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Embracing the communication revolution, or the democratization of marketing

An architectural firm, even a collaborative, democratic practice founded by idealistic boomers, tends to be run by a few highly experienced people who have earned their positions and stature through time and project experience. They set the direction for the firm, hire staff, make financial decisions and have most of the direct client contact. The organizational chart looks fairly hierarchical, and the lines of communication are clearly drawn.

Marketing has developed in much the same way as other support functions have over the years, fitting into the hierarchical chart like accounting or IT. And while the marketing team toils earnestly in its corner of the office, the typical junior studio staffer remains largely focused on his or her next big project deliverable, with very little awareness of the firm’s status in the marketplace.

However, there is a revolution building that is changing that paradigm at lightning speed.

Marketing, it turns out, is everyone’s job. Not just the principals’, not just the marketing staff’s—everyone’s. Interns, drafters, project managers and accounting staff are all critical to the success of a firm’s marketing efforts. 

As younger generations shift the workplace, and Millennials and their perspectives gain greater acceptance, a more transparent, communicative approach to business development is proving successful. There is an increasing expectation among office workers that more information should be shared office-wide, and firms that have adopted this practice are discovering that empowered younger staff are incredibly good networkers and ambassadors for their firms.

At Nitsch Engineering in Boston, for example, the firm’s biweekly Monday marketing meetings are open to all, with the understanding and expectation that the price for such openness and inclusion is lead sharing and active membership in professional organizations. Terri Evans, communications manager at Shepley Bulfinch in Boston, observes that communication and information foster a sense of ownership across studios and internal practices, which she accomplishes through a weekly in-house e-blast and the Shepley blog, which is external, as well.

Marketers and principals regularly ask: What are we trying to accomplish in marketing? Where do we want to position the firm? What markets are we trying to reach? At HMFH Architects, when we pose and answer those questions in an all-hands meeting, we have as many as 40 emissaries out in the real world and in the social-media world sharing our message.

Such an approach is more successful, of course, if the firm’s culture supports and embraces social media as a credible networking and communication tool. In addition, openness, communication and transparency come with a responsibility, and the firm’s central message, mission and goals should guide any communication, regardless of the chosen medium.

Just as today’s firm leaders pushed their predecessors to shake things up (advertising architectural services? Never!), we have an opportunity today to reinvent and democratize marketing and put it in the hands of the firm’s most ardent communicators.

Susan Elmore CPSM is marketing manager at HMFH Architects in Cambridge, a firm focused on the planning and design of K–12 and higher-education learning communities. She is co-chair of the BSA Marketing/PR Wizards.