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What can architecture firms learn about thought leadership from consultants?

Thought leadership plays an increasingly important role for businesses in many industries beyond consulting. In an era of business when content is king, thought leadership has proven to be a useful tool to drive exposure—or “share of mind”—of firms’ expertise. Clients are also increasingly interested in the perspective of the companies that are shaping our world.

Take architecture firms, for example. They occupy an important place within society, informing and creating the spaces in which we live, work, educate, and socialise. They also sit across many of the important issues that are doing the rounds of public discourse: climate action, inclusivity within communities and design, resiliency, and the future of healthcare. Our impression is that there is a wealth of interesting and new content that architecture firms are sitting on which could help answer many of the questions that occupy the minds of senior executives.

In turn, architecture firms—like the consulting firms that came before them—can use thought leadership as a way to drive new conversations around the issues clients should be focusing on and in time, new commercial opportunities. Thought leadership—correction, good thought leadership—offers an opportunity for firms to influence clients’ priorities, investment areas, and ultimately, choice of partner to work with.

Our methodology for assessing the quality of thought leadership was developed using feedback from consulting clients specifically, and the more we look at thought leadership broadly, the more we realise that the four pillars on which our methodology rests—differentiation, appeal, resilience, and prompting action—also apply to content being produced by firms in other industries, too. While the volume of thought leadership in the architecture industry may only be a fraction of what we see from professional services firms, we have found several strong examples of where firms are hitting the bar in particular areas, demonstrating fertile ground for architecture firms to build upon.

Creativity at Work” by Perkins Eastman, for example, would score well on resiliency in our methodology given that it is underpinned by a credible research approach, which is clearly explained before diving into the results (which includes detailed correlation analysis).

From Temporary to Transformative: Work from Home Research Insights” from HKS is a good example of a report that ticks many boxes when it comes to prompting action—offering six key implications, and insights as to the key strategies/next steps organisations could employ for each of one.

Architecture firms are also well placed to produce reports that are appealing to clients, given their design background and ability to create innovative graphics or data visualisations. Gensler’s “City Pulse Survey Spring 2022”, for example, offers a wealth of information about urban residents’ views of what city life will be like post-pandemic, presenting the data in a myriad of ways all whilst remaining easy-to-read.

The difficulty—as it so often is when it comes to thought leadership—is differentiation. With so much information readily available to clients, covering every possible topic we can think of, it’s difficult for any firm to find the white space to say something truly differentiated. Alongside offering up data and insights that the audience haven’t come across before, the key is to write about important topics with a new perspective. Architecture firms occupy a valuable place within society and are in a unique position to comment on a range of societal issues—with a truly authoritative point of view.

From our research into the thought leadership produced by these firms, we believe there are three ways that the reports outlined above could be elevated to make them stand out from the crowd:

  • Allow the authors’ voice to come through in thought leadership. Behind all this research, is there a credible expert(s) distilling the insights into the conclusions offered up?
  • Be explicit about how the firm can help clients tackle the issue in question, either through links to relevant practice website pages or by including information about services within the report. What relevant experience does the firm have? What is unique about its approach?
  • Try to establish a connection with the audience early on to make the piece feel like a “must read”. Why is this relevant right now? Would the reader be compelled to find out more?

By implementing these steps into their thought leadership, architecture firms will capture the attention of clients.