Architecture Firms Tell Us How Marketing Requires an Evolved Set of Social Skills

The office of MAD Architects, from our feature Office Still Life. Photo credit: Marc Goodwin/Archmospheres

The office of MAD Architects, from our feature Office Still Life. Photo credit: Marc Goodwin/Archmospheres

Not long ago, marketing for architecture firms primarily relied on word of mouth. Golf games, dinners at country clubs and schmoozing were once a big part of the job description for the person in charge the firm’s marketing. The field, however, has shifted dramatically and fraternizing with wealthy elites in the hopes of them becoming one’s next client are getting replaced with competition entries, press kits, social media, and branding.

In the early 20th century, marketing one’s practice was actually forbidden by the AIA. Concerned that underbidders would produce something of a lesser quality, the first Principles of Practice adopted in 1909 by the association barred architects from marketing themselves and prohibited firms from knowingly competing with one another by offering to charge less for the same work. Advertising, even proposals and sketches, were prohibited by the professional organization as architects were essentially required to charge the same percentage of construction cost.

In 1972, the AIA finally agreed to allow members to submit price quotes, competitive bids, discounts, or free work such as proposals and sketches. As a result, marketing became an increasingly vital part of architecture firms; it helps bring in new clients, adds value to the brand, and helps to attract and retain top talent. Today, as Matthew Hoffman from Blank Space said, “architecture ventures can’t rely on answering RFPs anymore, we need to actively create opportunities for ourselves. It’s a completely different mindset.”

marketing is a collaborative process that requires excellent communication and critical thinking

This means that firms are looking to fill these positions with candidates that have an entrepreneurial spirit. At Blank Space, “for candidates [they’ve] hired, this has involved starting organizations at their University, crafting successful Kickstarter campaigns, and raising their own funding for an installation.” For New York-based firm Studio V, this is “someone who is outgoing and has a dynamic personality, with excellent communication skills, extremely organized and is able to manage up to the principal of the firm.”

Studio Gang is looking for a Marketing Director as the firm grows and begins work on a wider range of scales, types, and locations. They want a candidate who is excited to not only take on the role, but be fully integrated in the firm. Sarah Kramer, a Senior Editor at the firm, tells us, “marketing is not a siloed activity at our office. Just like design, it’s a collaborative process that requires excellent communication and critical thinking. Our ideal candidate would be enthusiastic about working directly with Studio leadership and our communication and design teams on proposals and other pursuits. They would be invested in understanding our work, approach, and mission; expert at identifying project opportunities that corresponds with our interests; and adept at conveying—verbally and visually—the specific ways in which we would address these projects.”

The marketing component at architecture firms is business to business as opposed to marketing to the general public. Amanda Sigafoos, who has been working as a Marketing Director for the LA-based Rios Clementi Hale Studios since 2008, told us that she imagines “that marketers at law and accounting firms have a similar job to [hers], but a marketer working for a tech company selling an app, or a marketer working for Mattel selling Barbie dolls, would have very different roles and responsibilities from [hers]. Job descriptions for these roles often talk about specific reporting and metrics that are important to their job success. They often have very targeted and specific campaigns for new products and trends. Product marketers are marketing to consumers as opposed to clients or collaborators.”

Compared to other industries, marketing architecture “is almost exclusively based on relationships. They are cultivated over many years, based on referrals from other existing relationships, or begin based on an earned reputation supported from other successful relationships. We don’t earn clients via billboards or radio commercials; we earn clients from thoughtful and appropriate proposals and the strength of our reputation.”

Most firms looking to fill these positions are looking for candidates with a background in the architecture and design communities

Sigafoos began her career in the field while still a student at USC’s Marshall School of Business. While completing an assignment for a class on sales, she reached out to Calvin Abe of Ahbe Landscape Architects to discuss the AEC procurement process and was later offered an interview opportunity for the position of Marketing Coordinator at his firm, which she ended up landing. After working at Ahbe for five years, she joined Rios Clementi.

When discussing her role with Archinect, Sigafoos noted that the position fills more duties than might be immediately obvious. At her current firm, she works on proposals and statements of qualification (sometimes submitted together, sometimes not), coordinates contracting and insurance certificate assignments, documents and tracks opportunity details in our CRM software, produces project photo shoots, works with our publicists on office and project PR campaigns, event coordination, and works with her team on award submission support, social media plans, website implementation, blog updates, office presentations, and more. One of her proudest accomplishments to date is the publication of RCHS’ first book, Not Neutral: For Every Place, Its Story.

Most firms looking to fill these positions are looking for candidates with a background in the architecture and design communities and the desired levels of experience, depending on the position and firm, tend to range from 1-5 years. The skills required, though varied from firm to firm, largely include strong communication and writing skills, a strength in graphic design, good organization and people skills, fluency in social media and SEO tools, and a proficiency in Adobe Creative Suite and Microsoft Office. Sounds interesting? Looking for a new job? Take a look at our job board to find the marketing position for you!


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