An architect recently complained on social media about other architects who put up paid advertisements on Facebook. “This is highly unethical and especially surprising when done by an established firm,” he concluded.
While he did not reveal details of the firm he was referring to, his comments came right on the heels of a week long promotion of a Facebook post by a well established architectural firm in Nairobi. The firm, which had sponsored its staff members to a holiday at an ‘unspecified’ location at the coast, posted photographs of its staff members enjoying the different activities while on holiday.
An interesting debate emanated from the complaint with most of those who contributed opining that architecture is a business and that marketing is one of the most critical modes through which one grows their businesses.
The matter of advertising has been clearly and decisively dealt with by the Board of Registration for Architects and Quantity Surveyors (BORAQS). Through the practice notes, they have spelt out what was permissible and what was considered as professional misconduct in both direct and indirect marketing.
These practice notes have however come under sharp criticism, especially those relating to matters advertising, and calls have been made to have them revised so that they are aligned with the realities of the day.
Practise note number 12, for instance, which covers matters regarding talk shows and interviews on radio and TV states that when an architect takes part in a professional interview or talk show on radio or TV, they are allowed to state only their profession as architect but not reveal their names. If the engagement is non professional, they should only state their name but not reveal that they are architects. In both instances, permission must be sought from BORAQS should one feel that they have to do otherwise.
It is absurd that one will be present at a talk show on TV or radio and fail to either reveal their name or profession, the two things which give credibility and authority to whatever one contributes. In fact, anonymity in media is granted in special circumstances and opinions may not be published or aired if not properly credited. It is important to note, however, that this practice note was published after the 215th meeting of July 1962.
Practise note number 15 regarding advertisements in the press prohibits architects who put up advertisements in newspapers inviting applications for staff from displaying their name in advertisement in a typeface which is ‘larger than necessary’. This note does not proceed to give further details of what would be considered necessary. This practice note was published after the 257th meeting of March 1966.
The idea could have been inspired by the need to prevent architectural firms from taking advantage of that opportunity and say much more about themselves and what they do. But what is wrong with that?
In order to attract high quality human resource, you need to assure them that they are joining a credible firm that handles good quality projects. What better way to say it other than a short introduction of your firm possibly stating who you are and what you do?
Practise note number 39 published after the 644th meeting of August 2002 is the most recent regarding advertising in the press. Taking note of the advances in technology, changes in attitudes and the market turning to be consumer centered, the board found it necessary to align the practice note to the realities of the market.
Among other things, the note allowed firms to host websites, issue circulars, brochures and newsletters on condition that the information provided is factual and self praising. The note was however still conservative on vacancy advertisements allowing architects to only give their addresses in the advertisements.
Take a firm with offices in Uganda, Rwanda, Botswana and Tanzania that has handled mega projects both commercial and residential. Would it be factual to call it ‘A firm of architects with offices within the region’? Would it be considered self praising if they stated that they are ‘A large firm of architects handling mega projects within the region with offices in Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Botswana’?
The note also bars architects who contribute commentaries in publication from extolling their capabilities and expertise. It would therefore be wrong for a publication to state that a writer is for instance an ‘Environmental Design Expert’ or a Housing Expert’ and instead just state that the writer is an ‘Architect’.
It is given that good practice is the way to run a practice. This is also the best marketing tool for an architect as it helps generate repeat business. Satisfied clients spread the word and referrals would be streaming in. Good visible projects also generate enquiries which can be easily converted into projects.
Advertising and marketing is however a path we must take as architects.
In their code of professional conduct, Guidance Note Number 3 deals specifically with advertising. It states that members must ensure that whatever the information they give is factual and relevant and does not mislead or be unfair to anyone else.
It further states that all marketing and promotion material be legal, decent and truthful and be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers, society in general and the environment and natural resources. The advertisements should also respect the principles of fair competition.
The note further clarifies that expertise and resources can be implied but should not be beyond those which can be provided. The advertisement cannot also unfairly discredit other competitors either directly or by implication.
The future of business lies in marketing. Architectural practice, as it is a business, is no exception. We can bury our heads, stick to the practice notes and insist that it is how architecture should be practiced. We shall however be lying to ourselves and sooner rather than later, we shall realize that we cannot stop an idea whose time has come.
The author is a practicing architect. He can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org