Tactics to Support and Influence your Client Base
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, in the AEC industry we view PR as a support tactic to win work and enhance your firm’s image. Ideally, it is 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 win work. 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. This means attending, participating on the Board of Directors, and supporting events and interests that this organization prioritizes. Where else can you spend 1-2 hours a month with 50 potential clients? Being involved in an association is also a very cost-effective marketing tool that has a high return on investment. It’s a good way to get more individuals involved in marketing – let them choose the client-oriented professional association in which they are most interested. The on-going interaction with past, present, and potential clients is one of the best ways to establish relationships. Maximize your interaction:
- Develop a targeted list of associations for participation
- Actively participate on committees, the 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 prove that you are professional. We recommend:
- Sharing costs with entire project team, 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
- Getting 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 authority among past, present, and potential clients. Be sure to:
- Make an annual calendar of conferences for participation
- Develop 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 the conference
- Obtain attendees 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 up 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 matter, thereby influencing their perceptions. Make them look forward to your next edition! Consider the following:
- Content must be useful to the reader – not a general promotion of your firm
- Include interviews with owners and potential clients
- Feature your clients and/or market sectors
- If budget is an issue, select a very targeted group of clients and send directly to them
- Create a modified version of your piece to different market sectors – make the content relevant to them and written as an authority on 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 spend your time writing about “newsworthy” topics. As yourself, “What would my clients find interesting?” 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:
- Focus more on external expertise than on internal news
- Interview and get quotes from the client, owner, users, other consultants, etc.
- Mail/email the press release 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
Statistics show that it takes between 7-12 interactions with your clients before they will remember you, your firm and what you are promoting. These support activities are so important in building your ongoing marketing and business development program. Be strategic in your use of these and other aspects to public relations and image building to help your clients keep you top of mind.