I shared Aaron Betsky’s envy of the RIBA Stirling Prize announcement, which garnered national television coverage in Great Britain, in his article, “Elevating the Discourse: Architectural Awards in the U.K and U.S.”
His reference to the “panoply” of AIA and industry awards programs included the question: “why not here?” and the wildly uninformed assertion that:
“Other than architects, who ever hears about these prizes? Occasionally an architect with a good communications consulting firm will manage to get a notice in the local paper, and our national newspaper of record, the New York Times, does mention at least the Gold Medal winner when she or he is announced. That, however, is about it”
That, however, is not about it. And not even close.
The Gold Medal alone was also covered by the Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, Fast Company and a “special to CNN” article written by the AIA Executive Vice President / CEO titled, “Duo Who Said ‘Less is Bore’ Win American Architecture’s Highest Prize.”
What makes Mr. Betsky’s lazy accounting especially frustrating is that given his regular presence in your magazine, the official Journal of the AIA, architect members who read it might assume this lack of media coverage for our awards programs is true.
If he had done even a cursory Google search Mr. Betsky might have seen coverage of AIA chapter awards in New York and Omaha, and after reading the “Elevating” article I posted a request on social media for other examples of local design awards coverage and quickly received articles from AIA Pittsburgh, Richmond, Birmingham, Baton Rouge and Dallas.
At the national level, AIA awards programs ranging from the Institute Honor Awards to the various Knowledge Community awards have been featured in numerous prominent, brand-name news outlets that all have large readerships. From the Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic City Lab, featuring select award recipients’ projects, to “Architects’ Picks for 2016’s 10 Best American Homes” in CBS Money Watch, to our joint library award with the American Library Association, which triggered a story on “How Architecture Uses Space, Light and Material to Affect Your Mood” in The Guardian, to showcasing advances in energy efficiency with “Clever Architectural Strategies for Conserving Water” in Fast Company, to the value proposition of “This Year’s Best Small-scale Architectural Projects” in Slate, to phenomenal headlines like “Hospitals Designed to Help You Heal Faster” and “The 12 Most Beautiful New Schools in America” the exposure in mainstream news outlets for the work that architects do as problem solvers has been incredible.
As for “who ever hears about these prizes,” I want to remind you of that article I mentioned on school design featuring AIA Committee on Architecture for Education awards, which has been viewed more than 300,000 times on the Business Insider website. The estimated readership for the awards media coverage that we have generated this year alone is nearly 500 million. So not only does the press coverage of the awards and the architects have demonstrable reach, our media outreach efforts on behalf of our awards programs also enables us help us promote the work of the profession at large, and is a linchpin in our public awareness campaign.
Sadly, Mr. Betsky isn’t alone in thinking that AIA awards fail to receive media exposure commensurate with their stature. And despite the myriad examples I have highlighted, I too am frustrated that we haven’t been able to drive even greater publicity and at the broadcast television level. But there is also the case of when a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
As a way to bridge the gap in perceived and real earned media exposure, perhaps we could collaborate on a mechanism to share mainstream press coverage of design awards programs similar to the Architects in the News section of the new AIA website? After all, complaining about something without offering a solution is just whining.
Senior Director of Media Relations, American Institute of Architects