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SMOKE & MIRRORS? The not-so-dark art of marketing and communications

Wednesday 22 July 2020

Margarita Boulaki
The Architecture Club member

A recording of the discussion can be found at the bottom of Margarita's write up.

The role of marketing and communications in architecture was explored during the last Architecture Club event, held online on Wednesday 22nd July. Good communication and marketing plays a strategic role for architecture practices today, but this doesn’t mean that it is always done right. The event, moderated by Emily Watson (Club Committee member), invited four experts from communications, marketing, publishing, and journalism who shared their experience but also gave insightful advice.

Caroline Cole (Founder of Colander Associates) stressed how architects need to be involved in the marketing process – even when they turn to professionals for their marketing strategy – as clients want to look through the designer’s eyes. The main purpose of the marketing strategy is to generate new business and build reputation in the market place, in order to attract the best clients as well as the best staff. Business development and marketing are often viewed as two different things, but have communication as a common parameter; architects need to communicate to the potential clients why their practice is the most appropriate for the client’s brief. They need to communicate how they will deliver the client’s aspiration – rather than their own. And in order to succeed in this, architects need to understand what drives their audience and express it in a language that they can relate to.

Claire Curtice (Director of Claire Curtice Publicists ) shared great examples of work which highlighted the importance of developing a clear narrative and how architects should have a very clear message to communicate, a story to tell, and then promote this story via a variety of different publications to reach a wide audience. Photography is a crucial tool to the creation of such a story, to promote and gain recognition of your work. Examples of a consistent style in the representation of projects through photographs prove how important this is in helping architects establish their voice. In order for the story to gain publicity, architects should be involved themselves – equally important though is the involvement and engagement of the community, as well as creating momentum with big reveals which generate public interest in the project.

Rory Olcayto (Writer and critic, Pollard Thomas Edwards) followed up, giving a different perspective through his experience as a writer and as a critic, focusing on how architecture criticism today needs to be more effective, how critics should reflect more on work and society, as PR is also on the rise. The current situation has allowed for reflection on the spaces we live in, as well as the wider culture that allow certain typologies to emerge, and what the role of architects is in the development of this different culture. Rory spoke about a new kind of architecture needed today, the architecture of anticipation, rather than forced participation. We need to design within a critical culture as well as within a delivery culture, respecting that people today don’t want very curated events, or very curated building and cities.

Celeste Bolte (Communications Specialist & Head of BowerBird UK) spoke about the bigger purpose of good communication in architecture which is seeing more architecture published, and more people outside the profession engaging with architecture. This cannot be achieved with a single publication, as it doesn’t serve all your interest – diversity and consistency is needed. As architecture is changing, communication and marketing in architecture practices is changing too, enhanced by technology, as more and more media are interested in architecture today. The profession as a whole should aim to reach more people and explain how design influences our lives. This can happen when practices engage with their audience via an efficient media plan. This is why communication and marketing should be an integrated part of a practice, and be valued as such, aiming to get the message seen in different places and in different ways.

All speakers agreed to the importance of promoting architecture to a wider audience, the variety of ways that this can be achieved as well as the importance of having a dedicated team forming a personalized communication. Marketing and communication is needed in architecture and there are great, efficient ways to get the right message across to the right audience.