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The Practice Management Knowledge Community (PMKC) identifies and develops information on the business of architecture for use by the profession to maintain and improve the quality of the professional and business environment.  The PMKC initiates programs, provides content and serves as a resource to other knowledge communities, and acts as experts on AIA Institute programs and policies that pertain to a wide variety of business practices and trends.


Nurturing Growth: Tools for Marketing and Business Development in Architecture Firms

By Sarah Elizabeth Hernandez Assoc. AIA posted 02-22-2024 08:18 PM


By Sarah E. Hernandez, Assoc. AIA, Chief Marketing Officer, Ci

Sarah Hernandez headshot


In an industry where the creation of physical spaces can impact communities for generations, the strategic roles of Marketing and Business Development (BD) cannot be overstated. These processes and activities are not mere back-office functions; they are the driving force behind the firm’s growth and market presence. The architectural profession has a history of resistance to understanding and embracing the importance of a solid and empowered Marketing and BD team. Now is the time to change your perspective on what these professionals can do for your firm’s viability and success.


The Architectural Landscape Through the Lens of Data

Marketing and BD professionals must understand the industry’s data-driven landscape to navigate a firm's strategic direction. Real estate trends and economic forecasts provide valuable information for developing a firm’s target markets. Firms must also look inward and understand and assess their pre-existing data. Tracking the most profitable clients can provide a starting point for clearly defining an ideal client base. These entities already like your work, use your services and bring your firm business. Once your markets are determined, a firm can tailor their marketing materials, such as articles, social media posts, lectures and proposals, to attract the right audience. 


Crafting a Unique Brand Identity

The narrative woven by a firm's Marketing team can significantly influence its market position. The process of creating that narrative begins with determining a firm’s brand identity, which is rooted in a compelling backstory. For example, Ci was formed by leadership who had worked together at a top-earning international architecture firm. As a new firm, they used their broad expertise in science and technology, commercial and mixed-use, residential, mission critical, workplace and industrial manufacturing to grow a client base. Today, Ci employs over 100 team members across six offices. Thus, like Ci, a firm’s identity begins with defining the projects, clients and sectors they support.

Image: Ci shares process imagery in marketing collateral to show prospective clients our collaborative design strategies. Photo by Ci

Once these factors are identified, your Marketing team should outline key firm differentiators by assessing completed projects and/or interviewing leaders, staff and clients. From this insight, the team shapes language that can be easily communicated to prospective clients and the communities they serve. 

A firm’s identity can also evolve by adding and expanding competitive differentiators that enhance service offerings to clients. For instance, Ci added planning, landscape design, experiential graphics and branding, lab and manufacturing planning, procurement, strategy and change management through talent acquisition and mergers to bolster our scope of work for any project type. Expanding service offerings and practice groups can ensure your firm keeps up with the needs of clients and establishes a competitive presence in the industry. 

The Marketing and BD teams are responsible for consistently communicating the firm’s identity across all platforms. Careful consideration should be given to the look and feel, font choice, tone and vocabulary used in marketing collateral to align with the larger message of firm identity.


The Art of Connection: Business Development's Role

The Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) defines Business Development (BD) as the process of identifying clients and opportunities, developing relationships and securing profitable work for the firm. BD is an art that turns potential leads into lasting partnerships. It involves understanding the "why" behind each project and client and aligning that insight with the firm's expertise and vision. Part of the process involves weighing your options such as evaluating client potential and profitability, understanding the competitive landscape, assessing the firms’ available resources, knowing the associated risk and considering how a project fits into strategic goals.

Long-term client relationships are the bedrock of a successful firm; they require consistent nurturing and engagement. These relationships are not just business transactions; they are partnerships that grow and evolve over time. Your BD team can bring leadership and stewardship to maintaining and curating client information. A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform is invaluable in collecting client, project and team data as well as contact information. A strategic CRM process driven by and with participation from everyone in the firm will bolster the audience for your marketing materials, expand awareness of your work and its value, and advance your ability to track project metrics and BD successes.


The Digital Frontier: Marketing's Expanding Domain

The digital space is an ever-expanding domain for architects to showcase their work and thought leadership. A robust digital marketing strategy ensures that a firm's vision and projects are effectively communicated to a global audience. Web-based channels such as a website, blog posts, email blasts and social media bolster brand awareness, promote your firm’s services and attract clients to produce business opportunities. 

Like many firms, our team recently redesigned Ci's website to better represent our brand, publish insights, and showcase our practices and services. Because web platforms keep evolving, a firm’s website may need semi-annual updates. Designing a platform to be flexible and fully managed internally can alleviate the workload and stress around keeping your website current. Press releases, project descriptions and bios must be targeted for Search Engine Optimization to rank higher on search engine results pages. Most firms hire a SEO specialist, but plenty of online resources are available to develop SEO-friendly content.

Publishing monthly blog posts and establishing a regular social media posting schedule will ensure your firm stays relevant to your audience. Email blasts target clients’ inboxes directly and can be used to share your firm’s expertise, project updates and exciting milestones. It’s important to encourage your staff to like, share and subscribe to your firm’s social media platforms and content so they can increase overall engagement. 

It’s important to stay updated on the latest trends so your brand can stay relevant. Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and several website platforms offer free analytics so you and your team can better understand how your audience is reacting to the firm’s content, and how you might adjust and adapt online media to optimize results. 

Image: Hosting an Open House can bring prospective clients, consultants and talent to your office so you can showcase current projects and share your firm’s values. Photo by Ci


Integrating Marketing and Business Development Strategies

The integration of Marketing and BD into all levels of a firm builds a vital, internal strategic alliance that amplifies the firm's reach and impact. Each client interaction, each project proposal, and each marketing campaign are threads in a larger tapestry that depicts the firm's commitment to architectural excellence and client satisfaction.

Marketing and BD strategies combine seamlessly at events and conferences, where a firm can showcase brand awareness through advertising, speaking opportunities and face-to-face interactions. Team members who attend these public-facing events should carry themselves professionally and provide helpful information and background on the firm’s expertise. A brand can only exist if there are people who uphold the firm’s mission and values. Your Marketing and BD team should be key players in helping shape your firm’s face-to-face strategies and training staff to participate effectively. 

Image: The Marketing and BD team should encourage subject matter experts to attend industry-related events. This spreads awareness of a firm’s brand and facilitates face-to-face interaction with prospective clients. Photo by Ci


Talent Attraction and Retention

Marketing and BD’s role in talent acquisition is often understated. The way a firm presents itself in the marketplace affects not only client perception but also a firm’s ability to attract and retain top talent. A vibrant and compelling brand image is attractive to prospective employees who are looking for workplaces that align with their own values and aspirations.

Social media, community events and local partnerships are just some ways a firm can represent their values to a broader audience. Broadcasting good deeds, highlighting employee accomplishments and promoting office gatherings can give outsiders insight into a firm’s culture. Here again, Marketing and BD personnel can lead the charge in coordinating existing leadership and talent to share their perspectives and harness your firm’s vision and goals. 



In sum, Marketing and Business Development are the twin pillars on which a successful architecture firm rests. They are responsible for interpreting data to inform strategic decisions, crafting compelling narratives, forging and maintaining relationships, and ensuring the firm stays relevant in an ever-changing digital landscape. Representing a firm’s brand through the expertise of its people can create a valued partner in the client's eyes. Time to rethink and embrace Marketing and BD teams within your organization. 



  1. (accessed December 2023)
  2.  (accessed December 2023). The Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS). "Marketer Online." A resource offering a collection of articles on effective strategies for marketing and business development in the A/E/C industries.
  3. (accessed December 2023)
  4. DesignIntelligence. "DesignIntelligence Research." The dedicated team of scientists and analysts at DesignIntelligence evaluates current trends to make educated predictions about the industry’s future. They also offer strategic advisory services to firms. (accessed December 2023)


Primary Sources



Sarah E. Hernandez’s tenure leading marketing and business development includes nearly two decades of experience developing robust marketing, business development and public relations strategies in the real estate and architecture industries. Sarah oversees Ci’s marketing team and leverages powerful storytelling to position the firm with its clients, talent and global audience. She works closely with the firm's leadership to develop a comprehensive strategy that reflects the firm's vision, target market and competitive landscape. Sarah is a member of the Society for Marketing Professional Services and the Urban Land Institute Women’s Leadership Initiative Steering Committee.


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