We also try to share the fees ó and the photos ó with our partners. The architects, landscapers and other vendors often are happy to help absorb some of the cost of photography in exchange for the ability to use the relevant photos in their portfolios and marketing efforts as well.
We get a lot out of each photo. Weíve found that if we want to market effectively, we absolutely have to have great pictures. And we donít just shoot a project once and forget it. Every time we upgrade, add an amenity or refresh one of our properties, we shoot additional images to reflect that.
We try to pick the best season to photograph. Some communities show best in the spring, with the blooming flowers, while others look best in the fall with colorful foliage. Sunrise and sunset shots can work well. And weíve found that itís worth taking night shots ó these are good for either garden or high-rise communities. If your outdoor lighting shows off an inviting entry area, or you can see the lights of the city skyline in the background, that can be very effective. And a night shot can hide things like electric wires or a less-than-attractive nearby property that might detract from the same view taken during the day.
Q: But there is more to an awards entry than great photos. There are a lot of pieces to be pulled together.
A: Right, and we make sure that thereís one point person for that ó an in-house project manager. That manager starts with the basics: reading the rules and making sure that we know the competitionís expectations. It makes no sense to put together an entry and find out at the last minute that you didnít do something important, or you did include something you werenít supposed to. The place to get creative isnít in interpreting the contest rules.
The manager also coordinates getting input from everyone who has to contribute information to the entry. We generally designate a copywriter to handle the essay sections of the entry, and the manager works with the architect and the development team to identify the important things that should be mentioned in those descriptive sections and get that information to the writer.
Q: Is this something you have to build into your marketing budget?
A: Competitions are an important part of our marketing effort, so we budget for them. But if your company doesnít have a lot of staff to work on an entry, and if youíre located near a college or university, you can contact its marketing department and find out if you can get an intern to work with you. That sort of project is something that students can take on, and the finished product is something they can make part of their portfolio when they graduate and look for work.
And if itís time, not money, thatís the issue, there are lots of good public relations firms who would be glad to help you prepare an entry on a fee basis. But itís important for someone in your company to have ultimate control of the process and to make sure that everyone who needs to be consulted, is consulted.
Q: So once the manager pulls everything together, what happens?
A: All the people who contributed information read the finished entry, and they read it more than once. The writers may have missed an important detail or misunderstood a crucial point. Itís so important to get everything right ó itís all the judges have to go by, and if thereís something in the entry that doesnít make sense, they canít give the project an award.
One area that weíve found has a big impact ó and that some companies overlook ó is letters of endorsement and recommendation. We include letters we get from people such as the mayor of Washington, D.C. or the mayor of Chicago praising our projects and talking about the ways our work has helped revitalize neighborhoods. Itís a simple thing to include, but it makes a big impact.
Once everyone involved has signed off on the entry, itís ready to submit.
Q: The process sounds like a lot of work. You must plan that time into your departmentís schedule.
A: If youíre going to spend the money on an entry, you should also be ready to spend the time to do it right. It always takes more time than people expect, so we try to give ourselves a head start. When we have a project that we think weíre likely to enter, we collect the relevant information throughout the planning, construction and marketing process and have it ready.
And we donít enter every project ó only the ones we think might win. We focus on projects with exceptionally good design or projects that solved a particularly challenging problem in a creative way. For marketing, we only enter campaigns that are effective, but also truly innovative, because thatís what the judges are looking for.
We donít enter every competition, either ó only the national awards competitions, like Pillars. Many local associations also have awards competitions, and those might be a good place to start. But you can just as easily enter national awards if you make a commitment to do it right. Itís better to concentrate on one good entry than three or four that are mediocre.
Q: What if you donít win?
A: Just going through the process is worthwhile. The photos, as I said, are used for lots of other purposes, so theyíre valuable whether you win or not. And the work of thinking through what makes a community special informs our marketing efforts and helps us focus on whatís important for our future projects.
Q: And if you win?
A: When we win, we tell everyone! First we let our employees know. We put it in our annual report and on our Web sites. We publicize it to our investors, to our residents, our associates and our vendors. People are proud to be associated with a prize-winning project and a nationally honored company. Theyíre excited for us!
We make sure the local press knows, as well. That can turn into stories in the local newspaperís real estate section.
The process of entering and winning awards has brought tremendous value and great benefits to our company. Itís certainly worth the effort.
2004 NAHB Multifamily Pillars of the Industry Conference & Awards Gala
Donít miss the Multifamily Pillars of the Industry Conference and Awards Gala, the premier educational and networking event of the year for the multifamily industry, in Palm Springs, CA, March 28-30. Explore both the current and future state of the multifamily industry. Click here for more information.