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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Architects and marketing

I had a wonderfully insightful and satisfying meeting with a group of local architects (in Ottawa) today. We are profiling their practice in the next issue of Ottawa Construction News -- we last wrote about them about four years ago. Suppliers and general contractors, again, are advertising in support, so the feature will be successful.

But this discussion transcended the usual 'brag' session about projects they wish to publicize. We looked instead at the broad scope of the relationship between the architects, engineers, general contractors, tradespeople, and owners, and the wonderfully complex dynamics in the new infrastructure marketplace, with so-called "3P" projects the norm now. The public-private partnerships take private funds, and often private management, to operate public facilities. As you can imagine, conventional practices are put to a challenge here -- who is the owner? In some cases, it is a consortium including the general contractor, a financial institution, and professional services such as the architects or engineers.

Then, we explored the interchange between the general contractors, trades, and architects and designers about change orders -- and the differing perspective of responsibility. Are GC's cooking up change orders to pad their profits, or are they simply struggling with incomplete or inaccurate drawings. As people working in this industry well know, the ideals of collaboration sometimes degenerate into conflict -- including expensive and often futile litigation.

Why is all of this so important? The jobs coming to the marketplace these days are often invitations for consortia to bid for the entire package -- this means, the process of setting up the business arrangements is much more complex than discovering an RFP, filling in some paperwork, and hoping to be selected. Professional practices must align themselves with the right consortium -- and these are often invisible unless you know who is who. Preparing bids in this environment requires more than a usual amount of preparation, planning and teamwork, even before the RFP is introduced. As the architects told me today, they find about these jobs when they are called by one of the participants -- in other words, their marketing success is defined by the inbound inquiry; not outbound solicitation or proposal preparation.

Yet, to achieve that inbound inquiry, they must have a reputation for good work -- and sufficient community visibility that they are considered. That is where media publicity is so helpful. It keeps the architect's names and reputation in front of prospective clients; or prospective bidding consortia.

This, indeed, is a much more challenging -- and rewarding -- kind of competition than just looking for public tender opportunities, or bidding in open competitions.

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