Guidance for AEC Industry Firm Management and Principals

Are your technical professionals receiving the reception they would like when attending a client-oriented association event? When your business development leaders are contacting potential client agencies, how often is the firm name recognized? What is that potential client’s perception of your firm? What have they “heard on the street” about your people, projects, and services? These and many other similar scenarios give a snapshot of one important, and often missing, piece to your marketing mix. 


A strong marketing mix includes marketing, business development, client relations, and public relations. This combination of activities should equally support your firm’s strategic plan. But for many firms, a missing link is the underappreciated contribution that public relations can provide for architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) firms. 


Public Relations is a Crucial Support Tool that Opens Doors

Everyone that needs to support the allocation of funds for a marketing program understands the need, time, and expense demanded to strategize, write, review, edit, assemble, and deliver proposals. A website is not a must-have commodity that portrays your firm’s branded message. Project pages, resumes, brochures, databases, and other collateral are necessary to present your firm’s experience, expertise, and strengths. However, public relations is often disregarded and minimized as an unnecessary cost. 


There are very few deadlines associated with AEC public relations efforts and tracking measurable results is nearly impossible. As firm leadership, buy-in to the planning and implementation of a measurable public relations plan will support your other marketing and business development efforts in a way no other areas can. When executed in a strategic way, a results-driven public relations program is a powerful tool for building brand awareness in an era where competition is fierce. A public relations program will help your firm establish AEC thought leadership, promote niche expertise, and keep your firm’s image top-of-mind among clients and colleagues alike. 


To understand the crucial role AEC public relations can play in a successful communications strategy, let’s start with the basics. 


What is Public Relations for the AEC Industry? 

Many view public relations merely as sending out press releases. Yes, it can be securing coverage in key industry publications but only if your firm has a strategic objective for this goal. So, what else is public relations?


Public relations for an AEC firm can be defined as “activities that enhance the image of your firm” according to Keri Hammond, FSMPS, CPSM. “Public relations helps an AEC firm review core business strategies and develop, deliver and measure messaging in a manner that will reach key target audiences.” Public relations is your tool to tell your story. There are many avenues to spread your message.


Public relations requires a long-term view of investing in the firm’s success. However, nothing is more effective than consistent and ongoing public relations activities. Benefits include: 

  • Showcase the firm’s work
  • Increase name, experience, people, and core value recognition
  • Influence public opinion
  • Reinforce and support branding


Public Relations Efforts Enhance Your Direct Marketing Efforts

Public relations is the foundation and support for your business development efforts. When pitching new clients or networking a crowded room, it helps immensely if the potential contact already knows your firm, experts, and projects by reputation. The conversation begins as a warm call which means you have less work to do to educate your audience about your capabilities and experience. This makes your goal of developing a relationship much easier.


Why is Public Relations Ideal for the AEC Industry?

Firms in the architecture, engineering, construction, and real estate industries often rely on their reputation and relationships to win new business. The sales process is long and slow when it comes to relationship development, and it is impossible to know what piece of valuable information will advance that relationship to the point of a project award. Public relations can help promote your firm brand and identity, increase respect for your firm’s experts, and position your seller/doers for opportunities to enhance their network on a regular basis. 


Some tools in the public relations toolbox can require some budget allocation such as advertising, direct mail, sponsorships, and other paid marketing tactics. However, most public relations tactics are relatively inexpensive. Additionally, for the many small and mid-sized firms that make up a large part of the industry landscape, public relations can help create a bigger competitive impression. A successful image building campaign can help any firm, large or small, get the same value with careful planning.


Just One Piece of the Puzzle

While successful public relations programs may include some or all our suggested tools, the most important consideration is how these pieces can be used to support your firm’s strategic business goals.


Public relations for AEC firms can be a powerful tool in any communications strategy; however, to be truly effective, public relations should be incorporated with marketing and business development activities as well. It is commonly accepted that it takes 7–12 “touches” for a contact to remember who you are, what you do/offer, and to make a lasting impression. Public relations tactics can help you make those touches through some indirect marketing activities. With a combination of direct marketing tactics as well as an online presence, social media, direct mail, speaking engagements, networking, and traditional marketing, you can be confident your firm will have the strongest communications plan possible. 


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About The Author

Keri Hammond, FSMPS, CPSM

Keri is a long-standing trailblazer in the Utah AEC industry. Clients appreciate her ability to get things done – they know she does whatever it takes, with integrity, to help them build their business. Keri is known for her leadership and diplomacy; she motivates others with positivity, trust, and unwavering support.

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