Job interview pointers for A/E/C marketers (and virtually any other frequent pavement-pounders)

Table, glass & hallYou are a moving-on or laid-off Marketing Manager, Director, Coordinator, Associate, Assistant or Specialist—depending on your firm’s titular tastes (I was #2 and #3)—or a time-for-a-change or last-hired-first-fired in another profession. So you’re back on the boards with the bumps and bruises of the job-hunt that got you your prized position in the first place. And you wonder whether you can reprise your results in your next round of interviews.

EmploymentInterviewWell, don’t expect instant results—especially if you do the “don’ts” or don’t do the “do’s” explained below. I did (or didn’t) just those things in my post-layoff interviews, which prolonged my job search to no end and left me with unrequited love for many firms I might have done wonders for.

do's and dont'sAnd I don’t mean those do’s and don’t’s the Internet inundates you with—do your research on the firm, don’t be late for your interview, do ask relevant questions, don’t dress like the janitor, etc. I mean eight no-no’s and must-do’s seldom seen on job-search sites, that I had to learn the hard way:

Manager interviewing job candidate1. Don’t look too eager. This was what a fellow actor advised me not to do when auditioning for plays in my thespian days. It applies even more to job interviews. If you accent your excitement to a breaking point, one or more of the following will show in your style, and will likely cost you the job:

Desperation. Your boisterous enthusiasm could be masking “I need the job” or “Please hire me.” That will raise a red flag, making the interviewer wonder if the termination of your last job was more than just a layoff, or if “moving on” really means “booted out.”

Fakery. This is often a cover-up for incompetence, or uncertainty about whether you’d be a good fit. The interviewer will wonder if you really are who you say you are, what you’d actually do if hired, or how tolerable your showmanship would be in the office. (True, Jerry Lewis thought Donald Trump would be a good President because “he’s such a good showman.” But this is business, not politics or entertainment. And hiring managers seek collaborators, not loose cannons.)

Aggrandizement. You may be making a bigger deal about the job than it really is (perhaps out of desperation). The interviewer may feel you wouldn’t be happy in that position because it’s below your skill level, management level and/or salary expectations, thus write you off as “overqualified.” (That happened to me.) An interview is an exploratory process, not a declaratory occasion: you’re seeing if the position would be a good fit for you, just as the interviewer is seeing if you’d be a good fit for it.

Shame. My overeagerness in interviews veiled my feeling of embarrassment that I had been laid off after only a few months, before I could get a solid foothold in the industry or my marketing efforts could kick in and give the firms returns on their investments in me. But this doesn’t necessarily concern hiring managers; I got numerous interviews at some of Boston’s largest or most award-winning firms. Your accomplishments, abilities and personality matter more to companies than financial circumstances beyond your control.

Good interviewSo, rather than conceal with zeal, explain in a conversational way how your marketing efforts repositioned your former employer to generate a higher business volume, and could help the firm you’re interviewing with.

And don’t close the interview with such pronouncements as “I’m very interested!” or “I’d really like to work with you!” (as I did), which will raise more red flags. Just conversationally say something like, “I think this position would be a good fit for me, and I’d enjoy being part of your team.” Then briefly sum up why, and ask the interviewer about the next steps or when to expect to hear about the hiring decision.

Nor should you open the interview as an eager-beaver. That means:

Man gesturing handshake2. No glad-handing. This will give a negative first impression, which will give the interviewer immediate doubts about you, and perhaps show them in the interview with an impersonal tone of indifference, lack of curiosity about you, and few questions for you. Remember, you’re a job candidate, not the President of the United States! Just a firm handshake with good eye contact and a warm but subdued self-introduction will do. “Go slow, go gradual,” as a character in a play I once acted in said. Or, as a fellow college student told me in reaction to my overfriendly handshake of a new student, “Relax.”

The Sound of MusicThis recalls that scene in The Sound of Music in which Maria (Julie Andrews) mistakes Franz the butler (Gil Stuart), for Captain Von Trapp, but after acknowledging her error still eagerly pumps his hand. He responds with a look of bewildered disdain of the who-is-this-crazy-woman sort. Don’t begin your interview that way!

Expect the unexpected3. Expect the unexpected. No matter how many of those common or uncommon interview questions on job-search sites you carefully prepare and rehearse answers for, there will always be that curve-ball question or abrupt change of situation that will throw a monkey wrench into the workings of your mind. A few personal examples:

standup interview croppedA. An architect was to interview me in a café, but by the time we got there all the tables were full, so we had to do the interview standing up. This awkwardly frustrating situation caused me to freeze and not tell him much about myself. Efforts to email him what I had meant to say about my architectural marketing experience and accomplishments were fruitless; he had already hired someone else.

This might have been a good opportunity for me to think on my feet (so to speak) and adjust quickly to unforeseen circumstances, which I would have to do on the job (and in life) anyway. Rigidity in expectations will get you nowhere. Flexibility is key, just like the change of plans architects, engineers and contractors have to go through each day. Speaking of which:

worried-unhired-job-applicant-feeling-nervous-employer-rev-recruiter-reviewing-bad-resume-unprepared-vacancy-candidate-97152570B. An architect scheduled to meet with the marketing director for my interview didn’t show. When I said at the end I’d been told he’d join us, the director said it was a mistake and swiftly ushered me out. Avoid that scenario. Just assume he’s busy with a client, or has other priorities. That shows your respect for the boss’s schedule and your flexibility in adapting to it.

group_interviewC. Speaking of flexibility, a marketing director who was interviewing me for a Marketing Coordinator position introduced me to the landscape design firm’s marketing team without advance notice of any group interview. Needless to say, I was caught off-guard. So I anxiously went off on a tangent that gave them the sense I wouldn’t be happy on the job (which wasn’t true; it was similar to the one I had enjoyed before my layoff), and I wasn’t selected for a second interview. A good way to deal with this is to think of how you’d receive unexpected company at your home: turn them away, or warmly welcome them in for a drink and a chat?

NOT-to-say-during-your-job-interview croppedD. Prompted by a silent tell-me-about-yourself cue from an architect, I launched into a diatribe about my admiration for his work, citing a housing complex of his I’d read about in a 1996 book on house design. His response: “But that was 20 years ago. What about my current work?” I froze. And so did my employment prospects there.

plansInstead, I might have cited a current work, followed by, “And what current work do you currently have in the works?” That would have shown interest in where his firm was heading, and how my marketing skills could head it in a good direction.

N.B.: If you’re drowning in an interview, don’t give up the ship. Rescue yourself by thinking quickly and steering the conversation into a calm sea and prosperous voyage toward, hopefully, “Welcome aboard.” A good way to avoid a rocky wave is to:

bad_interview_lg cropped4. Avoid misplaced emphasis. Architects, engineers and contractors don’t like to talk about way-in-the-past projects they’ve artistically matured away from, that may abash them to think about anymore. They want to focus on their present efforts. Thus the marketer must emphasize how s/he can bolster those current initiatives and head the firm into the future.

Job Interview with a chatterboxThis also means not telling all you know about the firm—another hard-learned lesson on me. An architect said he was impressed with my depth of research on his firm, but concluded that I “wouldn’t be a good fit for the office.” Eagerness to show off all you’ve learned from having done your homework might have pleased Mommy, Daddy and Teacher, but is, again, misplaced emphasis in the business world. The interviewer already knows all that; what they don’t yet know—thus, what you need to emphasize—is how your skills and experience can meet their needs. In focusing on the latter, remember:

Talking too much5. Don’t lead with a sales pitch.
I did just that. The interviewer said I was “too talkative” and the firm was seeking someone “more laid-back.” Besides, what you pitch isn’t always what they need. You must ask questions about what they seek in a marketer, so you can explain how your skills can meet those needs.

orig-work-hiresAnd don’t pitch “big plans”! They’re vague, pompous, and no substitute for asking about the firm’s present needs and crafting your proposal accordingly. My offer to devise “a major marketing plan” (or something of that nature) got laughter and mockery from my interviewers, hence no follow-up.

And what a shame, considering how promisingly the interview started. Beforehand, they had told me one of the firm’s principals had passed on, and in his memory the lobby screen was showing his favorite movie, which had once been mine as well—a common interest that might have begun the interview on a more positive note.

the-pink-panther-cartoon(That movie, by the way, was The Return of the Pink Panther, a masterpiece of slapstick comedy and suspense in which Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau made every snafu, faux-pas and pratfall under the sun, yet still accomplished his mission. I wish more interviews could end up that way.)

Pitch avoidance can be tricky if you get an open-ended question like, “What is your marketing plan for us?” I did, and I immediately said I’d upgrade their marketing collateral, pitch press releases for publications, etc., etc. A better response would have been: “If you could let me know your current marketing needs, I could answer your question better.” This makes it more conversational, and directs the interview back to the main thing to pitch: how you can best meet their needs.

interview-in-the-architecture-officeThat especially works for the most open-ended, oft-dreaded question of all: “Tell me about yourself.” To avoid autobiography mode, respond with something like, “I’d be happy to. Where would you like me to start?”

This sets up the interviewer to ask questions pertinent to the firm’s needs and expectations for the hiree, which sets you up to connect your skills and strengths to them.

Businessman hold megaphone with dollar bills spraying out6. Don’t declare your desired salary. Even if asked about salary expectations. I did this twice; no job. Upon being asked what salary I wanted when first hired, I gave a respectable, market-driven figure of $40K. The response: “Wow. We’re budgeted at $24K.” This gave me pause, but I took the job to get my foot in the door of the industry, as a steppingstone to greener pastures. (Even with that low figure, the firm couldn’t financially sustain me beyond three months.)

A better answer is: “I’d be open to the best you can offer, based on what you think I’d be qualified to earn.” Make your tone conversational, avoiding stock answers like, “I’m open to your best offer.” A staffing agent told me to say that, and the interviewer responded with a laugh, “That’s what they all say.” (He quoted a $50K figure, which I found very satisfactory, but they hired someone else. Later I learned they eliminated that position and rehired the departed Marketing Specialist [who happened to be the firm president’s daughter] as a Marketing Consultant by telecommunication.)

salary-comIf your interviewer still presses you for a figure, give a ballpark range of that position’s current market rate, based on your due diligent research (do it!) on, Glassdoor, PayScale, Indeed, SalaryList, Salary Expert, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook. That way, you back up your claim with solid statistical evidence. This not only prompts your potential employer to think about a fair offer, but also shows you’ve done the math, as a good marketer must do.

A disabled person in an office7. Declare your disability if you have one. This could answer the “What is your greatest weakness?” question if it comes up. If not, find a convenient moment to make the interviewer aware of your limitations, and how you compensate for them with particular strengths that would benefit the firm. Thus the interviewer knows what to expect.

I repeatedly made the mistake of not revealing my Asperger’s syndrome, which might have explained my unusual mannerisms or discomfort in the interviews. But Aspies are also very attentive to detail, an asset to fields as exacting as architecture, engineering and construction. Emphasize that if you have such a condition.

Thank-you note8. Forget the flowers. Your thank-you note should have no flowery language. It’s a friendly but businesslike confirmation of your enjoyment of the meeting and your interest in the position, with additional information the interviewer should know, closing with “I look forward to hearing your decision.” My overeager frills often got the stock answer, “It was nice to meet you too. We’ll be in touch.” (Which, of course, meant, “No.”)

I hope my experiences have given you useful pointers for interview success. The bottom line is: cut your interviewer some slack, regardless of shifting circumstances, mistakes, awkward moments, etc. Interviewers are human, too, they have other things on their mind, and interviewing may not be their forté. So they could use a little support, forgiveness, and assurance that you’ll be a solid, collaborative team player no matter what. Besides, unexpected obstacles are challenges for you to “come through” and do a crackerjack job, which will indicate you can do that on the job—as an orchestra can give a bravura performance despite a conductor’s miscues.

So trumpet your strengths, but not too loudly or sweetly. Convince your interviewer you can harmonize with the team, even in moments of dissonance. Best of luck!

Thank you for visiting. I welcome your comments!

LinkedIn #3: Recommendations, endorsements

(Last of three parts)

Linkedin-gente-npStuff, or fluff? Praise, or craze? Sincere, or cheer? Those are the kinds of questions you should ask about any LinkedIn recommendations or skill endorsements that pop up in your e-mail stack before you accept them into your LinkedIn profile. That’ll make it a professionally credible statement of your skills and achievements, rather than a touchy-feely flurry of Facebookish pats-on-the-back and right-ons.

Consider the following about all would-be recommenders and endorsers:

  • How well do you know those people?
  • What was the nature of your professional relationships with them?
  • How closely did you work with them to give them a full, clear, well-rounded idea of the skills or talents for which they’re endorsing you?
  • Would you use them as references for job interviews?
  • Would they have enough to say about you if your job interviewer were to contact them?
  • Do you feel you possess a significant level of the skills or talents for which they’re recognizing you to give you true credibility in those areas?
  • How are they wording and phrasing their recommendations? Do they sound like the right stuff to advance your standing, or mere puff pieces to please and appease you?
  • How much is too much, in terms of the number of skills (strong or weak) for which you’re being endorsed, and the number of people who are endorsing you for particular skills?


An endorsement page like this may wow your Facebook friends but may give pause to potential employers, partners or clients who may suspect an attempt to gussy up your profile with the equivalent of Facebook fame. So be careful whom and what you include in your LinkedIn laudations.

In his Personal Branding Blog, career development expert Jacob Share recommends these criteria in choosing who to recommend you:

  1. The best recommendations are from people who actually employed you, e.g., a client or boss, because they directly observed, received and evaluated the work you did for them.
  2. Useful recommendations can come from co-workers or business partners who witnessed your achievements firsthand or were directly affected by them in a positive way.
  3. Sometimes useful recommendations can be provided by a friend, family member or fan who was impressed by your work — but be cautious of conflict-of-interest issues that could turn their recommendations into mere puff pieces.

Also be careful about how you solicit a recommendation from a LinkedIn connection. It’s a good idea to ask that person, “Do you feel you know enough about my skills and achievements in this company to recommend me on LinkedIn?” That way, you’re letting them think about what they want to say about you — or whether they’re qualified to say anything at all — before deciding whether or how to recommend you. Thus their recommendations would appear more sincere and would present your skills more believably in your profile.

Pencil checklistBe equally careful about how you recommend or endorse others. If you want to recommend someone in the hope s/he’ll reciprocate, do the following:

  • Think carefully about your answer. Rewrite it several times. Ask yourself if that would be the kind of recommendation you would want to receive.
  • Back up your points about the person with actual achievements and/or skills in action you observed in that person as a client, boss, co-worker, business partner, etc.
  • Keep the recommendation brief, say, 2-5 sentences of varied lengths. After all, short paragraphs rule in the attention-span-challenging world of cyberspace. Also, overlong recommendations may rouse suspicion of overpraise in viewers of your recommendee’s profile, particularly potential employers, clients, consultants and partners.

LinkedIn recomm. O.-Yagan1

This recommendation is strong (worthy of its frame!), because it comes from the recipient’s client (“the best” on Jacob Share’s list) — who is also a 1st-level LinkedIn connection to her — and describes in specific detail the type of service she was performing for the client (immigration visa applications), the process of her service to the client (“answering every single of my questions”) and the product the client was happy with (“they have written all the reference letter drafts for me”). This lets the visitor know how well the recommendee works with her clients. The checking off of her “Top Qualities” adds extra gravy, as attributes for which to remember her.

LinkedIn recommendation

This one is weak, indulging in generic generalities and canned clichés (“Industry Leader,” etc.) with no specifics about how the recipient “brings a wealth of knowledge” about the named subjects, or to what or to whom she has brought them. It is also overlong, forcing the visitor to click “more” to read the rest of the ramble. Moreover, the recommender’s relationship to the recipient isn’t specified, thus may not make Jacob Share’s “useful” category.

LinkedIn-endorsements-2Finally, please be careful about your endorsements of others. It’s tempting, when the menu at left pops up on your profile, to simply click “Endorse all 4,” then click the same for the following foursome, and the next, and the next, and the next… to ballyhoo the brands of your buddies.

Yours Truly used to do just that, until one of my endorsees bade me to stop, because that person did not possess many of the skills I was endorsing to no end. Since then, I have been very selective about my endorsements. I question whether someone truly does “know about” the area of expertise below his/her name before clicking the “Endorse” button. That way, endorsements can be as credible as well-written recommendations from professional sources.

LinkedIn chocolatesIt’s nice to sweeten up your LinkedIn peers’ profiles, hoping they’ll follow suit for you. But, as candy can give you cavities, flattery can make you fall flat in the eyes of those you seek to do business with or hire you. So credibility, not candy, and surety, not sugar-coating, are key to LinkedIn leverage, rather than Facebook fanaticism, in all professional social media profiles.

— Todd Larson

Thank you for visiting. I welcome your comments!

LinkedIn #2: Searching and making connections

(Second of three parts)

linkedin-iconWhether set up as a website prelude, chat channel or notice board, LinkedIn company profiles enable firm project managers or principals to link up with and learn more about other firms they might be interested in forming strategic alliances, proposal teams or development partnerships with, to see if they’d be a good fit.

LinkedIn’s new “Advanced Search” option (see below) lets you track down by job title the specific staff members of those companies you want to connect with, that would have the authority to build the team with you.

linkedin_slide2_copy1For these and other purposes, LinkedIn has a database of connections at your fingerclicks, and a search engine for direct linkage to your desired contacts — which antiquates the Rolodex, that spinaround shuffledeck of card chaos that took up valuable desk space and took you weeks to slog through a thicket of names and numbers from 10 or 20 years ago to find the contact that was hiding from you.

LinkedIn also puts to rest (and to shame) that ’60s connect-and-followup method, as sung by George Harrison:

Carve your number on my wall
And maybe you will get a call
From me, if I needed someone.

LinkedIn Search BarIf you need someone now, just type in the name in the Search bar at the top of your LinkedIn home page, click the magnifier icon, and presto, an instant roster of John Smiths or whomever you were tracking.

If you need someone by title for recruitment, consultant hiring, design-build teaming or general networking purposes, “Advanced Search is the coolest part of LinkedIn,” said Patrick O’Malley at the May 22 Boston Society of Architects Marketing/PR Wizards meeting. “It allows you to search for people by anything, not just by name — for instance, Vice President of Finance or CFO. Your second-level connections, or friends of friends, will show that so-and-so was vice president of finance and you know him through a first-level connection.”

“LinkedIn is a useful way to make a cold call warm, through a common bond, or through someone you’ve worked together with,” added Julia Corbett Tanen.


To do an Advanced Search, just click “Advanced” at the right of the magnifier, and the Advanced People Search page will come up (click pic for full page):


Then you can type in the title of your desired connection (and the company that person works for, if desired), click Search, and up come folks with that title and company:


At the bottom of each listing is the number of 1st-degree LinkedIn connections you share with that person, for the possibility of being introduced to those title-holders through your direct contacts. Beside each name is the degree of your connection to that person, if any.

hands-crashing-through-laptop-computer-screen-to-grab-us-dollar-money-notes-oHowever, 3rd-degree connections appear by the person’s first name and last initial only, unless you’re willing to shell out for a LinkedIn Premium account for $24.95/month (Business plan), $39.95/month (Business Plus plan) or $74.95/month (Executive plan). Patrick showed us how to ferret out that last name for free:

  1. Open the 3rd-degree connection profile of the person you wish to contact.
  2. Open a separate Google Images window on your website browser.
  3. Drag the 3rd-degree connection’s profile photo into the Google Images search bar.
  4. Click the magnifier icon beside the bar.
  5. Click “Search by Image.”
  6. Up will pop a list of links with that photo, some likely containing the connection’s last name.

linkedinSomething to remember about all LinkedIn connections: “Be careful,” said Patrick. “Too often people link in with people they don’t really know or know well. Connect with people you really know and trust, but not with anyone and everyone.”

linkedin-1“Start with the human connection,” said Julia. “Search through people’s profiles and create something they’ll instantly bond with. Exchange messages back and forth before you can say, ‘Let’s have coffee.’ I read profiles in depth, and I look at who recommended them.” She recommends LinkedIn school alumni/ae group pages as safe, trusted ways to connect with individuals who already have something in common with you.

Above all, a LinkedIn connection means little without human substance behind it. Just because someone is LinkedIn with you doesn’t mean s/he’ll remember you later without regular contact with that person over time, in the form of e-mailing articles of interest, e-mail or phone conversations, coffee meetings, offers to help that person, etc. If you connect on LinkedIn but then fall out of touch with someone, that person may end up being like just another name and photo on an overstuffed Rolodex, thus of little or no value to your business or job search goals.

So LinkIn, and KeepInTouch!

— Todd Larson

Next post: LinkedIn #3: Recommendations, endorsements

LinkedIn #1: Design and use of company pages

(First of three parts)

LinkedIn HQAre you LinkedIn?

By that I don’t mean, “Have you set up your LinkedIn company page?” because many of us already have. (If not, what’s stopping you?) I mean:

  • Are you promoting your firm and its brand to best advantage on LinkedIn?
  • Are you sharing ideas, articles and blogs on it?
  • Are you making desired business connections on it?
  • Are you researching clients, companies and competition on it?
  • Are you recruiting employees, consultants and partners through it?
  • Are you really in on how far LinkedIn’s capabilities have come in 10 years?

These were key points raised at the May 22 BSA Marketing/PR Wizards meeting, where Julia Corbett Tanen of Riot Media and Patrick O’Malley of 617-PATRICK Social Media Training & Consulting gave us the skinny on getting the most out of LinkedIn as a marketing and networking tool, not merely a “Facebook for work” or a “resume on steroids,” in Julia’s words. For starters, here’s a link to Patrick’s PowerPoint presentation of LinkedIn as:

  • profile of your company or your personal work history and brand
  • a discussion forum, ideas-sharing and blog-sharing channel
  • a database of connections, recommendations and endorsements
  • a ‘friends of friends’ network easing the referral/connection process
  • a search engine for, say, prospects for CEOs of local companies

linkedin-groupA LinkedIn profile is now much more than a company logo intro, services rundown, nutshell history, awards presentation and employee database. It’s an adventure through company milestones, project completions, new hires, promotions, blogposts, thought-shares, and virtually everything including the kitchen sink.

Patrick, however, said a LinkedIn profile’s proper role is to introduce the company and drive traffic to its website for a closer look at the firm’s products and services — an appetizer before the entrée, in a way.

One such example is this profile I coordinated for Pressley Associates Landscape Architects (click pic for full page):

Pressley Associates Landscape Architects- Overview | LinkedIn_Page_1

The page begins with a concise overview of the firm, listing the types of landscapes they design, their most prominent works, awards won, and service specialties. The firm’s website link,, is clearly placed in the center column below to direct the user there for more company info, with no ancillary content to divert the user from getting to the main event, the website.

To the right of the info box are pic links to firm employees that have “LinkedIn” their personal profiles, which visitors are free to check out for potential LinkedIn connections, networking, project teaming, etc. — but a company page’s staff database should be handled with discretion if losing an employee to a competitor is a concern. “Competitors can see your Rolodex, so you must decide how private your Rolodex should be,” said Patrick.

Elkus Manfredi Architects, however, go more public with their profile. They introduce the firm as if we were to enter their office, then bring in the big news:

Elkus Manfredi Architects- Overview | LinkedIn_Page_1

The splash photo of their reception area does make us feel welcome to the firm — then wowed by the Boston Globe announcement of the approval of their big Convention Center hotel project, with a link to that article and a comment box to kick off the congratulations and conversations. This way, they’re presenting themselves as a successful firm that welcomes your business, comments and congrats, in the hope of expanding by becoming the “talk of the town.”

By doing so, the visitor can easily follow the firm’s latest developments — and be awed by the string of successes Elkus/Manfredi has been having, as shown by its multiple project announcements, groundbreakings and completions to “like” and comment on as you scroll down the page.

Burns & McDonnell, a civil engineering firm based in Kansas City, Mo., really pushes the LinkedIn envelope by bragging, then blogging:

Burns & McDonnell- Overview | LinkedIn_Page_1a

Leading off with a banner ballyhooing their “100 Best Companies to Work For” accolades from FORTUNE magazine, they jump right down into links to articles of general public interest — e.g., the benefits of reading every day (as “liked” and commented on by Yours Truly), job search issues and strategies, job interview techniques — as well as pieces of industry or company relevance.

“You must have a posting strategy that makes sense, that’s not spam, but caring about what’s relevant in your field, what a lot of people will be interested in,” said Patrick. “If you post that one interesting article that people want to read, they will follow you for that. The goal is not to promote your company, but to give something of value to the community.”

You are doing so by educating and informing your readerbase on the latest industry trends, tips and techniques, as well as tips for greater personal success in general. This makes you a thought leader in your field, hence heightens your industry credibility.

The Boston Society of Architects‘ profile finds a middle ground between LinkedIn as LeadIn and LinkedIn as LearnIn:

Boston Society of Architects- Overview | LinkedIn_Page_1

Starting with a shot of the BSA storefront (a good “introduction” to the organization), the page presents the “Recent Updates” as optional click-ons, thus leading the eye down to the company profile and weblink more immediately. As a bonus, below the BSA’s key contacts is a link to info about ArchitectureBoston, their magazine, for more information about the industry in general as well as “BSA Currents.” This page sets a good example for presenting a lot of content with minimal window-dressing — “less is more,” in Mies van der Rohe’s words.

— Todd Larson

Next post: LinkedIn #2: Searching and making connections

Not yet sold on social media?

tumblr_ma1jy2QsEa1rph13po1_500“Working with architects is like talking to cats — each office is in its own little microcosm,” quipped a guest at the Boston Society of Architects Marketing/PR Wizards’ recent meeting on the subject of branding.

That catty remark described my friend’s efforts to turn her firm on to social media. When she came aboard as their Marketing Manager, she immediately discovered an unused text for a company LinkedIn profile buried in her firm’s file-and-forget files. Twitter hadn’t yet flown with them. They were faceless on Facebook. They were blind to blogging. They were still sending snail-mail cards and brochures. In short, they were stuck in the print-and-paper past, skeptical of social media.

catFor weeks she played cat-and- mouse with the firm’s principals, trying to catch their attention and articulate the advantages of including social media in their marketing so they could stay competitive with their competitors by not appearing as if they had catnapped through the changing times.

She finally got a LinkedIn profile out of them, as well as a Twitter feed, a Facebook page, a MailChimp e-newsletter, and the beginnings of a blog. Now they’re linked in to LinkedIn, their Tweets are a-twitter, they’re face-to-face on Facebook, they’ve gone ape over MailChimp, and their blog has blossomed.

Worlds-Best-Cat-Litter-Facebook-GiveawayIt was a tough sell, but now they’re sold on social media, seeing for themselves how handy it is for promoting projects, events of interest, and discussion ideas to the public without costing them a dime — and how it improved their visibility and brought out their brand more broadly.

Yet, a Building Design + Construction survey of A/E/C professionals found that only 28% were employing social media for marketing, and 61% weren’t using social media, period. Reasons for resistance to social media include:

  • doubt about its business-building ability, given the still-slow economy despite social media’s big bang through cyberspace over the last decade;
  • not deeming it necessary if a firm is getting enough business through repeat clients, word of mouth and other traditional networking;
  • not thinking they have the time to spend on social media, given its addictive powers and the need to avoid distraction from current A/E/C work;
  • fear it will leak too much information about the firm to competitors, resulting in stealing of the firm’s ideas and/or hiring away members of their staff;
  • concern that that revelation of information will cause recipients to take it out of context, hence spread false rumors about the firm.

cat-at-workplace-home-officeUnderstandable, but sleeping through social media surges and waking to see how cyber-savvy your competition is could balk your business down the road if you look old-cat — uh, old-hat. You’ll seem out of touch with the times, not the thought-leader in your field that social media have enabled your competitors to become.

Also, you’ll be challenged in your capacity to contribute to conversation. The benefits of discussion through social media are fourfold (at least):

  1. to share your ideas about design-build techniques, project planning, client relationship building, business partnership development, proposal writing, etc., with others in your field or the general public, thus increasing your reputation for excellence in and knowledge of your profession;
  2. to get the latest scoops, feeds and tips on today’s trends in your field, business-building concepts, marketing effort expansion ideas, possible client contacts, job leads, etc.;
  3. to share your firm’s success stories in a way that is more accessible to the public and your contacts, thus beefing up your credibility in the industry;
  4. to recruit employees by giving them a more direct, pleasurable connection to you and your firm.

social-recruit-bannerFor instance, Abigail Carlen, LEED® AP BD+C, has used social media to attract architects and designers as Marketing Manager for Perkins + Will in New York City, and now as Director of Marketing for H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture in New York (which also has an active Facebook page and Architizer profile with a project portfolio), according to Gina A. Bedoya, CPSM.

“Management understands that, eventually, economic times will change for the better, and there will once again be a need to search for talented architects,” said Bedoya, who is president of Bedoya Business Strategies, Inc., an A/E/C business consulting firm based in Fanwood, N.J. “Using social media to showcase their firm’s culture now will position them as a desirable firm to work for in the future.”

e-commerceAlso, social media are a click- away way to link up, team up and build up client relationships and strategic alliances for the support, collaboration and outside resources a firm needs in this still-shaky economy. Through a potential client’s or partner’s blog, Facebook page, LinkedIn or Architizer profile, etc., a firm can learn more about that company’s design/build needs, goals, approaches and/or philosophies to see if it would be a good match.

“More than ever, it is imperative that A/E/C firms constantly network and ‘get to know their neighbors,'” said Sarah Zibanejadrad, Marketing Manager at Oasis Consulting Services in Roswell, Ga. “You would be surprised how many federal organizations, municipalities, and developers are on only a click away on Facebook or LinkedIn.”

Social-media-brandingEven a civil engineering firm as old-as-the-hills as Burns & McDonnell of Kansas City, Mo. (founded in 1898) has readily adapted social media for these and other purposes.

Click on the icons or links below to see for yourself:

round-blogger-logo copy Their Careers Blog has many informational articles on networking, job searching, engineering trends, time management techniques and much more, in a style tailored to the general public interest rather than just industry insiders.

round-facebook-logo copy Their Facebook page is packed with stories about their industry, their current projects, volunteer opportunities, and numerous career issues.

round-linkedin-logo copy They use LinkedIn for employee recruitment and career-related articles like those in their Careers Blog and on their Facebook page.

round-pinterest-logo On Pinterest they post project photos, event notice posters, visual intros to engineering tools, etc., with links to corresponding Twitter and other feeds.

round-twitter-logo copy They Tweet about honors they receive, positions they have open, events of interest to the industry, etc.

round-youtube-logo Their YouTube videos run the gamut from an intern’s testimony on his experience at the firm to an award presentation to a recent summit.

Burns & McDonnell are a model for maxing out their mass-media communication through multiple channels, thus staying firmly in the public and industry eye — to the point of being ranked 26th in FORTUNE’s 100 Best Companies to Work For in 2012, and 18th in 2013.

grumpy-cat-social-media-campaign-only-onceTo convince your firm of social media’s benefits, I recommend a soft-sell approach, to avoid getting caught in a situation like the one on the right.

(This was where my friend fell short, attacking the problem like a raging tiger instead of a serene Siamese. Had the patient purr of a supportive associate not softened her hard-sell, her firm would be far from wearing the cat’s pajamas in their industry today — though they were lions in it all along.)

For starters:

opera-house-e1356699865822Analyze your competition. Scrutinize all of its social media for visual and verbal content, graphic style and layout, communication of company mission and industry ideas, brand quality and consistency, and so on.
Go beyond the big cats — Blogger, Digg, Facebook, Flickr, Google, LinkedIn, Pinterest, StumbleUpon, Twitter, WordPress, YouTube, etc. — to include industry-specialized social media, e.g., Archello, Archinect, Architizer, Houzz. Make careful notes of the assets and liabilities of each profile.

c-suite-social-mediaPresent your findings to the principals in a marketing meeting. While showing the best and worst aspects of your competitor’s profiles on your laptop or projection system, use a thoughtful, go-easy tone of voice to explain what works and what doesn’t, what could inspire your firm’s profiles, and what the firm could do to distinguish itself from the competition. This will enable the principals to think for themselves about how their competitors have built better images and how they themselves could do so, capitalizing on their competitors’ sure things and shortfalls.

sma-artamAssure them that you, the marketer, will handle most of the media. If the principals and associates are concerned that social media usage will eat up billable time on their ongoing projects, let them know you’ll take care of setting up and developing all of the profiles, writing most of the content, and coordinating all staff contributions to it.
Use your weekly marketing meetings and daily dealings with the principals to put forward your profile and content proposals for their review, revision and go-ahead, to make the social media development process as collaborative as possible without being intrusive.

social.media_Propose a social media development plan by which profile content, style and format can be reviewed, agreed upon in advance, and practiced regularly to resolve the perpetual puzzles of spamming, oversaturation, stealing of ideas, hiring away personnel, etc., as much as possible. Also, formulate a targeted approach to business solicitation, client or business partner relationship development, industry ideas sharing, and sending out project announcement, holiday greeting and company anniversary e-cards through social media. That way, the principals can rest assured that the media will be used responsibly and efficiently.

KloudSocial-SocialBuzzTreat social media like a cocktail party or industry convention. No firm would question those timeless methods of communicating with a covey of characters and cultivating connections with promising prospects and bypassing blah ones. So you could emphasize social media as a transition of those dynamics from convention to computer, from luau to laptop.
This would allow a firm to communicate with clients, partners and the public more regularly, rather than just waiting for those once-in-a-blue-moon social events to happen. Thus social media communication could lead to more business possibilities more frequently, in part because it enables firms to invite key business prospects to networking events in advance, i.e., setting up to talk shop rather than waiting to run into them at the event or hoping they’ll be there.

Total_HR_Examines_The_Value_of_Social_MediaLet them know what they’re missing. Calmly caution the principals that, with the ever- expanding use of social media for business networking, not jumping on its bandwagon would be like not maintaining one’s presence at parties or conventions, hence being less remembered than the competition, and risking bankruptcy.

twitter-catAssure them they’ll be in the catbird seat if they take a bite out of social media. A bit of an exaggeration, but refining one’s marketing according to current trends signifies a willingness to keep growing and changing with the industry, hence to keep up with one’s contacts socially and technologically, to avoid being a cat in your own little microcosm. You’ll notice the results…

catbooktwitter+cat+follow+iconcat-video-youtube-logo pierre-cat--linkedin expurrt

— Todd Larson


  1. Bedoya, Gina A., “The Who, What, When, Why and How of Social Media for the A/E/C Community,” Engineering News-Record, May 1, 2010.
  2. Giedrys, Sally, “When Social Media is Worth Your Time,” The Friedman File, Dec. 2012, Friedman & Partners.
  3. Leavitt, Neal, “How the A/E/C Community Uses Social Media These Days,” iMedia Connection, May 23, 2012.
  4. Shorr, Brad, “3 analogies to help executives ‘get’ social media,”, Aug. 8, 2012.
  5. Zibanejadrad, Sarah, “Why Social Media is Useful to A/E/C Firms,”

Thank you for visiting. I welcome your comments!

To Go, or Not to Go? That is the question…

U.S. Capitol Dome Restoration

Don’t all jump at once…

…that every firm should ask about every RFP, RFQ or RFI that crosses their desk, jams their mailbox, spams their e-mail or grabs their attention on GovernmentBids, BidSync, RFPDB, Comm- PASS, or whatever bid listing sites they scan daily for dollars. A preplanned set of criteria for evaluating a project’s suitability can save a firm time, money and energy shot on a down-at-the-bottom or doomed-from-the-start proposal packaged together out of need for work or a hey- that’s-for-me gut reaction to an RFP/Q/I without fine- tooth-combing its details.

In my previous post I mentioned a Go/No-Go decision system an Indianapolis civil engineering firm used to help provide more up-front information about each new considered project proposal. So I thought I’d elaborate on that in this post.

go-no-go-cropAt a recent Boston Society of Architects Marketing/PR Wizards meeting, Kathy McMahon, Director of Marketing for CBT Architects, presented her firm’s Go/No-Go proposal criteria.

They include:

  • Is there enough time to put out the proposal?
  • Is it in our area of expertise, experience, or specialty?
  • Is the project enough in our region to give us a chance at it?
  • Do we have any personal or political connection(s) to the project or client?
  • Would the project be a strong design or social opportunity for us?
  • Is the project profitable enough for us, based on its budget and fees?
  • Would the project present a possibility to expand our expertise or our regional impact?
  • Do we have the marketing capacity to get the proposal done?
  • Would the project create a customized connection that would result in a future commission for us?
  • Is the cost to develop our response to the RFP/Q/I reasonable and manageable, relative to our odds of winning the project?
  • How well could we write about the problem the project poses and articulate the solution we propose, capturing the culture of the client and the essence of the building?

BeslissingstabelOther questions to consider:

  • What is our track record at winning proposals for similar projects in similar regions?
  • How far did we go in the proposal selection process on projects like this? (One way to find these answers is to have an RFP database handy to keyword-search for, say, a courthouse, hospital, public school, etc., your firm has done or proposed in a particular city, county or state, to determine your chances of success on a similar RFP/Q/I you’re considering.)
  • How distinct are our insights into client needs and expectations, based on our level of familiarity with the client and how much data and information we could gather about the client?
  • How favored would our competitor(s) be in this contest, compared to us?
  • How available to us are needed team members in the project?
  • How negotiable is the price of the project?
  • How well does this project fit in with our firm’s stated marketing goals?
  • Would this project weaken or lose us an existing account?
  • What are our odds of winning the project?
  • Is the project’s funding certain? (Always call the purchasing office of the source of every new RFP/Q/I to find out first thing before proceeding with the proposal.)

Go-No Go Matrix cropped

Go/No-Go Decision Matrix: To facilitate the process of deciding whether to pursue an RFP/Q/I, these and other questions could be put into a matrix like the one above (which you’re free to click on and drag onto your desktop as a JPEG file to open up and print out for your firm’s use).

Put each question into a viability category: Client Contact/Rapport, Marketing Intelligence, Competitive Advantage, Qualifications and Experience, Project Team Availability, Profit Potential, Pricing Sensitivity, Cost to Respond, Consistency with Marketing Plan, Odds of Winning, etc. Then list these categories in a “Proposal Factors” column on the matrix’s left-hand side.

Then have at least three firm members in varying organizational ranks (to get a variety of perspectives) fill out the matrix as follows:

  1. Score each category on an ascending scale of 1 to 6 from least to most appropriate for your firm.
  2. Rate your most immediate competitors for the project in the same way, depending on how much information you can find about their qualifications for the project, connections with the client, etc.
  3. Add the scores and divide the final sums by how many questions are on the matrix.
  4. Those who filled out the matrix should compare their scores and combine them according to their mean, median or mode, depending what is agreed upon beforehand.
  5. The resultant “Overall Rating” should be at least 4 before deciding to write a proposal. If less, consult appropriate firm management before proceeding with the proposal.
  6. Encourage all matrix reviewers to leave written comments in the Comment Box at the bottom, to stimulate further discussion about a project’s viability and the reasons for a Go or No-Go decision.

cefc303208d237280a4bad9fb7d0a8ba.wix_mp_srz_680_430_75_22_0.50_1.20_0Teamwork: The teamwork required for proposal production I discussed in my last post also applies to the Go/No-Go decision. All members of a prospective project team should participate in the decision discussion based on the matrix scores and comments.

It also helps to keep everyone informed of the time and effort required to write and package each successful proposal — which can be at least three full business days — as a consideration in the final decision, so a consensus can be reached on whether or not that proposal is time and money well spent.

gold_dollar_parachute_trader_finance-300x250A Go/No-Go criterion to avoid: a too-stringent fee ceiling. This could cost your firm valuable opportunities that might enrich your portfolio, lead to more profitable projects and client connections down the road, or at least keep you working and let the world know you’re “in demand” so you stand a better chance at getting better-paying work. If you tend to shun any project budgeted below a fixed minimum figure, before long you could find your firm in a work/ revenue shortfall that could force work week reductions, layoffs, and/or office space shrinkage.

It’s better to consider each project fee on a case-by-case basis when deciding as a team whether or not to go for it, and to make the budget one among many factors in choosing “Go, Team” or “No Go, Joe.” But certainly choose the latter if:

  • the fee is so low in proportion to the project’s scope, duration, manpower and expense it won’t be lucrative for all concerned;
  • the project’s funding is so uncertain it could leave you hanging at the end, even sending the client months of reminder invoices;
  • the project’s budget is undecided or unavailable (even over the phone), so you risk being shortchanged or pro bono-fied.

400_F_8624923_y8RHxwpeoiTFlx2ejBoBVx2taT42J0F7It can cost as much as $3,500 to assemble a proposal, qualifications or information package. So a detailed list of criteria questions for evaluating a project’s merits ahead of time can save your firm considerable sums of money by helping you weed out projects you have little or no chance of getting. This will also free you up to pursue more suitable opportunities, as well as make the most of your billable time on your current work. That is how the Go/No-Go process can help a firm stay solvent as much as winning new work.

As Benjamin Franklin put it, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

For more insights on reaching a Go/No-Go verdict, read “Developing Your Go/No-Go Decision Tree” by David Kutcher.

— Todd Larson

Thank you for visiting. I welcome your comments!

Proposals, like buildings, demand teamwork

Gehrytower091009Much as we like to credit a building solely to its “starchitect” — Frank Gehry, Norman Foster, Renzo Piano, etc. — a work of architecture is never the work of one man. It’s the product of a complex, multilayered, multifaceted team of designers, drafters, engineers, contractors, developers, site planners, surveyors, project managers, attorneys, financiers, construction workers, manufacturers, inspectors, client reps, graphic designers, IT technicians and, yes, marketers.

(Did I miss anybody?)

The same goes for project proposals. I just read an interesting piece about the importance of teamwork in proposal production on LinkedIn’s Proposal Development and Writing Secrets group page. Though intended to promote the author’s proposal streamlining and price quotation service, this piece has many good pointers on how to put several heads together to craft and draft a proposal so all stakeholders in the project get in their two cents’ worth. This yields a more professional proposal than if they dumped the whole thing in one person’s lap.

For starters:

7c80ff704366443ccc162cdb3997812b.wix_mp_srz_400_270_75_22_0.50_1.20_0Select, collect. In a firm meeting or a special proposal powwow, determine up front who all the project’s players will be. Then make up a top-down chart of this project team in a “family tree” format, from principal to project manager to associates to assistants.

This will clarify the who, what, when, where and why of each player’s role in the whole. Which in turn will make it easier for each to contribute key content to the proposal in a more structured way.

Appoint a point. To give credence to the project in the client’s eyes, make the project manager the client’s main point of contact. This way the team’s channel of client communication can consistently come from one point person, rather than a confused cluster of contradictory chatter coming from one member one day and another the next.

d9c490aa8f045b5bd23afaf95d64bf60.wix_mp_srz_400_270_75_22_0.50_1.20_0Collaborate, communicate. For a more fleshed-out proposal with input from all sides, the PM should contact the project team several times to continually get their insights and input prior to, and in the course of, the proposal writing process.

Retrieve, receive. The PM might begin by sending a group e-mail out to the team with as complete information about the potential client as can be gathered from the Internet, newspapers and library research: the client’s website, LinkedIn and Wikipedia profiles, Twitter and Facebook info, YouTube videos, news coverage, ratings on NASDAQ, Moody’s, Standard & Poor, Dun & Bradstreet, etc.

In this e-mail the PM should ask all team members to e-mail back any additional info about the client and/or its industry they can dig up, and any questions they have about the project. This will prompt the PM to think of more questions to extract more specifics from the client about the project requirements.

Drill, distill. The PM then interrogates the client with this comprehensive list of questions, allowing the client’s answers to provoke further questions about the project’s technical details and overall aims. Once satisfied with the resultant information, the PM synthesizes it into a bullet-point list of the client’s project requirements and needs to make it easier for the team to peruse and ponder.

520237256391310fbb4b0c9c2d9673a9.wix_mp_srz_400_270_75_22_0.50_1.20_0Brainstorm, form. Based on this point list that arose from their questions, the proposal team has meetings of the minds to form thoughtful solutions to the client’s project demands. More heads involved mean more issues examined, hence a broader, deeper project proposal.

These issues should include:

  • How will our service benefit the client, business-wise?
  • How will it benefit the users or occupants of the building, in terms of personal well-being and space efficiency?
  • What will be the project’s long-term value to the client and generations of users, occupants and/or customers?
  • Is our proposal convincing, compelling, competitive?
  • How should graphics and images be arranged with texts to communicate our project aims more powerfully in the proposal?
  • Are we really addressing the client’s needs, or just trumpeting our track record?
  • How can we put our track record to use to meet the client’s specific architectural, social, environmental, economic and civic requirements for this project?
  • How will our service qualify the structure for LEED certification?
  • What level of LEED certification are we aiming for (silver, gold, platinum)?
  • What specific sustainable building materials, cosmetics, construction techniques, material recycling plans, etc., that would make us eligible for LEED certification, should be mentioned in the proposal?
  • How could BIM, Revit, etc., be employed to ferret out more specific details of the construction process and product to include in the proposal?

The team as a group should ask the right questions and come up with the right answers to make the proposal client-centric, not egocentric. Thus the client becomes the true architect of the project by dictating the design s/he desires.

bd5d4c4a9bf89862ceb7073801d6bd62.wix_mp_srz_400_270_75_22_0.50_1.20_0Stimulate, formulate. E-mail is no substitute for the face-to- face team meetings that stimulate the open discussion needed to formulate not only specific solutions to the client’s project problems, but also collective action plans for preparing the proposal accordingly.

In-the-flesh meetings also prompt unasked questions that raise unresolved issues about unexplained details that could affect the project’s progress and viability. Furthermore, these get-togethers reaffirm the camaraderie and common bond among the team that is essential to both proposal and project success.

Involve, resolve. It’s also important to involve in the proposal development process the subcontractors, consultants, designers, landscapers, engineers, and anyone else that would be involved in the project itself. This way, each party would get a sense of how the others functioned in the project process so that conflicts within the team could be resolved faster and no one would feel “left out” by not being informed of what was going on every step of the way. And this team spirit would be reflected in the proposal, presenting the project as a collaborative effort, not a soup of supers and subs.

826aa8f7c93c73e4222d4cb5f99716fe.wix_mp_srz_400_270_75_22_0.50_1.20_0Glean, clean. Notwithstanding that collaborative effort, the writing process demands leadership from the proposal manager, coordinator or writer, as marketer Michael Sweeney deftly describes it in his blog, The Design Marketer’s Workstation.

This person must receive all e-mails and attend all meetings of the proposal team, take rigorous notes all along, and play journalist, even detective or cross-examiner, in probing the PM and others with additional questions to clear up confusion or glean missing info. Then s/he can synthesize all salient points into a first draft of the proposal, cleaning up any vague, wordy or cryptic language to make the text terse, fluid and readable.

But the collaboration doesn’t stop there: the proposal manager/coordinator/writer must confer with the PM and other key people to make sure their project intentions are being communicated properly and precisely.

Chop, crop. The proposal scribe should by all means put the brakes on the document if it’s getting to be legal-doc length. But s/he must first talk with those key proposal teammates if s/he feels something needs to be cut from a text or cropped from an image to make the proposal flow better, get to the point faster, or consume less paper. For what lands on the cutting-room floor could make or break a project’s chances of success.

bb579bc6c50f369f182c4bd0bddf32dd.wix_mp_srz_400_270_75_22_0.50_1.20_0Rake over, make over. Before the proposal is sent to the client, each team member should take the time to read it over carefully to fill in gaps, eliminate inessentials, and take out tangents. Then the team should meet to make sure — as a group — that the proposal is using the right language to convey the right message about the project, and that the reader can visualize the project by reading the proposal. More sets of eyes mean fewer errors and omissions, hence a sounder proposal that demonstrates the teamwork you’re going to bring to the project itself.

Thus a “together” approach to building a proposal helps to establish and confirm the design/development team that will carry out the actual project if the firm wins it, as well as each team member’s specific responsibilities on the project.

Megan Scott, Client Services Assistant at Butler Fairman & Seufert Civil Engineers in Indianapolis, cites a fine example of proposal teamwork in a LinkedIn discussion:

ebf72ef300072eaa8d175f0bd048c271.wix_mp_srz_400_270_75_22_0.50_1.20_0“I coordinate with the business development team for help with the cover letter and project understanding. I coordinate with IT/graphics for any maps, renderings, cross sections I might need and with the technical department head for the project approach and verification of highlighted project examples.

“We also implemented a Go/No-Go system to try and help provide more information up front, along with a proposal completion schedule highlighting responsibilities and due dates to ensure the proposal gets done with sufficient time for review.”

Photo by Tee Meng, Wiki

Photo by Tee Meng, Wiki

These are examples of how teamwork can ease the burden on the designated proposal writer, who may spend as much as 25-30 hours per week on proposals, “in which case 6 per month should be ‘maxed out,’” according to Michael LePostollec, Marketing Manager at Faithful+Gould Construction Management in Philadelphia. “It’s always possible to do more, but at some point there are diminishing returns and burnout sets in.”

This reminds me of a time when I was instructed to write up a DSB form for a proposal. Putting it aside for other marketing priorities, I got the following reminder: “I’m not doin’ it, you’re doin’ it!”

The firm as a whole should be doin’ it — just like they’ll do on the project.

— Todd Larson

P.S. If you’re curious about that piece I read that inspired this post, click here.

Thank you for visiting. I welcome your comments!

The photo shoot: a collaborative, detailed process

julius_shulman_case-study-house-no-29-california-1960-julius-shulman-744822Planning a photo shoot of a building, interior, landscape, or detail for marketing, presentation, publication, proposal, award submission or archival purposes isn’t a simple matter of scout-and-survey, point-and-shoot, pick-and-print, file-and-find. Nor should it require only the photographer’s presence at the site.

Almost as complex as conceiving, designing, erecting and inspecting the building itself, a photo shoot is a collaborative, detailed, incremental planning process involving multiple sets of eyes: the photographer, client, architect or engineer or builder, project manager, graphic designer, marketing staff.

Last month’s Boston Society of Architects Marketing/PR Wizards meeting, hosting architectural photographers Anton Grassl and Greg Premru, raised many salient points about how to get the most out of a photo shoot and capture the image of a firm’s work most effectively, including the following:

Goal-setting. The firm must look carefully at a project and think about:

  • the long- and short-term promotional goals for its photos;
  • their intended purposes (general brochure or website, special campaign, the firm’s photo library, etc.):
  • how finished a building or landscape needs to be before photography;
  • the light conditions necessary to image the building or landscape the way you want to convey it to the receiver;
  • whether actual users or occupants of the spaces or outside models should be brought into the image to present the project as an actively used space, not a museum piece;
  • how doable a photo shoot of a particular building, landscape, conduit, etc., is to begin with, depending on condition, feasibility, success in its intended use, etc.

Client and firm must sit down together and discuss these and other issues and agree on what photographic approach and image will please all parties, so they are the visionaries of the images, and the photographer is the executor of those visions.


Photo by Joao Morgado, courtesy Wikimedia

Scouting. The client, designer/builder/engineer, project manager and  marketing staff should all visit the building or landscape and determine the details to emphasize in the photos. They should consider angles, distances, perspectives, light qualities, interiors, even the project’s history or evolution over time.

Do you want:

  • to tell a story about the project through its photos?
  • to capture its nuances at different hours of the day?
  • to convey the project’s use and its success therein?
  • to show how well it has held up, aged or improved over the years?
  • to use existing lighting, or have the photographer add more?

Also consider:

  • What nonessentials (light poles, exit signs, etc.) should be angled, cropped or Photoshopped out of the images?
  • What details should be emphasized over others in the images, depending on how you want to promote the project, to whom, and to what end?
  • Are there any conduits, closets, mechanical rooms, data centers, infrastructural elements, etc., that would need special photo skills?
  • Should puffy clouds, leafy trees, etc., be included in the background for added emphasis or visual weight on certain building/landscape elements?
  • How many days will be needed to do the shoot, and which days, depending on when and how it is used at what times of day or days of the week?

Different perspectives from different team players should be heard by all so everyone is aware of what’s involved on the shoot and a consensus can be formed on the best photography strategy.

It might also be helpful for the firm team to take their own photos of the site with digital cameras, for concrete images to show the photographer to give a sense of what they’re looking for on a professional level. (I did this myself for one of my firm’s sites — and a couple of my photos got published along with my press releases! Click here for an example.)


Photo by Motorrad-67, courtesy Wikimedia

Picking a photographer. The photographer you normally use to shoot residences may not be the best qualified for health-care facilities, or your hospitals photographer may not do as well with schools or public buildings. Don’t be afraid to shop around for a specialist in the kind of building you want photographed.

Also consider the photographer’s pricing relative to the number of days the shoot requires, advance payment policy, distance from the site and your office (e.g., travel time charges), credentials, reputation, portfolio quality or specialty, etc.

Pre-shoot planning. Once you’ve selected your photographer for your particular project or marketing initiative, all concerned parties should talk at length with the photographer about:

  • the kind of visual effect(s) they’re looking for;
  • whether the photos should be web-optimized;
  • their time frame for the shoot;
  • the costs involved;
  • lighting required, if any;
  • a backup plan in case of inclement weather on the day of the shoot;
  • the photographer keeping a backup of the images in case they are lost at the firm office; etc.

Then draw up a contract for the shoot for all concerned parties to sign.

The project’s client should also be contacted to make arrangements for the placement of people in the frames to demonstrate the space’s active use: if not actual occupants or users, then outside models and props to stand in for schoolchildren, teachers, lab technicians, nurses, patients, residents, businesspeople, etc.


Photo by Michael Henderson, Wikimedia

The actual shoot: Plans should be made for one or more interested parties to be on site with the photographer, or at least visit the site while the photography is in progress, in order to continue the communication with the photographer so the shoot can proceed according to the original plans and goals…

…but not to the extent that it would slow down the shoot and run up the bill, or make the photographer feel so barraged by a wide range of opinions on how a scene should be framed, shot, angled, lit, etc., that too many cooks would spoil the broth. (It might be worthwhile for the firm’s marketing director to be at the site at the start of the shoot so you can be sure you’re getting all the shots you want.)

Post-shoot: The photo selection and retouching process should be as collaborative among all parties as the photo shoot planning process was, always keeping the predetermined goals and uses for the photos in mind.

TsongasarenaA well-planned photo shoot involves teamwork among all concerned from start to finish. This can spare you the expense of redoing shoots — especially if the result is a comprehensive photo library for many uses over time — and is more likely to lead to the most desired result of all: presenting your projects at their most pristine.

For more insights on proper photo-shoot planning, read “How a Marketing Photo Shoot Works” by Amanda Miller of MillerBrooks Marketing & Branding.

— Todd Larson

Thank you for visiting. I welcome your comments!