Is there a PR Consultant in Your Future?
MJC: What would a firm do to prepare for this?
JC: First of all, the decision makers in an architecture firm should really understand the firm's strengths and weaknesses, who they are, their clients' and their industry's perceptions of the firm. They have to step back a little bit. Sometimes they need image surveys or just some informal debriefing of people in their circle. They need their staff's perceptions. It's very important to have some assessment of where you stand in relation to your competition.
MJC: During the course of the PR program, how do we measure if we're getting anywhere?
JC: The PR plan serves as a road map, not only to tell us where we agree we're going, but to evaluate progress along the way.
MJC: How detailed is the plan itself?
JC: It can vary, and that depends upon the budget and on the firm. It can outline specific tactics along with the strategies, publications to be reached, and when. We even slot in editorial calendar type studies, so we will know that in August, we have to have an abstract or a proposal to such-and-such a publication if we want to take advantage of an opportunity to promote the firm's R&D experience. There will be dates of conferences and seminars in that market that you're trying to reach, with deadlines for submitting proposals.
MJC: As an architect, what should I expect from you beyond periodic reports that tell us what you've been doing. What are your responsibilities to me?
JC: You should expect us to be available as counsel, you should be able to pick up the phone and say "Something's come up, I'd like some feedback from you." You should have access. You should know who is working on your account, and how much of the principal's time you get. You might have questions about conflicts of interest.
MJC: Do I hire the consultant who's working for my competitor?
JC: I wouldn't. We don't represent directly competitive firms. If there's an opportunity for one, what do you do? I think you'd want to feel that your PR consultant is making available to you every opportunity they're aware of, not only half of them.
MJC: How do you measure success?
JC: The plan is as critical as a road map. You take a look, and see if the objectives of the plan are being met. Then there are softer issues—you will know if it feels like things are moving forward. Are you getting recognition? If the results are used properly, it should increase recognition of the firm. It should increase leads and inquiries in your target audiences, and it should increase market share in the target markets. That's the best way to evaluate.
MJC: How would I find a PR consultant? Where would I start to look?
JC: You can contact the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS). It's an organization for marketing principals and/or directors of firms throughout the design and construction industry, whose purpose is to raise the level of professionalism and provide networking opportunities. SMPS provides names of consultants. Another good way to find a consultant is to ask people; if you notice that a firm has good visibility, ask them. And ask marketing people. They know their peers throughout the industry.
Jane Cohn, Associate AIA, and a Fellow of SMPS, heads Jane Cohn Public Relations, a national public relations consulting firm serving the architectural profession, based in Sherman, Connecticut.
Michael J. Crosbie is an architect, author, professor, associate with Steven Winter Associates, Inc., and a contributing editor to ArchitectureWeek.
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