00:04 Ayo Abbas
Welcome to Marketing In Times of Crisis. It's where I get to talk to interesting business leaders about the steps that they're taking to weather the current crisis. They'll also reflect on what they did to overcome past recessions like the crash in 2008. I hope you enjoy it and learn as much as I did.
It's Thursday the second of July 2020. I'm your host Ayo Abbas and welcome to the latest episode of Marketing In Times of Crisis. Today's guest is Celeste Bolte, who is a Communications Specialist plus Head of Bowerbird UK. She's knowledgeable, has an opinion and knows her architectural comms onions, which is why she's our guest today. Hi, Celeste. Thanks for coming on. Can you tell me a bit more about you and your roles?
00:55 Celeste Bolte
Hi, Ayo. Thank you so much for having me.
Yes, I can. I am a Comms Specialist and Consultant. And I've been working with architecture and fashion and technology practices, clients and businesses for around the last eight years now. You can probably tell from my accent that I did not hail from the UK originally. So, Melbourne in Australia is is my hometown. I relocated over to London last year to lead the expansion of Bowerbird here in the UK.
01:30 Ayo Abbas
So can you tell me a bit more about Bowerbird?
01:33 Celeste Bolte
Sure. So Bowerbird is a platform used by architects and journalists to exchange projects and get projects published in a whole range of publications. We set up the platform about seven years ago. So Ben and Nick are the two co-founders and they really came to the platform after sort of coming to this problem of finding it, making sure that smaller studios could you know, reach journalists. So Nick, being an architect was really struggling to see his work published and Ben found journalists were looking for more good projects by such a great variety of architecture studios. And the platform was kind of that easy fix, you know, it makes sure that architects can reach journalists but also creates a really great resource for publications and journalists looking for interesting design content.
02:26 Ayo Abbas
And so far, I guess during lockdown, what have you seen that's been changing in terms of what architects are doing PR wise and, and communications wise?
02:35 Celeste Bolte
I think lockdown has been a really interesting time for a lot of practices. I mean, in my work, I speak to many, many practices in the UK and also lots of journalists and photographers as well. And I think the real change has just been kind of, I think, and this is echoed in in many areas, but uncertainty. I think a lot of studios aren't quite sure what to do, and are not really sure what steps to take, you know, do you sort of go hard and really want to sort of sell the platform or sell your practice at this stage? Or should you sort of hold off and wait and see if things pick back up? So just kind of figuring out what works for each practice has been quite a learning curve, I think for different studios. Something that I have seen that has been quite consistent is practices are coming to their marketing. I think, you know, when you're running a practice, and you're, maybe a director or you've got practice of, you know, quite a few people. Marketing is probably the last thing that will chase you. Your clients will chase you, your staff will chase you, your consultants will chase you and marketing. It won't. So journalists aren't going to keep pounding your door for that photo, they'll go find a different practice to feature in
03:50 Ayo Abbas
Because there's been enough people lined up to actually sit there and go "Hi, I've got this do you want to see it?" It might not even be as good as yours.
03:57 Celeste Bolte
Yep, exactly. So, I think something that has happened in the last few months is that studios are starting to get on top of their marketing and comms and even taking a step further back from that. I think a lot of studios are starting to just reassess their messaging and figuring out what it is that they actually want to say, when they're reaching out to new clients and new staff.
04:23 Ayo Abbas
And in terms of practices, are there particular people that are doing it really well that you've been seeing or, have suddenly come to the fore during lockdown that you've noticed?
04:33 Celeste Bolte
I think the practices that I've seen who have done well throughout this time have acted with empathy they have, but they're also practices that have good communications behaviours in place already. I think there's quite a common saying if you think you need to start marketing to get the next job. It's almost too late. And I think that does ring true without trying to you know, sort of have a grim view, but that trying to put anybody off but I think good communications is about consistency. And it's about having good behaviours in place to meet. Make sure that you can really weather any storm. I think we saw in 2008 during the global financial crisis, a lot of practices, axed staff and really the first ones to go those who maybe don't bring in, you know, the bottom line, fee earner. Yeah, you know, you're not a fee earner.
05:27 Ayo Abbas
Yeah, I mean, I was in Arup actually, I was out in the first round of Arup literally in April 2009. So absolutely, I mean, support is always they always hit the worst. And if you look at I think it's about 5000 redundancies so far this year during lockdown is what Buildings reporting. And you know, a lot of those will be support staff, HR, marketing, anything that isn't a fee earner.
05:51 Unknown Speaker
But really, those functions are so critical to practice because, you know, the marketing and comms teams, they're the ones who translate your ideas. And have the strategic nauce to get you in front of people who are going to be paying those fees in the future. So it's really important to make sure that studios should really value comms and make sure that they do set themselves up with a really good comms plan, a great comms team, consultant, or agency or staff member to make sure that you can sort of get through any tough time. So yeah, I would say that the practices that I've seen doing well lately, are those that have good behaviours in place. And that's not necessarily about having a massive budget and a massive team. But it comes down to just understanding that comms is important. And it has to be part a central part of your practice from the outset.
06:41 Ayo Abbas
I agree. I think it's about making it, I guess, a priority and part of who you are as a business. And actually, there are many practices that have the purpose and the values. I think sometimes they just don't know how to share that. You know how to, I guess bring it to life or translate that into stories? As you've got more of a kind of international perspective. I mean, are there different variations you've seen in terms of how practices market themselves and UK practices? And I'll say Australian practices,
07:09 Celeste Bolte
Not so much. I think that good behaviours that I've seen in marketing and comms in architecture, both in Australia and the UK focus on a really good marketing mix. So I mean, every I guess every market and context is different. Obviously, Australia has a much smaller population, a much smaller community. But we have a similar size market in the way that we have a lot more space, there's room for developments, there's room for investment, and we have a lot of overseas investment. There market size is, you know, definitely. It's definitely growing. But what I've seen in terms of sort of the differences in the way that Australia and UK practices do market themselves is not so much a difference in the marketing but probably more of an emphasis on different activities. I think any any practice can employ a really good marketing mix to get themselves in front of potential staff, potential clients, potential stakeholders. And I think the marketing mix activities that we generally see are what they're probably publishing awards, social media website, thought leadership events, and probably sort of thought leadership. Oh, I sort of Yeah, thought leadership sort of articles as well. Yeah. They've been really important at the moment. And I think different regions focus on different activities or depending on you know, what that sort of market needs at that time. So in the UK, I've noticed that there's a really strong, really strong event scene, you know, there's a lot of fantastic architectural event around a lot a lot and really, I think that's because there's just more people in London and in the community over here. There's probably less events in Australia but that would be because our communities a lot smaller.
08:58 Ayo Abbas
Okay, and have you been taking part in you the kind of virtual events that been going on during lockdown.
09:03 Celeste Bolte
There's been so many
09:04 Ayo Abbas
How have you found those?
Oh, there has been tonnes.
09:07 Celeste Bolte
I found them really, really educational. I think they've been a really good way to stay connected. And I've certainly enjoyed having access to events that I didn't have access to before maybe because of location or timing. So that's been wonderful it has made I think lockdown has made events a lot more accessible.
09:32 Ayo Abbas
09:33 Celeste Bolte
Particularly for people with children or who are not leaving sort of in the central area.
09:38 Ayo Abbas
09:38 Celeste Bolte
We can all sort of attend and maybe the playing field, levelled out a little.
09:43 Ayo Abbas
I think it has I mean, I've been doing networking events, and we've had exactly that same discussion of you know, this normally takes place in London. I work I live in, you know, Reading, I wouldn't normally be able to get there and it's that kind of thing. And actually I think it's made it more open to women. Yes,
09:59 Celeste Bolte
yes. Definitely. And I think as well a lot of events come with the, you know, have a couple of glasses of wine. And if that's not your cup of tea, then maybe you sometimes feel boxed out from those kinds of parties as well. So I've heard people say that it's been enjoyable to just sit at home with a cup of tea and sort of be able to listen and, you know, take part even though it's, you know, maybe still the networking event where everyone else is having a glass of wine.
10:24 Ayo Abbas
Yeah, I guess you have more of the choice. I think one of my criticisms of events in general in the past few years because I was a mum, evenings, I wouldn't be able to get out. So you know, not being able to attend or not, you know, and I think it's having more things that are a different times of the day and and suit different groups. And I think that's the thing that's come out of lockdown is actually you can make things more accessible. Yeah, more and more successful quite often.
10:52 Celeste Bolte
Yes. Yeah. I've seen quite a few events that I've previously attended in person before locked down her, you know, the attendeeship has, you know, double, tripled even and even fit more people in a virtual space than in a physical one.
11:06 Ayo Abbas
So exactly. So it can also have business potential and impact and be very, very positive so, and also people can dial in afterwards if I couldn't make it, I could still come in and listen, which I think is another thing.
11:18 Unknown Speaker
Yeah, it's been wonderful to see some of these festivals, like, for example, the Zoomed In festival, I was a panellist in a discussion about the architectural image. And I wanted to share that with some friends back in Australia, but obviously, the timing didn't work. Them being nine hours behind, so I'm sorry, in front, so I was able to sort of send them the recording afterwards. And it's great because we now also have this portfolio of content, or at least resources that we can kind of look back on or share. And it just creates sort of a greater awareness not only of that event that you've done, but maybe also your expertise.
11:55 Ayo Abbas
That's a good point, actually. I mean, you also host a podcast don't you can tell us bit more about that what you've been doing there.
12:01 Celeste Bolte
Yeah, so I'm hosting a YouTube series at the moment. For Never Too Small. It's a special lockdown series called Small Living. And in the series, the Never Too Small is run by a new marketing agency, and they're a video production company. And they've previously travelled the world and filmed tiny spaces. So usually apartments that have 40 square metres or less, that have been redesigned to have, you know, not only a beautiful sort of interior, but really excellent functionality. So we've gone back and sort of looked through the episodes and chosen some designers that we've previously filmed. And I've interviewed them about small living and maybe some city trends and trends that we're seeing within urbanism in new places and what that means for the way that we're living in urban cities. And that series has been absolutely amazing. I mean, Never Too Small has a million plus subscribers on their channel. They usually see around a couple of hundred thousand views per episode, and the same has been going for Small Living, this special series it's been so well taken up. And I think the series has really struck us as something that's been an opportunity and a testing ground. I know Never Too Small have not done such long episodes before usually episodes about five minutes, whereas the shows, the Small Living episodes are about 20 to 25 minutes and they don't only feature interviews with architects about small spaces, but they also look at ways you can style your home so featuring Youtuber Benita Larsham in Stockholm. They look at sort of recipes that you could make at home with Pailins from Pailins Kitchen in Canada. So, bringing in lots of contributors to create a bit more of a lifestyle show has been a really interesting sort of experiment for them, but in what other time would you have this opportunity to experiment this way. I think something that locked down has presented us with is a unique to test. So a unique time to test things. And I think it's also come with this awareness that we don't always have to get this right. You know, everyone's kind of giving something ago and if it doesn't work, that's okay. It's lockdown. Yeah, it doesn't have to work.
14:20 Ayo Abbas
Well, that's the thing. I mean, last year, I was working in the ed tech market. And one of the things that, you know, people try things quickly, see if they work, and if it doesn't, you can move on. And I think that's definitely something we as the built environment industry can learn from, and because you're using kind of newer communication channels so podcasts, YouTube channels videos, are there anythings that you think architectural firms or the built environment specialists should be considering as part of this new world marketing mix? As it were?
14:51 Celeste Bolte
Absolutely, I think video is going, should be central to everybody's marketing plans. I was speaking with to one of the Heads of Mass Collective Henry Woide recently, and he quoted a statistic, which was something like 80% of buildings, new buildings are now experienced, or buildings are now experienced virtually by 80% of their audiences. And what that means is the world is becoming more globalised, we have more access to digital technologies to allow us to visit places to visit in inverted commas. So, for example, a new museum opening in China, for example, let's say the National Maritime Museum by architecture in Tianjin. I'm not going to be able to go to Tianjin but I can do the virtual walkthrough. And so I think that we can always sort of look to sort of more global audiences, and not just the localised audiences when either looking to drive traffic to a building or sort of share that experience. So video is a fantastic way to bring people into a space and to understand the design solutions of a building, or or region. I think also sort of those virtual walkthroughs. I mean, I moved house amid lockdown. And the only way that
16:11 Ayo Abbas
you did didn't you,
16:12 Celeste Bolte
I did and the only way that I could view the property was through virtual walkthrough, which in itself was a very interesting experience.
16:24 Ayo Abbas
How do you get the sense of scale because I'm always not very good at scale. When I look at flat plans. I just don't have a clue. So how in the virtual world do you do that?
16:34 Celeste Bolte
I think video is so important there. I don't know. I mean, VR, maybe if you've got people within that sort of those films can really help but I think that's why video is so important because you need to film a space populated. A space doesn't work and you can't get a sense of it unless there's no one in it. We had a meeting one of our my colleagues at Bowerbird had a meeting in LA with a practice, who were doing a double height glass facade atrium in a building. And, there was a construction worker, sort of, you know, walking in front of the iPhone photo. And as soon as you put your hand over that construction worker, the whole building just shrank. And you lost sort of the sense that it was a double height space. Exactly. So making sure that, you know, people are in either your marketing photography or your marketing films is so essential to sort of also conveying that experience.
17:29 Ayo Abbas
And, you know, it's interesting from Episode One, I mean, Stride Treglown. And they were saying that as well. And it's about it, you know, we're building spaces for people and showing them in use and in their real context is so important. I think it's, it's along that vibe and that theme, isn't it, rather than just to kind of, here's here's a CGI or something else. It's like, no, this is real. This is for people.
17:53 Celeste Bolte
Absolutely. I think it's interesting that you also sort of mentioned other technologies or podcasts like this. Fantastic one.
18:00 Ayo Abbas
I love them.
18:02 Celeste Bolte
Yeah, I think we're all starting to maybe investigate podcasts. I mean, technology is so accessible now, you know, I mean, I'm using a microphone that I've used previously for the Never Too Small interviews, and I'm able to see we've got better sound quality, it's quite accessible, you know, these technologies are really cheap. And there are a lot of platforms out there that you can use to either edit audio or lots of consultants as well, that you can sort of use to get things done quite quickly.
18:32 Ayo Abbas
18:33 Celeste Bolte
So I think a lot of practices are starting to think about what they can do in terms of offering just a bit more insight into their process because that is really the golden I think a golden thing.
18:45 Ayo Abbas
You're selling your processes and how and, and your thought process and your experiences and how that actually goes into your design. Yeah, and it's and it's if you can find ways to articulate that story, bring it to life and that could be podcast of you talking. It could be video Could be words, you know, it could be an infographic, I think the more kind of richer mix that you have, the more engaged that your audience will be. And actually, that's where your value is. That's that's how you justify your fees and your margins, which is going to become more important now. And I think it's being able to kind of tell that story and not it's not just this finished building, but this is how we work together to achieve it. I think that that's where you find the golden nuggets of content to me.
19:27 Celeste Bolte
Stoytelling is is so important. I mean, it's it's not a new idea. It's certainly something that's been happening for a long time still, but only a few practices have been really, really good at it. And, you know, as we do have, you know, now, we now have access to more technology, we've got access to more publications, the public now have access to architecture in a way they've never had before. So there is a very new opportunity presented to architecture at the moment. And that is to sort of capitalise on a greater awareness the public's greater awareness of design and what it can do for our lives. Because, you know, previously we had publications in the 1800s. It was only the architectural journals. It was in sort of, you know, into the sort of 50s and 60s, we had desktop publishing, sort of happened and we had interiors and home focus publications. And not until the.com. Boom, did we really see publications like Dezeen and Arch Daily and Design Boom, take off? Yeah. Now, the biggest change to architectural publishing in the last sort of however many hundred years has been Instagram. Everyone can access architecture. It may be on a surface level, it might be that image looks nice, but it's still an initial awareness. And architects can really build on that awareness by getting their work published in more places that aren't just architectural specific, sort of audiences. So looking outside the trade journals looking outside, sort of more specific, maybe detail focused publications to national press lifestyle press websites, I think isn't
21:02 Ayo Abbas
Actually going to where your actual audiences are where you actually live and hang out? Because I think it's great to be in the AJ but actually how many clients are reading it? Or is it more about your peers?
21:13 Celeste Bolte
Yeah, I think every publication everywhere that you'll publish has value. You know, if you're looking to hire or retain staff and build a sense of brand within the profession, getting published in trade press is fantastic. Because internal comms and looking after your staff is just as important as bringing new new, you know, potential clients in.
21:34 Ayo Abbas
21:35 Celeste Bolte
But you've definitely Yeah, there's definitely an opportunity there for architects to reach a wider variety of audiences through submitting their projects to a greater variety of publications.
21:47 Ayo Abbas
Okay, so in terms of the next few months where we're kind of transitioning out of lockdown, are there particular things that you think practices should be doing considering doing, just to keep going I guess, keep on track.
22:00 Celeste Bolte
I think it's a really good time to be proactive. I think, you know, if we look back at sort of, you know, from March to what sort of July, we would see that it would be a nice time to be empathetic, maybe to plan ahead, but now is the time really to put things into action. So, you know, the industry is picking back up, you know, our sort of our cities and towns are opening up again, shops are opening restaurants as well. So things are changing and the public mood is changing. So it's a good time to be proactive, get your work published, you know, build your audience and make a plan to have good communications behaviours in place for any future potential mishaps. So, what I mean by that is not so much going and hiring, you know, spending a whole lot of money on marketing comms, but just setting up some good processes so that your marketing can work for you and that you don't have to work at it so heavily.
22:57 Ayo Abbas
I guess it's having that framework, right. You know, this is the structure of what we do now we capture things in this way. And yes, just actually having that together.Yeah, yep. Sorry,
23:05 Celeste Bolte
Don't just think you have to do you know, social media? It's all right, well, we're going to have social media. But you know, when we get published, we're going to share that article on social media, and then we'll put that on our website. And then we'll disseminate that through our newsletter. And then, you know, directors might share that on LinkedIn. It's, you know, having those processes in place is really important so that you've got your comms set up to almost run, to run really seamlessly on to the rest of the work that you're doing to sort of get new projects in.
23:35 Ayo Abbas
And actually, it could literally just be a simple checklist of four things like you've just said, right? Yeah, this is what we do in time we get a piece this is exactly that's it and you've got that process set up.
23:44 Celeste Bolte
And just finding tools to sort of help you automate as well. I mean, comms is so personal. It's about storytelling, but every practice of any practice of any scale, can do coms really well. You could be working one day a week on you know, building your practice up while you're still working for a big studio or you could be a massive practice with 1000 staff. Doesn't matter what end of the scale you sit at. Good comms is just about understanding that you need to do it, accepting that and using the tool to help you make that work. Maybe that's Bowerbird. Maybe that's a social media scheduling dashboard. Maybe that's getting a consultant to help you a day a month. Fine.
24:27 Ayo Abbas
Just making some kind of priority for it.
24:29 Celeste Bolte
Right, exactly. Make this space for it. Dedicate that that time maybe it's just an hour every week on something like Bowerbird or something like Hootsuite where you just get yourself ready for the next month.
24:42 Ayo Abbas
Yeah. And my onto my final two questions. So in terms of marketing at the moment, are there any particular campaigns during lockdown that you've seen or admired?
24:55 Celeste Bolte
Well, it would be remiss of me not to mention the Black Lives Matter campaign that's been going on globally. I think this is less focused on an architect's practice or practice building their brand. But I think it's something that a lot of practices have spoken to. So, this has been a really interesting time and a big, obviously we've seen some horrible events that have been catalysts for social change on a global scale, just incredible. But I have to say something that I've loved about the Black Lives Matter campaign is after the protests campaign, and after sort of our Black Tuesday, back in June, it was the sort of idea that this is a movement, not a moment. And I think that in itself, carrying on the work that needs to be done, has been incredible. So I've really admired that.
25:46 Ayo Abbas
And I also think it's about people saying, actually, we're going to hold you to account you say you're going to do this, we're going to check back in a year and make sure you are. But it's quite interesting. I mean, I've seen people put on events and talks and I've said, well actually this has been our lowest turnout. So I think as a built environment, I do think we've got a lot of work to do, and accept that there is an issue there. Absolutely. But it's an exciting time, I guess, to be in the industry and and see how it actually does deal with this.
26:12 Celeste Bolte
Yeah. And I mean, it ties so nicely into the work of the Stephen Lawrence Trust as well. Yeah. And I think timing wise, Stephen Lawrence day
26:24 Ayo Abbas
was April wasnt it.
26:26 Celeste Bolte
Yes. And that's kind of, I think conversations from there have continued through and maybe even been amplified by the Black Lives Matter movement of this time. So that's been really, really interesting. And I've been so interested to see how practices have responded and who's come out and said, you know, that they support the movement and also those who haven't, like that's been quite interesting as well. Yeah. And some other campaigns that I've really enjoyed are those from studios showing how they're working at home. I think this is a beautiful, very humanising way to share how your studio has adapted and what I know Stanton Williams did a beautiful series on their Instagram stories. Yes, Stanton Williams at home. I thought that was really lovely. Definitely.
27:13 Ayo Abbas
I've seen a few as well that have been really beautiful, but I've also loved theres been a lot of sketches and people doing sketches at home and competitions and things, which I've loved because you're going there are so many talented people out there as well. Yeah, so that's actually been one of some of my favourite stuff. I've seen him come in who's I've seen but I have seen a few of them and gone. You've got lots of talented people.
27:32 Celeste Bolte
Yeah, I was recently.
I recently joined the Architecture Club, so a group in London. And the, the sort of activities we've been doing as a group, but all separate from home have been really beautiful as well. You know, we've got a portrait series, a series of sort of views outside our windows, so photos submitted to create a bit of a gallery and it's created a real collection of different perspectives of lockdown and sort of how individuals are dealing with it. And I think something I like about the Architecture Club is that the membership isn't made up of solely architects, you know, I'm not an architect.
28:12 Ayo Abbas
It's got engineers. It's a mix, isn't it?
28:15 Celeste Bolte
Yeah, comms people who are just enthusiasts, which is so, so lovely. And it's created activities that they've done, you know, looking either through the portrait series or the windows series. I've really created quite a nice diverse collection of experiences that have sort of we've all lived throughout this time, which has been wonderful.
28:36 Ayo Abbas
Yeah. And on to my final question, what one tip would you give to business leaders about how they should be marketing themselves during this current crisis?
28:48 Celeste Bolte
I think my one tip would less be about marketing themselves and more about get your house in order. I'd say plan and give, plan and create good foundations, now. Obviously look at what you're doing, assess what you've already done and assess where you are. And then find a way to make that better because that's what a lot of studios are doing now and your competition is going to be trickier. You know, you're going to have a lot more great stories coming out from your from your peers and your competitors. So make sure your comms is up to scratch.
29:26 Ayo Abbas
Absolutely. Thank you so much for your time, Celeste. It's been really really enjoyable and a completely different take and slant on marketing. I've really loved it.
29:35 Celeste Bolte
My pleasure. Thank you.
29:43 Ayo Abbas
Thanks so much for listening to Marketing In Times of Crisis. I really do appreciate you taking time out of your day to tune in. Check out the show notes for useful links, including my website, where you can find out more about everything featured today, and how to get in touch with our new podcast. So if you like what you've heard, please do subscribe so that you never miss an episode and more people get to hear about us.