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Leader: Winning people over with a personal touch

Eleanor Young

Politician or construction professional – Eleanor Young notices that strategies to win influence by either side look much the same

The shelves of monographs in the RIBA Bookshop at 66 Portland Place in London.
The shelves of monographs in the RIBA Bookshop at 66 Portland Place in London. Credit: Flo Armitage-Hookes

The general election is over, but during the campaign we saw plenty of stunts, plenty of strategic decisions on where to actively campaign and a whole lot of handshaking. The five year election cycle is on a par with an architectural project, each delivery phase presaged with a period for convincing the voters (clients) that you are the right people for the job, the long run-up of general profile-raising and finally the sprint of the election period or competitive interview and proposals. 

As a journalist I am intrigued by the ways architectural practices put themselves out into the world. There are those that target speaking at specific sector conferences and know the ins and outs of those running health trusts, galleries or heading up data centre companies. Then those that stand drinks for their engineers, project managers or planning consultant collaborators, knowing that the next recommendation might come through them or believing that together they can be the A team on the next bid. Or those that become part of their city’s social elite with local movers and shakers, sponsor local sports teams or events, or just take the time to get to know the other parents at school. 

We know that practices who send their projects in to the RIBA Journal or contact us with ideas for articles on things they do well are driven by a range of factors. Some of it, as with entering awards, is seeking peer recognition. And connections. I love it when I hear how old friends and colleagues have got in contact with someone who has contributed to the magazine. 

Politicians wanting to win people over understand that everyone is susceptible to a personal tack

Then there is general perception, what is more formally called brand awareness. Does Foster + Partners’ lead on artificial intelligence need to spend time talking to the press? No, but it builds a stronger awareness of a practice leading innovation. Creating such an awareness in the profession means that practices are likely to have wider range of job candidates to choose from – and will give some individuals a stronger chance of winning promotion or a new role. An architect-advisor might suggest their name for a shortlist. 

But sometimes this winning over is stronger with a personal tack. The politicians understand that everyone is susceptible to this, but they are not alone in that. I missed a late-night lift recently for one practice director to sketch out the diagram for an award-winning project. And I was strangely taken by a different offer to send a monograph that had been signed by the founding partner. Was this offer a sign of hubris, the ego of the architect exaggerated to a ridiculous degree? (No one has ever offered to sign a design and access statement for me.) Or, as I interpreted it, a way to make it a more direct, personal connection and set up a form of gentle obligation. Rather like a politician’s handshake.