What is public relations in our industry? PR is often seen as an advertising mechanism, intended for general publicity. While that may be true in other industries, we view PR for the AEC industry as a support tactic to win business and enhancing your firm’s image. At it’s best, it can be used as an activity that supports and influences your client base to develop a long-term relationship that results in winning work.
There are numerous tools you can include in your PR arsenal. We’ve helped firms use direct mail, newsletters, awards, special events, tradeshows, and other tactics to winning business. The tactics you choose will depend on your goals and your budget. Following are six of our most effective favorites.
1. Association Involvement
If you are only able to implement one piece of your public relations plan, we suggest you prioritize becoming actively involved in a client-oriented association. It’s a good way to get more individuals in your firm involved in marketing. Let them choose the client-oriented professional association in which they are most interested. This means attending meetings, participating on the Board of Directors, and supporting events and interests that this organization prioritizes. Where else can you spend one or two hours a month with 50 potential clients? The ongoing interaction with past, present, and potential clients is one of the best ways to establish relationships. Being involved in an association is also a very cost-effective marketing tool that has a high return on investment. Maximize your interaction:
- Develop a targeted list of associations for participation
- Actively participate on committees, board, etc.
- Speak at events
- Sponsor events
- Before each meeting, make a list of targets you specifically want to meet
Great photography is essential! High-quality visual representation of your projects and people is the best way to enhance your marketing materials and the work you do. We recommend:
- Sharing costs with the entire project team including contractor, client, and major suppliers
- Negotiating rates with selected photographers
- Determining if publications have preferred photographers
- Researching the AIAP website for recommended photographers in local areas
- Obtaining photos of “detail” shots to utilize for ANY project type
- Get a variety of vertical and horizontal photographs so they can be used for all your marketing material needs
3. Speaking Engagements
Show them you’re the expert! Speaking engagements are a free opportunity to establish yourself as an industry expert amongst past, present, and potential clients. Be sure to:
- Make an annual calendar of conferences for participation
- Develop a speech series for each market sector that can be utilized several times
- Post the event (and a recap!) on your website
- Use in resumes for SOQs or proposals
- Interview attendees to learn of areas of interest and concern in their industry
- Schedule other appointments with potential/existing clients during conference
- Obtain the attendee list for future marketing efforts
4. Direct Mail/E-Newsletters
Direct mail and/or newsletters, whether electronic or printed, can be an excellent way to set your firm apart as an expert in certain areas (service, project type, market) and to promote your work indirectly. The key to a successful campaign is to focus on educating your audience (clients or potential clients) on different subject matters; thereby influencing their perceptions. Make them look forward to your next edition. Consider the following:
- Write content that is useful to the reader – it’s not about the general promotion of your firm
- Include interviews with owners and potential clients
- Feature your clients and/or market sectors
- Select very targeted group of clients and send directly to them if budget is an issue
- Create a modified version of your piece to different market sectors – make the content relevant to them and written as an expert in the subject matter
5. Press Releases
Press releases are a free opportunity to reach your target geography. We use them to inform our targeted public about events, projects, services, or firm information. Be sure to format the press release according to the needs of the editor to whom you are submitting. In order to get the most out of every press release:
- Make sure to spend your time writing about “newsworthy” topics. What would your clients find interesting? Don’t focus on internal news as much as external expertise.
- Use it as an opportunity to interview and get quotes from the client, owner, users, other consultants, etc.
- Mail/email it in its raw format to past, present, and potential clients. Even if it doesn’t get published, your clients will see it.
- Post it on your website and in your newsletter
- Use it in SOQs and proposals
There are many other aspects to public relations and image building. These support activities are important to building your ongoing marketing and business development program. Statistics show that it takes between 7–12 interactions before a client remembers you, your firm, and what you are promoting. Use these public relations tactics to supplement your direct marketing activities and make those interactions count.