Architects Tell Stories to Build Their Firms

Event: “What’s Your Story: Build Narratives that Boost Your Business”
Location: Center for Architecture, 11.14.11
Speakers: Kevin Allison — Founder, The Story Studio; Richard Cook, AIA — Partner, Cook+Fox Architects; Helen Dimoff, Assoc. AIA — Communications Director/Principal, NBBJ
Organizer: AIANY Marketing and PR Committee

While a good story can help sell a Hollywood blockbuster, what helps sell your design practice? Three marketing and storytelling experts recently convened at the Center for Architecture to explain how.

Kevin Allison, founder of The Story Studio, suggested that telling a story allows a potential client to connect emotionally with a firm’s work. After all, he joked, “People don’t laugh about facts and figures.” He reviewed the five basic “beats” of a story arc: (1) the Setup, or the “who” and “where”; (2) Inciting Action, the event that sets the story in motion; (3) Rising Action, or the ways in which the stakes increase; (4) the most important part, the Main Event, the turning point, epiphany, or climax; and (5) the Resolution.

Richard Cook, AIA, of Cook+Fox Architects, demonstrated these elements by describing some of his personal epiphanies, including a trip to Cambodia to adopt his child that ultimately led him to sustainable design. He put a narrative spin on some his firm’s notable “green” projects, such as the Center for Well-Being in East Hampton and the Bank of America Tower in NYC, by describing the design processes and client interactions behind them.

Lastly, Helen Dimoff, Assoc. AIA, communications director and principal at NBBJ, showed how interactive storytelling can enhance a firm’s marketing materials. “A lot of what we talk about when we market for architecture is the ‘how’ and the ‘what,'” she said. “But we don’t talk about why we design.” To illustrate the “why,” she played two NBBJ-produced videos about projects: the first showed nervous students performing a mock surgery in Stanford University’s Li Ka Shing Medical Education Center; the second interviewed volunteers and employees in the Greater Boston Food Bank, who spoke about how the building allows them to serve the community.