Dave Sharp advises architecture firms on social media, communication and marketing strategy. More.
So this happens to architecture clients all the time.
They finish a new project, they get photos, they're really excited.
They think of their favorite magazine they would love their project to be in. They email the editor, send them the photos, and nothing happens. That's the end of it.
I get a lot of clients in that situation and they ask me, "how can I improve the chances?"
Now media's complicated and I'm not a PR professional, but there's a few little tricks that I figured out along the way working with my clients, and it's often ended up working out - clients will get published in a lot more places than they expected, and they end up getting a lot more traction on their project.
These are the steps that I recommend.
Step 1. Get the best architectural photographer that you can afford.
The first thing that you need is really good photos, obviously. It has to be a good project and you have to have good photos. So hire a talented, well-known photographer.
If possible, work with someone who focuses on architecture. They will often be the first person to introduce you to journalists and publications that they've given work to before.
If you can, spend a little bit extra to get some staging and some styling as well, just to make sure the photos really look the best that they possibly can.
I've had clients get emails back from publications saying things like "we love the project but we hate the furniture. So there's not much we can do with it.".
To avoid ending up in that situation, do some staging and some styling. Work with professionals, that's what they're there for.
The quality of your photography is the primary variable that will deide whether or not the project gains traction with a wider audience.
Step 2. Pick more than one or two publications.
When it comes to pitching your project to the media, architects always seem to just pick Dezeen or the leading architecture magazine in their area, and lose hope when they don't get a positive response.
There's all kinds of publications out there, all over the world, reaching millions of people.
Don't limit your project's potential by only sending a couple of emails.
Understandably, you just want to get your project out there and move onto the next thing: but dropping the ball at this stage is the biggest mistake I see architects making with their marketing.
I'd set your sights on pitching 30 to 40 publications. There's hundreds of architecture publications to choose from, and many more in the following niches that could relate to your project as well:
- Interior design.
- General design.
- Popular culture.
- Mainstream media and news.
- Real estate and property.
If every architect just reaches out to the same few publications, there is far too much competition. So broaden out your selection and pick a wider range of publications, identify the relevant journalists and get pitching!
Step 3: Fix your story. Think like the journalist.
Architects will often just announce that they have a new project. They don't provide much of a story, background, or interesting anecdotes that a journalist and their audience can relate to.
In most cases, "Architecture Firm Releases Photos Of New House." is not a compelling story for the media to sink their teeth into.
If your firm is very well known, that strategy can work. It might interest a journalist.
But if your firm is not particularly well known and you try to simply announce a project, the journalist might be thinking to themselves, "is anybody going to click on this if I publish it?".
We need to think about what we could do to help the journalist out. Their problems become our problems. How will more people click this?
We're trying to put ourselves in their shoes and think about their audience. What's going to interest them and improve the publication's traffic, shares, engagement and ad revenue?
We need an interesting, relatable story.
But how do we do it? Sometimes it's really hard to find a story, particularly if you're doing residential work, so what I like to do is dig a little bit deeper into the project's brief.
Who was the client? Were they are a doctor? Were they an elderly couple? Were they a family with young children? Do they have six dogs? Are they fly in fly out workers?
What is peculiar or interesting or somewhat differentiated about the lifestyle of the client?
Once we've figured out our approach, we go deeper to find the "story behind the story".
So your clients are an elderly couple? What's the story behind the story?
This project is for a retired couple that's downsizing: so our design is thoughtful about them feeling connected to their community, not feeling isolated. Here's how we did that...
It's about them having a place that's fun, that will make the grandkids come over more often, so we focused on...
As our clients age, they'll find themselves less able to manage the property, so here's how we helped to ease that transition...
Going through this process, I'm starting to think about the emotional aspects of the project too. What is emotionally gripping about the project?
Is it a story about fun, community, family, loneliness? All very strong, potent themes for you to write about.
By focusing on these themes, the audience has something to connect with or, at the very least, the audience who is in a similar position to your client will be able to relate to that project and say...
"oh, this is the kind of house that a person like me could live in."
A lot of the time, an audience will want to read about architecture projects designed for people like them.
The next step is to make it easy for journalists to work with your project.
Step 3: Put together an organised media kit.
When you're putting together your project information, it's best to build a media kit so that it's really simple for journalists to understand, navigate and copy the info.
You can do it in a word document, or using a tool like Bowerbird.
Your media kit will have your project description, photos, story lines (see step 3), and all of the details about the project like:
- What products were used?
- What was the budget?
- Who were the builders and other consultants?
- Quotes from the client.
Your media kit should also contain an extensive Q&A.
What was the brief? Challenges? Lessons? How does it relate to it's context?
Try to create an exhaustive list of questions for yourself, document your answers and organise the output in the media kit.
Make your media kit organised, clean and easy to navigate. It makes it really really easy for journalists to come along and just copy paste the information they need or, at the very least, to be able to just reference it clearly and get straight to the point.
Journalists are humans too, right? They want things to be efficient.
They want to get a good story without having to dedicate a whole week to it. Make it as easy for them as possible.
Step 5: Follow up on interested publications.
If you've emailed a journalist but they haven't gotten back to you after a few days, send them an email!
"Hey, how's it going?
I saw that you opened my media kit for X house. Do you have any questions about the project that I can help with? I'm here if there's anything that you would like to clear up or any information you'd like from me."
Follow-up works even better if you can see that they are actually actively looking at your email.
If you use BowerBird you can see which journalists have downloaded your Bowerkits. If you're just using good old fashioned email, you could use a mail tracking software like Boomerang or Mailtrack - these will help you tell who's actually opened your email and hasn't responded to you.
If you're using mail tracking and see that a journalist is downloading the photos or they're engaging with the email over and over again, over the course of a week, it's even more important that you reach out and follow up.
Journalists, like all of us, get distracted. One thing leads to another, and they end up dropping the ball. We all do that.
I've certainly seen clients following up with journalists and getting very positive responses along the lines of...
"I'm really sorry! I was just looking at this project and then something happened at work, but thank you for sending me this email, bringing it back to my attention.
I'm going to look at it more today and run it past the editor."
A reminder, a little bit of a follow up, can drive surprising results over time.
Do a great design, have a great photographer, invest in a little bit of staging.
Pick more than one publication.Look outside the design niche and think about how you can broaden out your selection so that you're not pinning all of your hopes on whatever the most popular magazine or website is.
Think a little bit deeper about your project and think about how you could focus on the clients or some interesting feature of the project, because you're trying to think like a journalists: eyeballs are how we make a living.
Make it easy for journalists to use your project. Put together a media kit or a Bowerkit. Make it easier to search, easier to navigate and easier to understand.
And finally, follow up. If you're just getting dead air from journalists, shoot them a polite follow up email to just get them back in the loop and get them talking to you again.