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Market your practice for new work during lockdown

23 April 2020

The coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis is presenting significant obstacles to practices to overcome. While government grants such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan can provide some financial protection for the time being, there remains the problem of finding new work before current projects come to an end.

What are practices doing instead to grab potential clients’ attention in the absence of conventional networking?

One growing UK practice that is being ingeniously proactive during the coronavirus crisis is the London-based E2 Architecture+Interiors. It has been busy promoting an online ‘Lockdown Architect’ service to homeowners and developers.

The practice has reworked and rebranded the entry-level service it was already offering, coming up with a remotely delivered alternative.

Previously, one of their architects would have sat down with a potential client for several hours to discuss their ambitions, their options, constraints of the site and so on. This would then be turned into a no-obligation document with sketch designs and cost guidelines.

Instead, the practice now helps the homeowner to conduct a remote tour of the site for them – a ‘Lockdown Architect Home Visit’ – using whatever software they are happy with. After some thought and preliminary planning checks, E2’s Director Sam Cooper will then have a live two-hour sketching session with the client. For this they use two cameras, one trained on the architect, one on the designs, to provide a video that is presented to the client.

E2 also offers a parallel ‘Lockdown Appraisal Service’ for those considering a new build or for developers looking to maximise the value of a site at planning stage.

“We wanted to get the message across to clients that we are still open for business, so we re-evaluated something we already do,” affirms Associate Jim Rooney. "We are hoping to conduct five or six lockdown appraisals per month during April and May, which should put us in a good position when the UK begins to come out of the current situation.”

E2 Architects designed an award-winning, zero-carbon family home on a site with numerous constraints next to the Grade II* listed The Pagoda in Blackheath, London © alexjamesphotography

They are promoting these services both via email and the practice’s quarterly newsletter ‘2 View’ – the latter brought forward a little to respond to the lockdown. They will be extending their marketing reach using Google Ads, so a search in the very near future for ‘Lockdown’ and ‘Architect’ should put E2 among the top search results.

In order to incentivise take-up and provide some cashflow, E2 decided to offer a number of appraisals at a 20% discount for early takers. The practice confirms that it has had already received several serious enquiries.

Bobby Jewell, a press and communications consultant specialising in architecture and cultural industries, suggests that clarity of message from a practice is particularly important right now, and especially on its website.

“How ‘open’ is your website?” he asks. “Does the copy broadcast the message 'We’d love to hear from you', and that enquiries are welcome?”

Jewell urges practices to make sure that all services on offer are presented in unambiguous, foolproof fashion: from initial consultation and drawings onwards.

The targeted advertising that E2 are making use of is par for the course for many practices, Jewel suggests. It is something that works particularly well, he points out, for work focused in a particular area. Instagram would be his platform of choice for this, as the visual medium lends itself much better to architecture.

He also suggests practices think about how what they do converges with what the general public are experiencing now, in terms of working from home or being furloughed. This can provide insightful content for social media.

“What are you doing as architects in this situation? If you have any tips and tricks to share, perhaps related to your understanding of space, this is now a very appropriate time. On any social media, revealing your expertise, knowledge and passion for what you are interested in – be it residential extensions, schools or third-age housing – is more likely to reach and appeal to clients in those sectors.”

The long established HLM Architects also readily acknowledge that communication with clients and peers is more important than ever.

“We are focusing on sharing really rich content, relevant to this time, that engages with our key audiences,” states Studio Director Delia Harmston.

“Where, previously, virtual communication formed just part of our marketing mix, in this new era of remote working we are engaging digitally on a day to day basis. Over recent weeks we have exploited the tools at our disposal to maintain the momentum of projects when we cannot physically meet with our clients and their stakeholders.”

Using Microsoft Teams and OneNote, HLM has been able to keep design decision-making on track and ensure that clients are just as involved in the process as they would have been; indeed, some clients are participating much more than they would otherwise.

Most of HLM’s clients are digitally savvy organisations and comfortable with online engagement. Harmston is finding that remote communications can actually be clearer and more concise because participants tend to summarise and get their point across more quickly, which can help sell an idea to a client.

Members of HLM’s staff regularly speak at conferences and Harmston reports that most of these events have made a relatively smooth transition to a virtual format. She suspects that many of these may actually be better ‘attended’ thanks to their convenience and the lack of any need to travel. This is raising HLM’s profile as a result.

One consideration to bear in mind, whether a practice is marketing its services, promoting itself via social media content or dusting off its address book of former clients, is sensitivity to the current situation. Bobby Jewell suggests that architects can be in tune with the current mood without being over-precious.

“Everyone is stuck at home and almost everyone is in the same boat,” he reminds us. “Architects are offering solutions that nobody else can: design-led answers to problems. Lockdown has, in the main, resulted in people being more open to engaging, communicating and sharing online. The best thing to do currently is to stay visible within the industry.”

Thanks to Delia Harmston, Studio Director, HLM Architects; Jim Rooney, Associate, E2 Architecture+Interiors; and Bobby Jewell.

Text by Neal Morris. This is a Professional Feature edited by the RIBA Practice team. Send us your feedback and ideas.

RIBA Core Curriculum Topic: Business, clients and services.

As part of the flexible RIBA CPD programme, Professional Features count as microlearning. See further information on the updated RIBA CPD Core Curriculum and on fulfilling your CPD requirements as an RIBA Chartered Member.

Posted on 23 April 2020.

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