On the UpSpring: How CEO Tiffany Rafii is using strategic PR to help architecture firms grow
Gone are the days when PR meant news outlets and press conferences.
Today, PR agency services run the gamut from traditional communications to marketing, trade-show implementation, and B2C content.
Tiffany Rafii is the CEO and co-founder of UpSpring PR, a full-service agency specializing in design, real estate, and architecture firms.
With over 50 companies on their win-list, Tiffany and her team rely on strategic marketing and business developments to grow slow and steadily.
Here are her race-winning steps to get your public relations going.
Leverage growth with PR
Press releases? Just the tip of the iceberg for today’s PR agency.
A full-service PR agency should help you create, plan, and implement a broad range of marketing strategies. If it gets your name out there, PR is the resource to launch it.
Modern public relations work can include any of the following:
- Award submissions
- Speaker proposals
- Panels placement
- Conference and trade show assistance
- Newsletters, proposals, and marketing materials
- B2C and D2C social medial & digital needs
It can be valuable to choose an agency that can also partner with specialty firms like UpSpring does with its digital partners. This results in an unstoppable combination that can handle any PR-adjacent services you need.
Time your PR efforts right
Your PR investment is only as good as your timing.
If you start PR strategy too early, the best-case scenario is a bit of wasted money.
The worst-case scenario is that you risk implementing ineffective strategies that keep you from developing a great portfolio.
“Clients come to us and they don't have photographed projects or they only have one project on deck right now, it doesn't make sense. The timing's not right, because you're so much better off growing that portfolio and getting to a place where you are able and ready to take advantage of the benefits of PR,” said Tiffany.
The best stage to connect with a PR agency is when you have a solid portfolio, a full line-up of work, and you’re finally ready to scale.
Grow your business step-by-step
Put this on repeat: slow and steady wins the race.
“They very rarely give you the whole hotel on day one. Right? You will win the lobby. You'll do a few lobbies. They’ll be really great. Then you might win the restaurant that's in the lobby on the next one. And then you'll finally get a guest room model room, and then you'll get to do all the guest rooms, but not the lobby. And then you'll win the whole hotel,” pointed out Tiffany.
Instead of running to the finish line, take the time to build a solid foundation of quality work and referrals.
Without the need for breakneck speed, you can also focus on taking projects that fill your vision instead of just your wallet.
To break into new sectors or scale business, make sure you have a defensible market position - however small - before PR can supercharge your growth.
“There are plenty of things that we can do to help clients break into new market sectors and win work in industries they've never touched, and we do a lot of that every day. But they have to start from somewhere. They have to be established in something. They don't need to be well-known, but they need to be established in something,” Tiffany explained.
Without that first foot on the ground, PR efforts are going to be too ineffective and costly to justify.
Use the talent you have
Your employees are your greatest assets. Are you using them right?
Your staff may have strengths, specialties, and backgrounds that can help your business grow - if you use them well. Those strengths can also become a fallback when markets fluctuate.
“We have clients who only do hotels and then they hire someone and that person has a background in cruise work and they're like, well, that makes sense - and we'll take advantage of that thought leader to help them maybe break into that market sector,” said Tiffany.
Regular team reviews ensure that no matter how diverse your team is, you’re able to leverage relevant toolsets as you change and grow.
Focus on focus groups
For UpSpring, focus groups are a firm’s best friends.
Using focus groups gives you insight into customer feedback - and creates brand ambassadors that feel connected to your process.
“The other thing that is incredibly important is that in the process of gathering that information, you are creating brand ambassadors. You are creating a group of people who are buying into and learning about a business they otherwise may not have ever known about,” Tiffany said.
Getting up-close and personal with your brand is a fascinating peek under the hood for your customers.
Along with the valuable feedback, you also gain deep customer relationships that can spread your name far and wide.
Balance focus and flexibility
It’s quality over quantity, usually. But too many firms feel pressure to offer comprehensive services - assuming that’s what customers are looking for.
The secret is: the more you offer, the less valuable each service is.
Instead, niche down to a mission that works for you and actually helps your clients, with room for flexibility when pivots are needed.
“I think that people are more concerned with doing everything. Because they feel like it's become so important to do everything, they're losing sight of qualifying things to figure out whether or not they're going to help. And I think that's the biggest mistake that can be made because then you're diluting not just the brand, but the messaging,” said Tiffany.
Define your goals
Setting goals? Keep them bite-sized.
Set up specific success criteria along the way to keep your growth measured and managed.
These markers will help you understand your short-term movement towards your long-term plans.
“If you don't have markers to hit and you only have this long game that you're going after, you're going to lose sight of how to sustain that business over time, and that'll create a huge problem for actually reaching that end goal,” cautioned Tiffany.
Let go of the paid-ad dream
Spending big on ads without results? That’s because credibility is everything - and paid ads are easy to see through.
“I would never hire a nanny for my kid that placed an advertisement on Facebook,” Tiffany said. “You want someone to tell you that they're good. And that someone can either be a publication that you trust, a friend, a colleague, someone in your network. Or there needs to be a level of repetition where they're seeing your work in these publications repeatedly on Instagram, on Pinterest, and through all of these wonderful channels.”
Instead, spend time working your network, engaging in panels or awards, and giving your public persona a stamp of approval customers can trust.
Like Tiffany’s nanny analogy, you’re asking for full care of your client’s baby. And they won’t give it over unless they’re sure you’re right for the job.
Increase visibility with PR
Practice your (metaphorical) handshake.
PR is all about getting your brand out there and opening the door to opportunity.
In a world where Google is king, producing SEO content makes it easier for interested customers to find your name first.
“The main goal and objective are obviously to identify that target market and then implement whatever strategy is required in order to put you in front of them. It's really to open doors. Now with so many articles living online, the SEO component and helping encourage and rank things higher for you,” Tiffany explained.
PR can’t make your sales for you - but it’s your first step. Putting together a PR plan, even a small one, means you have the framework to start reaching your customers.
“If we don't introduce you, if we don't open that door or present that messaging in the appropriate light, then you just - in the eyes of potential clients - don't exist,” Tiffany said.
Remember, just like with business strategy, your PR strategy can start small. A minor but targeted PR strategy is worth much more than no PR strategy at all.
Join us on Thursday, November 19th 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 Tiffany Rafii. Tiffany is the CEO of UpSpring PR, a full service communications agency for the architecture, design and real estate communities. Co-founded in 2009 with business partner Sarah Terzic, UpSpring PR is built upon a business-development driven method to PR— where programs are developed and executed for firms and product manufacturers headquartered in locales globally. The 25+ person team works to increase brand awareness and market share for over 50 companies spanning the hospitality, commercial and residential sectors.
In this 45 minute chat, we'll talk to Tiffany about building a communications strategy that is based on business development goals.
- When to partner with an external communications agency?
- How to build a strategy based on business development goals?
- What key communication channels can I leverage today?
- and More!
About UpSpring PR
Founded by childhood friends Sarah Terzic and Tiffany Rafii in 2009, UpSpring PR has become one of the top PR firms in the design, architecture and real estate industries. Serving over 50 clients, UpSpring PR represents architecture, real estate, and design firms as well as both consumer and contract product companies all over the world.