Last year, I finished my M.Arch and got back to developing Vanity Projects — a company I started to help Architects stand out and grow. I used to do lots of Architectural photography, writing and recording… but these things (done in the traditional way) matter a lot less in 2017 than they did 3 years ago. Over the last 3 years I’ve worked for or near Architects who stood out — not for their work — but for their branding, side-projects, hustle, social media, TED talks, studio culture and cool clients. This is the stuff I like, I’m learning more about it now through speaking to my clients all the time and peering outside our field. I’ve got a lot of love for awesome Architects who hate juggling all this shit and just want to focus on doing great work. The first small step has been Instagram for Architects. My gut tells me that Instagram is more important for firms than awards or publications right now and a total blind-spot, so I’m helping lots of firms to do better at it. The next step is building a team, and offering fully outsourced marketing services for 1–10 person studios. That’s my resolution for 2017, but what comes next in this article are the big exciting intuitive moves Architects can try right now to do something special.
Grab some headlines. (PR)
Getting published still matters a lot, but I don’t think it matters for the obvious reason (stranger reads article… phone rings). Publication matters now because it means professionals are producing amazing content that you can chop up and share however and wherever you want. I’m pretty bearish on the readership of our favourite Architectural publications, so I don’t think it’s smart to rely on them to do your marketing for you. Print is sketchy, and on the internet, you could get more traffic through Instagram alone than some of the name-brands do with a bit of time and patience. Alexa says ArchitectureAU gets 2926 visitors per day, with 73% leaving the site without clicking anything. By comparison, my tiny Instagram (which I’ve only been posting to properly for little over a week) already gets 700 users every day. An actual architect doing actual things could 10x this, and engage with the visitors, and target locations and demographics and so on. Crazy ROI, it works every day of the year, and you’re in control. Gary Vaynerchuk would say that in today’s world, you’re a media company first and an Architecture company second.
Publication in 2017 is an exciting mess, we don’t need to rely on a few big gatekeepers to give our work props anymore. That’s why I love Bowerbird, the brainchild of Nic Granleese and Ben Morgan. It helps you organise your built work into media kits, then smash them out to loads of great writers and podcasters who have given the nod to see your shit. By focusing on a diversified basket of media types, you start to reach new audiences and shape-shift your work between long and short formats, and hopefully accumulate a bunch of great content that you can chop up and send everywhere.
If you just want to blast some polite DIY emails and don’t need a kit, check out this short video I made on the process to find journalist’s email addresses and send convincing cold-emails.
With all these opportunities, it’s become really stressful for Architects to talk about their Unique Value Proposition. It’s the headline-grabber that gets you written about and invited to things. I get asked about this a lot, especially from clients who have attended business courses and been put on the spot to come up with something. “I’m an award-winning Fitzroy architect specialising in unique residential, commercial and hospitality blah blah blah”. For this step, watch Seth Godin’s Freelancer Course on Udemy — the key takeaways are firstly that it’s really important to be remarkable rather than just somewhat demonstrably better than everyone else — and secondly, that the jump to remarkable actually has a lot more to do with branding, communication and business development than it does with skill.
Either way, a snappy UVP or headline only matters for getting published. In 2017, you don’t need to get published to get everyone’s attention. See below.
Create a content pillar. (Marketing)
This is huge! I can’t wait to start helping studios be the first in the country to do this. The problem is simple and widespread — if you aren’t being published, and don’t have any sexy new snaps from John Gollings in your inbox this week, WTF do you put out on social media to build an audience and get people’s attention? I heard a great term, Content Pillar.
It’s essentially a weekly program — imagine a TV show that’s on at the same time every week. I‘ll stick with video for this example, because it’s easy and awesome. The idea is to take one hour every week to make something long, consumable and detailed. Perhaps it’s the Andrew Maynard #Great3DPrintOff, the Post Architecture #YogaTechture, the WOWOWA #CouldYouBeMineSuburbTour. Film it in your office, or your car. Seriously, drive around the suburbs like Jerry Seinfeld critiquing the homes you pass. Something fun, documentary, and conversational. Involve your team and clients.
Take that video, then have a goon like me — or your super-hip work experience kid — turn the major design ideas that came up into 2–4 long-form blog posts like this one. You can dictate additional detail then have it transcribed, if needed. Then from that article, extract 20–30 highlights — insightful quotes (that you can overlay on top of images and put on Instagram) and short 30–60 second clips that you can post on Facebook. There you go! One hour of shit-talking chopped up into weekly videos, blog posts, and social media gold. Accompany this with your own work, some stuff we’ll talk about later, and a bunch of daily documentary Instagram ‘Stories’ and you’ll be seriously killing it.
Get handsy on Instagram & curate it ‘till you make it. (Marketing)
Instagram in 2017 isn’t really about your eyes, it’s about your hands. So many Architects are feeling sad because they post like crazy and the account never goes anywhere. The trick is outbound engagement. Go to the account of that awesome cafe down the road with great interior design, peek through their list of followers, find the people that fit your studio vibe and follow them. If you’re a residential Architect, figure out a targeting strategy that works for you, or speak to us. Like their photos, leave comments, be an awesome person in the #architecture community. Your followers will skyrocket, and so will your client enquiries. Interaction and engagement gets attention.
In terms of content, keep posting your stuff, but step it up. Feed in the byproducts of the content pillar, add the stuff you’ve chopped out of publications — but if you don’t have anything… curate. Check out my account, or Bowerbird’s, or Australian Architecture’s, and The Local Projects’s. Notice a pattern? We curate, picking the best design we see and sharing it. Seems like a strange thing to do, but the world desperately needs more DJ’s when everything is so noisy. Your audience will thank you for it. Talk to me about ways to make this process easier using apps like Zapier and Buffer.
Hire a stalker. (Branding)
A big part of your brand as a small studio is YOU. Branding isn’t a logo, it’s a promise of the experience of working with you. Prospective clients don’t want an awkward blind-date, they want to have a crush right? Godin talks about being remarkable as being asked for by name (I’d add… not by building). This resolution relates to allocating your marketing budget. I’ve felt for a long time that a bit too much money is spent on photographing finished buildings. 4–5 digit spends are the norm, and the industry shells out. I get it, awesome photos by big-name photographers are the only hope of a magazine cover, a nice award and so on. That’s cool, but what about your brand and you? Or Instagram? How much money do we spend capturing that each year? If you’re a residential architect, my gut tells me that the mums and dads want to know lot more about YOU before they trust you with their dream project.
Here’s my radical budget allocation for small-studio photography. Take what you spend on photography and awards right now and chop it in half. Take half, go on airtasker or look around on Instagram and find someone awesome and cheap, a freelancer. They could specialise in weddings, parties, clubs and events. Pay them by the hour to tag-along with you to site visits and client meetings. Ask them to focus on social media appropriate images following a style guide that you’ve created, and prioritise a quick turnaround. For a small expense, you’ll have a stockpile of unbelievably cool images that document the heart and soul of your brand and a give a great outsider’s perspective on your projects as they evolve. This stuff will be the core of your social media content. Try it for a few weeks, it would be really interesting!
Build a pipeline. (Sales)
This resolution is a bit of a conclusion. Everything I’ve written about above is geared towards dramatically increasing interest in your studio and your work by capturing people’s attention. A lot of Architects I speak to tell me they don’t want to get into social media because they already have too many unproductive enquiries, and a shitload of fruitless meetings killing their mojo.
A few years ago I did a masterclass with Glenn Murcutt, and he told us how important it is for him to find patient clients that will give him the time and space to do thoughtful work. If you asked Glenn to work on your house today — even if he really liked your brief — he’d tell you politely that he wouldn’t be able to start for 1–2 years. Would your clients wait that long? That’s called qualifying leads, aka getting rid of the dickheads/tyre kickers. I’ve never designed a house, but I know from developing my own business that 20% of clients are responsible for 80% of the pain in my ass. It’s probably a similar story at your studio. To fix this, I built a really serious pipeline to weed them out early, and ensure that only the best leads make it all the way to the meeting… only the ones that are worth my time get my time. The key for me is to have a very detailed sales pipeline, basically a series of increasingly testing qualifying steps where people who’ve contacted me come in one end and awesome clients come out the other end — everyone else gets the boot. For Instagram for Architects, it’s 17 steps…and our service is pretty simple. For a huge Architectural commitment, I reckon you’d want a lot more! Once I had this structure for qualifying leads in an effective and controlled way, the goal simply becomes to get as many as people in the front door as possible (which is where awesome marketing comes in). What I’ve seen so far is that studios with disorganised sales pipelines are afraid to do marketing and social media. They don’t really want to be noticed because getting noticed blocks the pipes, kills the calendar and fucks the projects. Sadly, these studios tend to lose momentum once the current projects are completed and it takes months to refill the funnel.
That’s why I think the most important action for 2017 is simply this, pick up a big stick and use it to smack away anything that isn’t worth your time. Then, generate awesome content to help you get as many at-bats as you can. I‘m hear this all the time… “I try to just do the best work I can for my current clients”. If you’re in that camp, that’s rad — I want to talk to you. Marketing doesn’t help if the product is shit. Speak to me to find out how we can help your studio. I’m looking to grow, and I’m going to need awesome studios who care about doing great work and making their clients happy to help us prove that Architecture isn’t dead.