Why publicity isn’t fluff

Last week the British resident in Saudi Arabia Karl Andree was released from prison. He had served a sentence for supplying alcohol, which is illegal but was still being held, awaiting a vicious punishment of lashes which, as an unwell man in his 70s, he may well not have withstood.

Last week the British resident in Saudi Arabia Karl Andree was released from prison. He had served a sentence for supplying alcohol, which is illegal but was still being held, awaiting a vicious punishment of lashes which, as an unwell man in his 70s, he may well not have withstood. The reason he was released was, without doubt, because of the efforts of his family to bring this to public and official attention.

I’m particularly interested in this case because I know some of the people involved. On the same day that the announcement was made, the architect Phil Coffey held a party at the RIBA to celebrate his 10 years in practice and the opening of an exhibition, ‘Exposures’ which showcased both his practice’s work and his own travel photography.

Phil Coffey is a relatively young and a talented architect. He won Building Design’s Young Architect of the Year award in 2012, a fact that appears prominently on his website. The house that he designed for himself and his wife, the design that helped him win, has been widely publicised. 

He also has an engaging personality, networks like mad and throws a good party. In other words, he deserves to be successful because he is talented, but he also works hard to ensure that success. Doubtless there are other equally talented architects who haven’t done as well because they don’t have his personal skills and drive.

There is a temptation to think that publicity is somehow cheap, that PR is a substitute for talent or akin to lying. But these two cases demonstrate the opposite. In the case of Karl Andree, a family who were not natural publicity seekers made an enormous effort that paid off. They will now doubtless sink back into the obscurity that they desire having achieved their end.

In the case of Phil Coffey, publicity has amplified the rewards that are due to his talent – not replaced that talent. Architects who enter competitions have an advantage if the jury has heard their name or seen their work. In the case of private clients, they will never appoint you if they have not either heard of you or been told about you.

Nobody will work with somebody whose work they do not like just because they have heard of them. But getting your name out their is essential. And having a sunny personality and an ability to communicate? Well, if more architects were like that, many jobs would go a great deal better.

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