Around Australia, many architects are knowledgeable, capable and passionate about design, but many are less keen on promoting themselves and their firms or to evolve into forward thinking leaders.
In this context, it is timely to think about why architects need to develop marketing skills as well as how they can evolve their styles to establish leadership credentials in a changing environment.
Mark Jeffrey, managing director of culture and leadership consultancy ODG Solutions offers some insights. Jeffrey will speak on both topics at the BILT – RTC conference in May this year.
First, there is marketing.
According to Jeffrey, the importance of marketing skills should not be underestimated. As with counterparts across other professional service areas, he says design firms which fail to promote themselves are limited in their opportunities, more susceptible to the boom-bust cycle of architecture, and less likely compared with their more proactive counterparts to manage difficult times without the need for hard decisions.
Individually, he says architects whose firms are not growing can feel stifled.
By contrast, firms whose workers adopt an active marketing approach are more readily able to expand and grow. For firm and worker alike, this creates opportunities to diversify their range of projects and establish themselves on a sustainable financial footing.
Furthermore, the ability to promote yourself and your firm’s offerings serves architects well irrespective of how their career evolves. In an environment in which many will work in multiple fields throughout their career, this is invaluable.
Moreover, developing marketing skills early helps architects manage later transitions where they reach partnership level and are expected to bring in work.
He encourages workers to avoid leaving marketing to a select few.
“Take ownership over it”, Jeffrey says. “Get out there and market and start doing the type of work that you want to do. There are massive opportunities for people to create their own destiny and the type of work that they want to do.
“But if you wait for other people to actually do your marketing, you get what you get.”
Jeffrey says teaching of commercial skills is largely absent from architectural education programs – one factor that can hold architects back from promoting and marketing their work. Culturally, too, he says Australia places greater emphasis upon people being technical specialists with a narrower focus as opposed to seeing themselves as broader business people with abilities in sales and marketing.
This, he says, is exacerbated by perceptions surrounding marketing which are inaccurate. In fact, he says, to be able to go out into the marketplace, generate opportunities and derive solutions for the prospective client before winning that order and delivering the work is rewarding.
Jeffrey says there are several common marketing mistakes made.
First is not doing marketing at all. Marketing abilities, he says, grow with confidence which in turn grows with practice and experience. To gain that, he says architects must shift attitudes and embrace opportunities to promote themselves and their firms.
Second, there is developing the wrong skills. People vary according to their temperaments, personalities and preferences, and strategies which work for some may not be best for others. Applying a ‘cookie-cutter’ approach can lead to people becoming frustrated and discouraged. Rather, individuals must be afforded room to discover strategies which best suit them.
Once they have skills, they need strategy and purpose. Too often, Jeffrey says, architects attend conferences without planning how they will maximise value from the event. Rather, he suggests preparing beforehand and learning who is running the event and who will attend. From there, you can plan who you will target for conversation, who you bring, how you will meet people and conduct yourself, as well as how you will follow up after the event.
In developing an online presence, as well, it is important to plan how you will leverage this effort and measure your return on investment.
On leadership in an evolving world, Jeffrey says the most important things are flexibility, adaptability and openness to change. Those unable to move with what is happening quickly lose credibility. Whilst leaders are often painted as charismatic, in reality, they are proactive and adaptable.
In architecture, he says, you often have senior people who deliver a large volume of client work. These people, Jeffrey said, are often unable to lead within their organisation as a result of being too externally focused and need a greater presence within their firm.
More so, firms need a strong culture in regard to strategy and promotion. Everyone from the front counter person to those who run the organisation, he says, must understand and buy into their role in business development and marketing.
He says this is important given that sector is becoming more competitive.
“It’s becoming increasingly more competitive, we are outsourcing a lot of work overseas,” Jeffrey said.
“Because of that, we need to become more price competitive. Right across Australia, you have an exodus of senior people who have been around a long time and who get work because of their presence and their credibility in the market. They are going.
“So what happens next? With a lot of people who aren’t as necessarily as well known in the market. They have got to create a profile and be branding themselves and continuing it for the firm.”