what we do. We want to enable stakeholders to make a choice of design partner based more on insight and understanding, and less on who has the best hero shot.

This desire to cram all the meaning and inherent sophistication of architecture into an image has only been exacerbated by social media platforms – effectively turning stories into sound bites. Social media is incredibly powerful, but using it inappropriately renders our work as fashion to be judged purely on aesthetics.

Just as with design, understanding context is critical to deriving real benefit from marketing. And these benefits only come from insight and planning. Too many practices ‘push’ projects, when we should be revealing expressions of an overall narrative.

Genevieve Brannigan, director, Communications Collective

Genevieve Brannigan

As Australians continue to develop a strong interest in design, buildings and construction, architecture practices are being recognised for their role in shaping the built environment around us. It is vital, then, that architecture practices are able to communicate effectively given the diverse range of invested stakeholders requiring information.

There is an enormous opportunity for architects to educate and inform the public, share their stories and help shape the conversation around broader civic issues. Engaging with so many different groups requires tailored forms of communication to cater to a variety of needs, knowledge levels and agendas. Design needs to be encapsulated and articulated, whether it be telling the story of a building or explaining its features far beyond the façade.

These narratives add depth to individual projects and allow for a stronger appreciation for the industry, which, in turn, allows it to develop. Architecture needs recognition and a more positive, collaborative approach – particularly given the increasing densification of cities. The built environment industry is at a crucial point. Buyers are more astute than ever, seeking buildings and homes that reflect their values. Coupled with a rise in sustainable and ethical property developers, architecture practices must ensure long-term viability by effectively communicating their crucial role in this shifting landscape.

Rapid technological and societal changes have made this difficult as audiences are now found on a growing number of platforms. This demands customised content to effectively spread messages among the key stakeholders and users of buildings. 

Yvette Breytenbach director, Morrison and Breitenbach Architects

Yvette Breytenbach

Tasmania in the early 1990s was remote and isolated from the Australian mainland and the world. In this pre-internet era, Morrison & Breytenbach Architects was established, becoming a mid-sized ‘fish’ practising in a small regional pond. “Why,” a puzzled, Sydney- based colleague asked me at the time, “would you choose to practise in Hobart?”

Looking at the friendships, community, lifestyle and project opportunities we found here as new migrants, my response has been, “Why wouldn’t we?”

In recent times, the MONA phenomenon and internet connectedness has brought robust growth in tourism. For architects, it has translated into mainland clients, but also significantly increased offshore competition, as remote working is made easy courtesy of the ‘cloud’. These changes have spawned the essential need for a business presence across the different platforms of the ether.

Reader demographic, their interests, priorities and likely duration of engagement, guide our posts and ‘voice’. For each, we pitch a slightly different content, intonation and appeal, communicating architectural values, design approach and project wins or detail.

On Instagram we emphasise persona, mood, what grabs our eye and makes us tick, as people and a practice. Our Facebook page serves as a modest resource of themes we value – things sustainable, clever and provocative. Our website news (shared to our Facebook page) aims to rouse curiosity, guiding viewers to the broader site, which offers detail of example projects we have realised.

LinkedIn? A recruitment platform? Twitter? Useful trending conversation? We remain, by choice, a small local practice. Finding balance and investing time in our still informal communication plan is our increasingly important challenge.

David Barr, director, David Barr Architects

David Barr

As it nears the 10-year mark, our practice has had two phases of communication, reflecting a transition from a one-person office working exclusively on residential alterations and additions to a small office of five working on a mix of residential, multi-residential and urban design projects. The communications plan has evolved from an implicit, unformed strategy into a documented plan, itself evolving. In the first five years of the practice any commission was gratefully accepted, and the marketing strategy relied heavily on word of mouth, AIA awards and the occasional publication. Reflecting a practice finding its voice, the ‘communications plan’ was fluid and reasonably unfocused.

Now, as our practice grows and seeks larger and more targeted commissions, we are aware that our communications plan is crucial to presenting the office to diverse client types (domestic, commercial and institutional). With a sense of purpose developed over the decade, we aim to communicate clearly to each potential client about the practice’s values, strengths and capabilities.

We avoid jargon and talk honestly about what we believe in and how we work. We see our communication with the world at large as a series of independent threads, which collectively support and reinforce each other, creating a larger practice identity.

Our communications plan is important within the office too, capturing the character of the practice and helping us to collectively create and understand our work and our culture.

This article originally appeared in AR156 – available online and digitally through Zinio.

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