John Gilmore, who runs Life at HOK from the firm's St. Louis office and is a senior writer in the corporate communications group, gives all credit for the blog's popularity to the contributors: "They've run with it and are showing the world who they are, which is what we wanted them to do."
Credit: Stefan Hester
The blog Lifeat HOK is important not so much for what it offers—tales from the HOK cubicle as well as snark-free design-related postings, travelogue, commentary, videos, and ephemera—as for what it represents: a blue-chip firm, the kind of outfit one would expect to tightly control all external communication, allowing more than two dozen of its younger staff to express themselves on company time. (Most of the contributors, located around the globe, are under 35.) There is a “manifesto” and style guide, of course. But otherwise, says John Gilmore, senior writer in HOK’s corporate communications group and the blog’s manager, “it’s all organic.”
It also, says media relations manager Mike Plotnick, lets HOK showcase talent beneath the senior design principal level, something many firms struggle with. And by providing up-and-comers with “a forum for getting noticed and playing in the game,” says Plotnick, HOK expects the blog will help recruit young and midcareer architects.
How far things have come since the web’s early days. Back then, says Gilmore, “there was nervousness about putting names or e-mails on the website,” because top brass worried the best employees might be poached. These days, HOK’s leadership is more savvy. When the idea for the blog, which launched in October, was presented at the firm’s executive committee meeting, notes Gilmore, “our chairman and president stood up and applauded. Now, the approach is: This is a great place to work, and so we’ll let our competition know we have these great people.”
In the end, Life at HOK is one of many ways the firm—which also maintains a presence on Facebook, Flickr, Delicious, and YouTube—is embracing a generation that, as Plotnick says, has never known life without the Internet. “We can’t ignore that fact, because it’s only going to grow in importance,” says Plotnick. “We see this as the future of corporate communication.”
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