Guest blog: The image of construction

This month’s guest blog is provided by Paul Wilkinson, a construction PR and marketing specialist since 1987. He is an advocate of the application of social media in the AEC sector, and an authority on SaaS-based construction collaboration technologies.

Paul Wilkinson: writer, speaker, blogger
Paul Wilkinson: writer, speaker and prolific blogger

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Build UK (formed by the merger of the UK Contractors Group and the National Specialist Contractors Council) launched this week with a five-point action plan for the UK construction industry addressing:

  • the image of construction
  • industry’s skills needs
  • effective pre-qualification
  • health and safety performance, and
  • fair payment practices.

Little surprise that “The image of construction” tops the list. It also featured prominently in the joint government-industry strategy, Construction 2025, compiled by the current chief construction adviser Peter Hansford in July 2013, and its four-fold ambitions to cut costs, speed up project delivery, cut carbon emissions and improve the industry’s export opportunities have featured in countless presentations. Construction 2025 devotes a whole section to improving the sector’s image. Hansford said “fundamental change is required in how the construction industry is perceived by the general public”, and “engaging young people and society at large” topped his list of areas where action is needed.

However, the sector’s inertia, innate conservatism and its often short-term view could hold it back. Too many organisations sit tight in their disciplinary silos, their leaders not recognising they are part of the problem.

Our industry is great – it just needs better PR. – I have been at conferences where contributors have spouted this kind of utter rubbish. Basically, construction gets the reputation it deserves. As any good PR professional would tell you: the industry’s reputation is the result of what it does, what it says and what others say about it. It can’t control the latter – it can only control what it does and what it says.

Yes, we have some landmark projects (the Shard, the 2012 London Olympic games infrastructure, Crossrail, etc) that are world-leading, but which are often overlooked in favour of ‘cowboy builder’ stories and other negativity. Popular perceptions of construction are often heavily influenced by negative experiences as consumers at the SME level. And these experiences are often a consequence of some of the other industry problems – poor skills, poor health and safety, a lack of diversity, procurement processes fixated on lowest price (not best value), and often antiquated and unfair payment practices.

Active in Constructing Excellence and as chair of the CIPR’s construction and property group (CAPSIG), I have argued at conferences and online (hereherehere and here, for example) that the industry needs to stop thinking of itself as a monolithic entity and start to identify changes it can make across its many disciplines, and then get them communicating, running long-term, integrated, pan-sector campaigns, and working collaboratively with partners, trade bodies and (most importantly, perhaps) its customers and end-users.

I was cautiously optimistic that the combined thrust of the chief construction adviser, the pan-industry Construction Leadership Council, Construction 2025, and the catalysts of BIM and other digital initiatives might improve matters, but sadly my hopes were dashed. In July the new Conservative government announced it no longer needed an adviser, it slimmed-down the CLC to a token group dominated by contractors, and the future of Vince Cable’s various industry strategies, including, presumably, Digital Built Britain, was called into question.

I do not think Build UK is – as it claims – “ideally positioned to promote collaboration and provide industry-wide solutions for the benefit of everyone” (for a start, the challenge is much, much wider, embracing industry professionals – via the CIC, maybe – customers and end-users, and suppliers and manufacturers, among other stakeholders). However, I take heart from its suggestion that “Agreeing and implementing best practice can drive a lasting culture shift that will improve productivity, deliver growth and make the industry fit for purpose.” If we can overcome the government’s apparent abdication of partnership, and ensure that best practice is accompanied by corresponding changes in attitudes and behaviours from SME workplaces right up to PLC boardrooms then we might have a chance of changing the reputation of the industry currently known as construction.

Construction marketing awards list

I have collated a list of construction marketing awards available to enter within the UK industry. This list is intended to grow and grow. If there are any key AEC awards I have not listed here, please feel free to get in touch and let me know.

Building Awards 

Chamber Awards 

Civic Trust Awards

Construction News Awards 

Green Apple Awards

RICS Awards

Design awards 

World Architecture Awards (WAF)

RIBA Awards

New London Architecture Awards (NLA)

Manchester Society of Architects Awards (MA Awards)

Material awards 

Brick Awards 

Copper Awards

Structural Steel Design Awards

Wood Awards 

Self-build and renovation 

Build It Awards

You may also find my previous article on tips to writing awards submissions to guarantee shortlisting useful.

Construction marketing: The benefits of social media

So, moving on from my earlier post about the impact of social media on the relevance and profile of a business in the construction sector, there are a number of other benefits I want to talk about. These benefits can be leveraged cost-effectively by businesses to create maximum marketing gains, so it’s time for the industry to adopt them and stop being SoMe-resistant!

The example in my previous post clearly demonstrates that social media is here to stay and that, if used correctly, can have a wide range of marketing benefits for organisations. I believe the time has now come when to ignore SoMe is no longer a valid approach and to say “I don’t understand it” is no longer an appropriate point of view, even for senior management.

So, what are the other benefits of social media for construction businesses?

#1 – Increase brand visibility 

The example I described in my previous post clearly demonstrates this point. Quality content posted across a variety of carefully selected SoMe platforms will build profile with your target audience. The content will also be educating your audience, as well as generating brand loyalty. Your target audience becomes more and more aware of you, whether or not they knew of you before. By being present, you become known and in our noisy world, this is very valuable.

#2 – Show how amazing you are  

In my post about reshaping project information into marketing collateral, I talk about they key marketing outputs which can be created using project information. Taking this one step further, social media now provides myriad platforms and channels through which to self-publish this content.

These platforms were not available when I started my marketing career, so case studies which were slaved over would sit untouched in archives, until they were dusted-off for the odd bid or award submission. What a waste! Now we can do so much more with the information, whilst demonstrating the innovation and inventiveness which happens every day. Given that we have this opportunity, I feel strongly that we shouldn’t waste it. 

#3 – Prove your expertise 

Linked to my point above, is that social media provides unlimited possibilities to prove your expertise, in whichever discipline you work in. Company and personal blogs provide a fantastic platform for self-publishing about your particular topic of interest. I think blogs will become the CVs of the future, with potential employers researching and evaluating you through your blog and general online presence. 

Blogging is such an effective way of doing this. The easiest way to approach blogging is to consider the issues your clients have, then use a blog post to outline your approach to solving them. This will massively assist your SEO management, as well as drawing people to your site, to see what you have to say. 

#4 – Tell the story of construction 

In my humble opinion, the construction industry is woeful at telling the story of construction. We don’t publicise enough the incredible ingenuity which happens as standard on a daily basis throughout the UK (and beyond). The industry also doesn’t educate the general public on the contribution it makes, not just to the quality of our built environment, but also to the economy.

The industry is one of the most relevant to UK plc. It is at the vanguard of the economy and it drives a lot of positive stuff, including employment and improving communities.

I see one of the biggest challenges the industry will face over the next decade is that of attracting sufficient talent wanting to make a career in architecture, building or engineering. I blogged last year about how marketing and social media should be playing a key part in that recruitment drive. Social media is exactly where connecting with younger generations needs to be taking place. Speak to people in their own language and tell the story of construction.

#5 – Increase inbound traffic 

Give people a reason to visit your website. If you think of your website as being your ultimate shop window and the place where all of your content is stored, it makes sense to want to get as many people to see this as possible. Although increased viewer numbers do not initially mean increased revenue, it definitely does mean an increase in profile in the marketplace. It will also help bring you front of mind when potential clients are considering who to approach for a particular piece of work. 

Being generally active on social media and regularly updating your website will lead to increased search engine rankings.

#6 – Connect with people and building relationships

Social media is creating a world with less boundaries. Potential clients and stakeholders are becoming much more accessible through their Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. Why not capitalise on this by following and engaging? People drive social media, so be sure to engage with other people in your networks. It also forms relationships before any tender opportunities become apparent, so you are ahead of your competitors. 

#7 – Bring in opportunities 

Social media presence will inevitably bring in business opportunities, whether to competitively tender, or even better, to negotiate directly with the client. Time spent bidding warm opportunities is time much better spent than bidding cold opportunities. As an industry we spend far too much time bidding for work we won’t win, yet not enough investment is made into marketing. If we could switch this balance, the industry would drive much more value out of marketing as an activity and discipline.

Marketing: the missing link to attract young people into the construction industry

Lego colour bricks

The construction industry skills gap 

There is so much debate at the moment about the skills gap the industry is finding itself in. Of course part of the problem is that the UK economy is just beginning to pull itself out of the biggest black hole most of us have ever seen. Many people left the industry through this time, whether through choice or necessity and its unlikely they will be attracted back.

So now the focus is on how to make careers in the sector attractive to school kids and how to shift the perception of a career in construction from being one of labouring to one of aspirational achievement. Of course, many a successful career in construction was started on the tools, but trades are considered to be something only boys who didn’t try harder at school end up doing, rather than the highly-skilled occupation they really are.

The point is that the impact and purpose of the industry isn’t understood by people responsible for careers advice (including parents); its myriad benefits, including forming the backbone of the economy, improving communities and creating jobs. The industry is also one of the places you will definitely see the most awe-inspiring courage and ingenuity on a daily basis. I have often wondered why this isn’t more widely understood, appreciated and communicated.

Leveraging marketing to provide a solution  

My proposal to the industry is for it to leverage some of the fantastic marketing and communications talent it has to tell the construction story. Not just once, but over and over and over, using a variety of appropriate channels and media including activities, writing, images and video and to a wide spectrum of non-industry stakeholders.

The role of social media 

The built environment is such a visual industry that it is ideal for social media. I saw a fantastic time-lapse camera shared on LinkedIn by Clancy Consulting today . Time lapses aren’t new in themselves, they’ve been around for ages, but this was the first time I had ever seen one shared through social media channels. You can see the film here. I love this kind of thing and wish it was more accessible. It’s also rare to see photos or case studies of projects, unless you specifically know where to look. Why isn’t this sort of collateral more widely shared?

Challenges 

There are two key challenges to my idea. Firstly budget. I know the industry isn’t awash with money at the moment, but let’s find inexpensive solutions, particularly as most people are lucky enough to own smart phones these days. Share progress photos and videos via Twitter and LinkedIn. Share collateral wherever you can. Connect with local schools and start dialogues.

The second is the role and perception of marketing. It’s time to integrate the discipline properly into the sector and into projects. Let us help and support you to communicate and tell the story. Doing this will ensure more stakeholders understand the role and value of construction, and it will be more attractive to people considering their career options.

Top tips for writing construction awards, to guarantee shortlisting

It’s awards season again in the built environment. Time to take stock of the achievements of the past 12 months and write compelling submissions to get shortlisted and hopefully win. Here is an ongoing list of construction and built environment awards you may wish to enter.

Awards are a key part of the built environment communications strategy for any organisation working in the sector. They provide an excellent opportunity to showcase talent and innovation, and shortlisting gives validation and benchmarking against competitors. Shortlisting alone has a lot of PR value and can be used in case studies and other collateral, such as web and tweets. Winning categories amplifies this value. The pinnacle of awards is of course attending the event, taking team members and client representatives to network and ‘be seen’ in a sparkly environment.  

So, follow my top tips to guarantee being shortlisted.

#1 – Obtain the buy-in of the client and the project team  

Finally, get the buy-in of the client and the rest of the project team. Make them aware of what you are doing and if you can share the load, so much the better!

#2 – Understand your organisation’s marketing 

Understand your organisation’s marketing and business development strategy. In which sectors does it want to raise its profile or win new business? Select awards on the basis of gaining exposure in these specific sectors.

#3 – Understand the awards you are submitting for 

Do some research into previous winners and shortlisters and assess whether your organisation, project or product is a good fit. Do the awards have the profile and reach you are looking for? Is there a fee to enter? Will you have the time and marketing budget to attend the awards ceremony?

#4 – Project, rather than award-led 

Award submissions need to be project-led, rather than award-led.

  • Select categories on the basis of having compelling stories to tell, which are supported with strong evidence.
  • Statistics, photos and glowing testimonials from clients and other project team members all constitute strong evidence.
  • Evidence also provides a strong framework and context for your entry and will often reduce the word count.
  • If you can’t pull this information together, consider carefully the value in proceeding.

#5 – Review all of the questions in advance of starting the submission  

Review all of the questions. Can you answer them all properly and concisely? Don’t risk the submission by fudging some of the answers. Judges can’t be fudged!

#6 – Respect the wordcount  

Don’t ignore or disregard the specified word count. Be targeted, focussed and concise in your response. If you are struggling with this, ask a professional writer to review and edit for you. They can magically turn ten words into one, without losing the technical meaning.

#7 – Review process   

Build time into the process for proof-reading, double-checking and making any necessary amends. Although typos are a fact of life, they won’t win you any points or enhance your reputation with the judging panel.

I have been writing construction and built environment awards submissions for 12 years. If you would like to chat through any submissions you are thinking of, please get in touch.