reatively, there’s never been a more exciting time to be an architect. New materials, the drive for sustainability and opportunities for enhanced collaborative processes opened up by BIM have broadened the possibilities. Meanwhile, best practice across the globe is pushing the boundaries both structurally and aesthetically.
Research recently carried out by the Construction Marketing Experts (CME) team indicates that, away from the showpiece schemes, the market remains challenging for many architects. Escalating land values, funding uncertainty and the popularity of design-and-build procurement routes are all putting pressure on architects’ fees. Indeed, the latest Turner & Townsend construction market survey highlights that the cost of construction gap is narrowing between London and the regions, making the squeeze on fees and competition for commissions a national issue.
The research made it clear that many architects feel long-term value from their projects and creativity in their design approach are being compromised by a focus on driving down fees and increasing the yield of the development. As Paul Miele from Lewis and Hickey commented: “Although competitive fees are often a driving factor in decision-making, these are a relatively small part of an overall development. It is more important to consider how the design will maximise value for money long term rather than just the cheapest price.”
John Tehan from Smallwood Architects is also concerned at the impact that a focus on short-term financial return is having on the long-term value delivery and sustainability of both commercial and residential schemes.
“Commercial clients need to allow space for imaginative solutions,” John commented. “Too often, the focus is on volume to try and maximise returns, but in the long term, a more imaginative, creative design could prove to be a better investment.”
So how can architects encourage developers and investors to think more holistically about the value of good design – in terms of both fees and build costs – rather than looking at raw figures on a page and making decisions based primarily on capex returns?
It’s not a new problem, but it is an issue exacerbated by current market conditions and uncertainty. It’s also a concern for contractors contracted to deliver the quality and aesthetic impact of a high-end scheme, despite being tasked with engineering out a significant amount of the cost.
Communicate to stay ahead
While there is no magic fix to make an increased budget or a reduced expectation of investment yield appear from the ether, securing buy-in to a quality approach where the client gains added value is all about communication. And that communication needs to be built on more than a discussion of the current scheme: it needs to be embedded in all an architect’s marketing materials both on- and offline.
As David Hills from RH Partnership pointed out in our survey responses: “While any commercial client needs to carry out due diligence and check compliance matters, scoring systems should be led by the architect’s experience, quality and a focus on the client’s needs.”
A sustained and effective marketing programme helps the client to understand that experience, quality and focus even before the client/design team relationship is formed, whether that relationship is between developer and architect or main contractor and architect.
Your target audience
Your website is your shop window, so ensure that it’s easy to navigate and gives an instant visual indication of what you’re all about, both in the design and layout and in the photography and/or CGIs used. Most architects prefer their website to be visually led rather than copy heavy, which is fine. However, potential clients cannot understand everything about your approach, your talent pool and the ways in which your practice can add value from images alone. Ensure you articulate your points of difference on your website in terms that are meaningful to your target audience.
It’s also important to remember that websites are not all about aesthetics. Your site must be designed as a shop window but developed as a commercial tool. It should help you track impressions and pages visited, capture data and integrate hosted content with your social media accounts.
As a profession, architects are ahead of the curve when it comes to social media, with a strong presence on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. However, a marketing agency can help you ensure that you’re generating informative content that’s shared strategically with groups and prospects, rather than just reposting and sharing images. This will not only help you communicate who you are as a practice but will also help to boost your search listings online.
While social media and online channels may be the new Mecca for content, it’s also important to consider the merits of traditional PR when educating the marketplace about your practice and the need to invest in quality architectural services. News stories, feature articles, awards and case studies are all ways in which a professional PR and marketing agency can help you to leverage your projects and demonstrate your expertise to the stakeholders you want to engage.
Indeed, your marketing agency can even repurpose the content they’re generating to help you maintain important client and influencer relationships or re-engage with old contacts via newsletters, blogs, LinkedIn posts or e-shots.
The construction market is constantly changing, and architecture is a discipline that has always moved with the times. The challenge now is to harness the multi-channel platforms out there to communicate the added value you can bring to clients as they also try to manage change and maximise opportunity.