How to win projects with great storytelling that goes beyond the building
Your online presence is your firm’s calling card.
But like a physical business card, more important than simply handing it out is when and how you do so - and the relationships that result.
After all, you could have a million social media followers. But how many of those followers are going to turn into valued clients?
Matthew Keeshin has a rich background in both architecture and writing. Currently the digital media manager at ZGF, he knows that the best stories start with internal conversations about company goals, and end with meaningful client conversations.
Position yourself as a leader
Do you need to be on every single platform out there telling your brand story? No.
But you do need to put your story out into the world and engage in strategic ways.
According to Matthew, it all starts with positioning yourself as an expert in your given area. Once you have a marketing strategy, you can start to determine which channels and content types make sense for your business.
What you say and who you engage with online should all serve to fuel that greater vision.
For every marketing initiative, you should determine how it supports your firm's goals.
“Ultimately the process is: what's the communication strategy? How does it support how we're getting RFPs, how we're going after them, or how they're coming to us? And the short answer after all that would be what content, what marketing collateral do we have in the hopper that we can share out or pitch to people so that we can either secure stories or keep a relationship going?” said Matthew.
Craft a signature look and feel
Part of telling your firm’s story comes down to aesthetics.
Do you have a cohesive look and feel? If not, can you start using a go-to photographer to help bring your story to life?
As an example, Matthew referred to Foster + Partners, a firm featured in a recent Dezeen article.
“They have a very specific look from everything from built work, to renders, to their website, to all of that,” said Matthew.
“Probably more common is that people have their go-to photographers. I think it's also that too. Finding the right partners that can help articulate that.”
Often prospective clients are intrigued by visuals before digging into the written content itself. That makes the visual branding of your firm all the more important.
Stay connected with analytics
Once you are consistently putting content out into the world, it’s important to keep tabs on company goals so that you can align goals with both content creation and performance.
At ZGF, Matthew is in close contact with the firm’s PR managers so that they are aligned on all firm-wide initiatives.
Initiatives could range from a landing page to a press release to website copy and image updates.
“We do a mix of, I'll share ‘this performed well on the website,’ or ‘this performed well on social.’ And then we combine that with what's going on, the whispers and murmurs happening on the ground at any given office,” explained Matthew.
By letting business needs dictate your strategy, you’ll keep your content program moving in the right direction.
Take stories beyond the building
When sharing your work with the world, you can’t just describe the building every time.
Matthew suggests focusing on unique elements like the project history and the stakeholders involved.
“You can't always go, ‘this gigantic building is so square and so much glass.’ It's not always the first thing that's going to attract somebody. If you care about how a building looks, you'll certainly care how a building feels. Trying to connect with writing a story - that's the second-best thing to actually being in it,” he said.
Sometimes the design sells itself, and works well as the focal point of the story.
Other times a project may have an intriguing interior design element, such as with a historic renovation.
It’s not enough to have every story talk about breaking ground here and acquiring a project there. Otherwise, your stories will get dull fast.
“What about the practitioners? Is there something in their wheelhouse thought leadership that we can connect to that to show the breadth and depth of our expertise?” Matthew asked.
“When we try and determine what makes a good story, we're always trying to think is there more than just the building? A lot of times I've thought, how can you tell the stories of the people behind the building?”
Create bite-sized social media content
Long articles serve a purpose, but today’s audience is all about short content that is optimized for social media and visual distribution.
That doesn’t just apply to the architecture world - it’s true of almost every modern industry.
That’s exactly why many architecture firms have seen success on platforms like Instagram and Pinterest, which are both visually driven.
Investing in social media is always a bit of a gamble, but it’s worth it to diversify your digital presence.
“It will be a point of entry for someone to discover your work, whether they accept a job or are just kind of doing some background info, or if a client is like ‘well, who are these guys?’,” said Matthew.
At the end of the day, architecture has always been an industry based on handshakes.
“It's like blackjack. You want to beat the house. But you don't know what they're going to deal. So you're always just anticipating to try and have the better deck. I think that's very similar to social media in general. You want to put yourself out there in a way that's going to differentiate you from your competitors, and hopefully tell a story that's authentic to your firm,” Matthew said.
Social media is a chance to share your firm’s point of view and existing body of work in a lighthearted setting.
Seek inspiration from other industries
To keep a fresh perspective and get inspired, consider reading up on content in both the design world and beyond.
Matthew elects to read content from design sources like Dezeen, Artdaily, and Sight Unseen.
“I try when I can to look outside of architecture and design,” Matthew said. “I also try and see like what other industries are doing.”
He’s also cultivated a network of friends in similar fields who can provide a good sounding board and point of inspiration.
This is an important point.
At the end of the day, analytics are valuable indicators, but ultimately relationships are what will win you everything from strategic coverage in notable publications to new projects.
“When you launch a campaign, figure out which writers and editors you want to connect with so that you can really get the most reach out of that. It's not just posting something. It's really maintaining relationships for a launch. If your whole campaign goal is to be featured in The New York Times, how is that going to be accomplished?” said Matthew.
Sometimes a story leads to a new client. Sometimes a new client leads to a story. Like the chicken or the egg, it’s not certain which comes first. But both are vital to the cycle of your firm’s life.
Join us on Thursday, October 29th for Best Practice, a virtual fireside chat series dedicated to practice operations at architecture firms and beyond. From pain points to potential, hear how leaders in the architecture and engineering industry are innovating through new business models and managerial techniques.
We’re chatting with Matthew Keeshin. Matthew is a digital strategist with a background in architecture and writing. As Digital Media Manager at ZGF, he works with teams across the firm’s six offices to tell stories about design and reveal the people behind the buildings. Matthew attended the School of Architecture at Syracuse University before completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art History at The School of Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC).
In this 45 minute chat, we'll talk to Matthew about storytelling in architecture and design and leveraging digital media to grow a brand.
- How to craft engaging stories around your firm and projects?
- Who is your firm's audience?
- Which digital channels matter most for your firm?
- and More!
ZGF is an award-winning architecture and interior design firm with offices in Los Angeles, New York, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, Canada, and Washington, DC. A truly multidisciplinary design firm, ZGF employees work across specialties to deliver expertise and insight to our clients’ toughest design problems. ZGF's design portfolio spans diverse typologies including corporate and workplace, commercial and mixed-use, healthcare and wellness, scientific research and planning, higher education and urban design.