Working in architectural communications (and 4 tips on finding your way in)

READING TIME: 5 MINUTES

(Sketch: © Roshan Dsouza)

FYI – for easier reading, I’m going to shorten architectural comms to ‘archi comms’ and communications to ‘comms’.

I stand by one principle: to thrive in a comms career, you’ve got to live and breathe the subject matter you’re communicating. The choice falls to you to find your niche. Whether it’s pursuing financial, B2B tech or even fashion PR, there’s no point conveying a product, service or story you have no real interest in.

I found my calling in archi comms and PR as soon as I started working outside the discipline. I spent a few years working in professional services industries that operated at the periphery of the built environment, but was never fully immersed in it. As a junior comms professional still at the early stages of my career, moving into architecture was the best decision I could’ve made at 25.

What is architectural communications?

It’s a discipline of comms specific to architecture practices within the broader umbrella of built environment communications (everything man-made: real estate, engineering, regeneration, infrastructure, etc). I see it as the way a practice or architect communicates their work and values to clients, peers and the public. It’s about creating compelling narratives that delight audiences while also managing reputation. As digital marketing continues to impact every aspect of an organisation’s brand, archi comms professionals must harness these technical skills to ensure their practice keeps up with the constantly evolving landscape.

A day in the life can involve your typical digital marketing activities (maintaining websites, intranet, social media, email campaigns) through to lots of writing/proofreading and liaising with external consultants + agencies on creative and PR work. Depending on the practice, you get to work directly with architects and sector leads on their individual comms plans. Sectors vary — from commercial offices and heritage through to transportation and urban planning — and each has its own activity. Unpicking the architect’s work to reveal hidden narratives and devising strategies to communicate them through different mediums is a rewarding feeling. Organising and attending events are also important in the architecture community. You get to meet some pretty interesting and influential people in these environments, though it’s a circle that can be tricky to get in. I say that because I experienced it being a nonarchitect. Heck, I didn’t even have an architecture degree! Who would take me seriously? I’ve still got a long way to go to deepen my knowledge and understanding of the industry but it’s a start, nonetheless! Grit and persistence aside, below are 4 practical tips on finding your way in.

1. Start a blog. Most people would say they are passionate about something but you immediately set yourself apart when you start writing about the built environment. Find inspiration by observing your favourite structures or attend free events through Eventbrite and write takeaway pieces. Incorporate photography and illustrations to your articles if you want a richer visual experience for the reader. Use a good thesaurus and avoid grandiose language — what we call ‘archi fluff’. Just find your natural style of writing through constant practice. I approached my blog in the same manner and it doubled up as my writing portfolio during interviews.

Recommended books: Writing About Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities by Alexandra Lange / Is It All About Image? by Laura Iloniemi / Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark

2. Read architectural discourse and listen to podcasts. Familiarise yourself with the jargon; it directly influences your writing style. Assuming you’re an architecture geek, start to dig deeper and explore what areas you enjoy reading most. Books can vary from being informational like ‘Fun Facts’ ones to those philosophical reads that are steeped in architectural theory. It’s always good to mix reading with listening on the go. Podcasts can offer a practical, business-minded approach to working in comms and the key action steps one can take to kickstart their marketing efforts.

Recommended books and podcasts: Why We Build by Rowan Moore / How to Read Architecture: An Introduction to Interpreting the Built Environment by Paulette Singley / Marketing in Times of Crisis by Ayo Abbas / Business of Architecture UK by Rion Willard

3. Connect with industry pros on social media. Exploit Twitter and LinkedIn to build your online presence. Position yourself as someone who keeps track of the latest developments, engages with others and contributes to discussions, where appropriate. Most journalists, commentators and trade publications (e.g. Dezeen) have a strong social following, and are influential at steering the direction of news and updates in the industry. Impartiality and an ability to rise above the ‘noise’ is key.

4. Network at events. Introduce yourself to the very people you connected with on social media at in-person events. There’s something about looking at the other individual in the eye and building a natural rapport that can’t be achieved with Twitter threads. Do your homework and assess the tone of the event to figure out what questions to ask. Be honest and genuine in your approach but above anything else, listen and observe. The community is quite tight-knit, so you’re bound to have some ‘aha’ moments when you realise how most things are interconnected. It was initially tricky to find peer groups that catered strictly to comms professionals (most would be for architects) but the below have provided me with a rich network that I feel lucky to have come to know.

Key networking groups: Build Up Network / Architecture Marketing Forum (invite only on LinkedIn once you join a practice) / Paradigm Network / Archiboo (not a group but an indispensable resource for archi comms updates)

Final words of advice

I don’t have an architecture background; I come from a legal and recruitment one and am still doing the gig! You can too. Be disciplined with your work ethic, keep tabs on the news constantly and put your best foot forward when you feel it’s the right time to grab an opportunity. The grass is greener on the other side; it’s one of the most exciting industries out there for a reason.

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