But I’m not an expert!

May 09, 2021

Get your technical professionals comfortable with sharing their stories and they’ll promote your firm, their good work, and their team.

Value-added, original stories are the crème de la crème of a strong content marketing program. Architects and engineers solve many design challenges that evolve into stories that need to be shared. From the designer’s perspective (original ideas), through the client experience, to people using the space, to the positive community impact, these narratives are compelling stories that resonate with clients and peers (value-added).

I half-jokingly tell my colleagues that my job is to make them famous. This entails capturing their original thoughts, developing the story and promoting it to the right audiences. Three critical elements help this process:

  1. A compelling story
  2. Strong imagery and graphics
  3. A willing and able champion who is intimately tied to the client, project, and story

The champion is critical to drive the editorial process forward. Your subject matter expert needs to be “willing and able” to collaborate. That is when sometimes the e-brake is pulled.

  • “I don’t want to make a mistake. Everyone will see it.”
  • “I don’t want to look stupid in front of everyone.”
  • “But I’m not an expert.”

Some of our best designers are very humble. Creating content can be misinterpreted as a form of self-promotion which is the antithesis of their core values. The other headwind is potential embarrassment with flawed or debatable ideas. This vulnerability can bring the process to a screeching halt.

  • Experts know more than most people about a particular topic. You might be asking yourself, “Is that me? Am I an expert?” Merriam-Webster defines an expert as “one with special skill or knowledge representing mastery of a particular subject.” As an architect, engineer, or designer, you have studied your field and have spent thousands of hours mastering your craft. You have done the work and, more than likely, you are mentoring those around you. Now it is time to share the work. You can do this in a way that aligns with being honest and humble while helping others. In doing so, the story should stay focused on challenges overcome, lessons learned, and the benefits for the client. These key takeaways are critical for both clients and peers.
  • You already know it. If you were a scientist, the institution you worked for would expect you to publish your research in peer-reviewed journals. This promotes the institution, the research and the scientist. Applying this to our industry, publishing promotes the design firm, the good work, and the designers (our willing and able champions and our subject matter experts). Bonus: It is easier to publish your own information. You can amplify that on social media. You can email clients and get it right into their inbox. Print and mail it so clients can hold on to it as a resource. Sharing our knowledge with others opens a dialogue where we can help a client or colleague.
  • The first draft and the power of editing. Because we create our own content, we have the ability to craft our messages thoughtfully and carefully. There is no fear of having only one opportunity to tell your story perfectly. The first draft is the hardest part. The thought of writing it alone can paralyze the process. Ease the process by:
    • Interviewing the subject matter expert
    • Identifying the audience, key messaging points, and what we want the audience to learn
    • Ghostwriting for the subject matter expert
    • Editing the first and subsequent drafts together
  • This can help put any fear and anxiety at ease of looking stupid and making a mistake.
  • Sharing is caring. At Shive-Hattery, one of our Shared People Values is mentoring – meaning to mentor unselfishly and to share knowledge, skills, and experience in a friendly way. We also have a Share Business Value focused on learning and teaching where we believe it is a basic responsibility to learn and teach others. Our designers are known for providing a high level of care with our clients and they trust us with their goals, visions, and dreams. There is no better way to extend that type of care than by sharing our stories as told by our subject matter experts. From their perspective, they are at ground zero when clients reach out needing help with a problem or assistance to achieve their vision. They guide clients throughout the entire design process until the built environment is complete. By sharing stories like these, you promote the client and their goals, strengthen relationships, and daylight how each designer assists the unique needs of clients.

With a thoughtful approach, my colleagues become reluctantly famous. Once they get there, they realize that beside them stand our clients and a project that solved problems and accomplished goals, a project everyone can be proud of.

Jenny Phan is the corporate communications manager for Shive-Hattery Architecture-Engineering. She can be reached at jphan@shive-hattery.com.

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