David Rockwell is in an enviable position. His work has become so well known, according to Allison Hecht, the director of new business for Rockwell Group, that potential clients phone, fax, and e-mail continuously. “It's a challenge just managing all the people who want to meet with us,” she says.
Unusual as that is, most of Hecht's work for the 200-person New York firm involves problems all architects face. From the moment a call comes in, Hecht is responsible for Rockwell Group's response. “People are unconsciously forming an opinion of you from the way the phone is answered,” says Hecht, 37.
After studying architectural history at Harvard, Hecht landed a marketing job at Denver-based Klipp Colussy Jenks DuBois. From there, she moved to positions at New York–based Kohn Pedersen Fox and Chicago-headquartered Skidmore Owings & Merrill before jumping to Rockwell in 2001. “I've had the advantage of being at firms that are well known,” she says. But none of the firms started out that way. Here are six of Hecht's ideas for becoming one of architecture's most wanted.
1. Act like an architect. “With a potential client, the sooner you act like an architect, the better things are going to go,” says Hecht. “At a meeting, unfurl a roll of trace, perhaps over a site plan, and start to sketch.” After all, the sooner they think of you as an architect, the sooner they can think of you as their architect.
2. Show passion for the field. If you can hire someone to do business development, make it someone who's passionate about architecture and design. (Hecht returned to Harvard to do a summer studio program.) You can't sell design if you don't really love it.
3. Sweat the details. “From the very first phone call, the impression starts to form of what kind of architect you're going to be,” Hecht notes. At Rockwell, the phone is answered by a person. If you have to have a machine pick up, the message should be returned quickly and professionally. You don't want the potential client wondering whether things will get done properly.
4. Form strategic relationships with other firms. “You can grow your firm by forming strategic relationships with firms in other cities,” says Hecht, “or firms in your own city that have an expertise that you don't have”—say, in designing hospitals or spas. “As a team, you may be able to offer clients more than either firm could offer alone.”
5. Avoid cold calls. Lay the groundwork before you contact potential clients. “I don't believe in cold calls,” says Hecht. “I always figure out a way to make a call warm.” That means having someone who knows your potential client pave the way.
6. Use every name in your address book. At Harvard, Hecht received a scholarship funded by Marvin Traub (the former president of Bloomingdale's). After going to work at Rockwell, she decided to call Traub. He was working with a major retailer in India that was looking to expand its operations. Three weeks later, Hecht and two other Rockwell employees were on a plane to India. There, they studied how Indians interact with public spaces. (Among other things, people go to the movies at 9 a.m. on Sundays, and they go to the supermarket in huge groups, says Hecht.) Now, not only is Rockwell working with Traub's client, but Hecht also collected names of other potential clients while on the trip.
Fred Bernstein studied architecture at Princeton and law at New York University and writes about both subjects.