Blueprint founder Peter Murray’s WAF 2013 talk reminds architects about the importance of a media strategy, reports Rowena Hockin.
If you’re going to delve into the murky world of architectural communication and public relations then having the neat, trim Peter Murray – architectural editor, founder of Blueprint, avid cyclist, chairman of New London Architecture – as your Virgil would be a fine way to navigate those particular circles of hell.
Murray’s base line in his talk, The value of communication, at the 2013 World Architecture Festival (WAF) was that effective communications are key to architectural success. Speaking on a casual corner stage while delegates milled, he cited his first-hand experience as an editor in the early 1970s of having Stirling, Rogers, Foster et al provide architectural journals with publication-ready packages of images and text, being subsequently published, building their profiles and thriving, while their contemporaries, with no less talent but no effective communications, faded from the architectural record. Drawing from even more ancient history Murray described Palladio as a “serial publisher” who used his output to propel himself from obscure Vicenza stonemason to household name.
Murray returned often to the idea of using a communications strategy to actively define an architectural practice, creating a means for the practice to be “seen as you would like to be seen” and to direct where work comes from. From the side of the stage Paul Finch (flying the flag for tropical style in a rumpled beige suit to counterpoint Murray’s dark ensemble) riffed on this concept by bringing up the “chicken and egg” dilemma faced by many architects, illustrated with the anecdote of a large practice who wanted to secure airport commissions, but having no experience in the field took a long-term strategy of attending relevant conferences and, over time, establishing networks with other consultants within the field, slowly but inevitably leading to the desired commissions. Finch also chided architects for failing to recognize the importance of publishing outside of the architectural press to build a profile within their chosen area of practice.
As Murray spoke, more conference attendees settled in to listen, enjoying the clarity of Murray’s message (DO use a good photographer, DON’T use archi-speak). Murray delineated the difference between selling a product and a service, recognizing that some architects definitely have a “product” but directing his audience to focus on how to communicate the service they provide, noting that “architects rarely talk about the benefits of using themselves as a supplier”.
Immediately after the session a couple of architects were in deep discussion about how they might edit their jury presentation for the next day, setting off after Murray for some suggestions.