- Member, SMPS-NY
- Public Relations Committee
As marketers, how do we reflect the culture and beliefs of our firms and communicate leadership without damaging current/potential relationships? How do we reconcile the divide between the voice of a representational institution vs. personal, individual beliefs? As someone who is in the early years of his marketing career, I’d like to explore the approach a firm should take when responding to a hot-button issue, an opinionated trend.
A recent statement by Robert Ivy, AIA, current Executive Vice President and CEO of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), has drawn increased criticism from members of the organization as well as media outlets and other individuals in our industry. The hashtag #NotMyAIA has gained serious traction on social media – mapping out the expressions of individual architects and AIA members who feel that they were not represented accurately by an organization that was meant to be bi-partisan, inclusive and supportive of its members.
Now that the initial election dust is beginning to settle (in a manner of speaking), fully-formed opinions are beginning to emerge from the noise. It’s this time, where inflammatory remarks and reactive responses are starting to slow, that lasting impressions are made. It’s this time where we determine if our firm will respond, and if so, what our goal should be.
Where do we draw the line between our firms’ partners/principals/architects who feel that their voices need to be heard vs. the culture and image we’ve carefully crafted in the A/E/C marketplace?
As representatives of our respective firms’ ideals, capabilities and goals, it is important for us to craft statements that are reflective of our firm culture and not a reflection of personal feelings. It’s also important for us to gather the facts. We understand that the President-Elect’s sweet spot is in real estate development and construction, and his new position will afford him greater access to our industry. That’s why facts, in this instance, are CRUCIAL to developing or recommending a response.
Fact-checking also means asking important questions – from standard PR questions to more hard-hitting topics. Questioning is a great way to lead to a recommendation. Questions such as:
- Who is the audience and how do we reach them?
- How do we work with firm leadership to determine what culture we want to create?
- Should a principal respond personally? Or should it be coming from the firm?
Do we make a stand and choose one side over the other? Do we make a statement that doesn’t create waves and lets our audience know we heard them, but not really take any action? Or do we simply withhold a response (which, obviously, is a response in itself)? There’s a lot to consider.
Mr. Ivy’s statement was read by people of incredibly varied opinions – some of whom surely are different from those of your own firm. If a response is warranted by your firm, be prepared to deal with any negative outcomes – be forward-thinking and determine future opportunities for response.
With emotions running high, objectivity is vital for marketing communications and public relations. We cannot make recommendations that may, ultimately, result in damaging the image we’ve crafted for our firm based on what we’re feeling, or what our partners/principals are feeling. Don’t take emotions out of play, but rather, use what we feel as fuel to gather the facts, develop your firm’s position and respond in the way that will ultimately lead you to your end goal.
I want to know what you think. There are many lessons to be learned – maybe you’ve gone through a similar situation. The Marketer’s Toolbox always has room for more tools, it’s how we use them that determines our success.