American architect and engineer, Julia Morgan, remembered for the beautiful Hearst Castle or La Casa Grande, once said, “My buildings will be my legacy... they will speak for me long after I'm gone”. Albeit today, the forces of marketing and influencer play a significant role in determining how soon you will be remembered – or forgotten. When Tanya Khanna took the plunge to incept New Delhi based Epistle Communications in 2011, it was a six-month challenge to merge her two passions: Design and content.
“In today’s date, there are so many people who claim to be designers. One has to distinguish themselves from the regular rut of what is a truly designer or architect. This is where building a brand for yourself takes prominence. Reputation building follows it,” she says as she sits in a conference room after a busy day at her New Delhi office.
Tanya is a registered architect but hasn’t been practising the art since she started Epistle as a brand and communication consultancy for architecture and design professionals. She confesses that being an architect wasn’t her first choice. “I had two career choices: architecture or journalism. I wanted to be a journalist because I loved creating content. My father, however, told me that I could always become a journalist after studying architecture, but not vice versa. That one conversation sealed the decision for me,” she says. Serendipity as they call it, years after practising as an architect in various domestic and international firms, Tanya decided to return to her first love content.
“Architecture as a degree opens up a world to you. You can practice many things. Design is so integral to our lives that it’s more than just a profession. It teaches you to look at a space through different perspectives,”
Ad-hoc PR is a futile exercise. Reputation is not about ego-boost.
“The information exchange both locally and globally is happening at a rate which is hard to fathom. There is some really good information being put out using digital mediums and the internet. In this era, it is silly to not take advantage of this window to both learn as well as share knowledge,” she adds.
Yet in 2011, when she set a six-month deadline for herself to establish Epistle, reputation building wasn’t a key agenda for architecture and design professionals. There was a vacuum in the market, and it made perfect business sense to Tanya. “Most architects and designers do not invest in creating a brand for themselves. Building and creating stuff is what consumes and interest them the most. Thus, they do not invest their time and energies in building their brand. In the marketing-driven world, one must have a distinguishing factor; a USP through which people recognise you and your work,” she notes.
In the last few years, Tanya’s team consulted around 30 well-known architecture and design firms on marketing, reputation and brand building. “This profession has helped me work with the best design minds of the industry. I network and converse with them. I see diversity in point of view, design principles, and approach. This has broadened our mental horizon,” she adds.
Tanya admits selling the idea of public relations and brand building to architecture and design professionals initially hit several road-blocks. The tendency to connect PR to ROI or lead generation was fought back. “That’s when we realised that we would have to take up a broader role of being brand and marketing consultants to them. Today, we even help them in recruitment because recruitment is directly related to reputation,” she says.
The media mix was easier in the ‘90s. There were few trade publications which covered design in-depth, an array of lifestyle magazines and an occasional column in a mainline newspaper’s lifestyle section. The emergence of myriad mediums has as much complicated reputation building as much it has opened new avenues to generate eyeballs.
The buzzword today is experience and engagement. “People think it’s easy to become an influencer. It’s far from the truth. Often storytelling is highly undervalued and undersold,” she says, adding, “It’s my job to counsel them that PR is not just about churning out content or garnering media attention through some articles. Ad-hoc PR is a futile exercise. Reputation is not about ego-boost. It’s fancy to look at a social media profile with 10K followers. We are sometimes briefed to get those numbers, but reputation is beyond those numbers. I tell all my clients, it’s a slow burn process.”
Wrapping the chat, she puts out a word of caution for architecture students aspiring to be entrepreneurs. “The only thing that an architecture education doesn’t teach you in our country is: how to run a design business. That’s the biggest challenge. People often don’t see the difficulties faced by an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur is part HR, salesperson, finance genius, administrator, and even the electrician and receptionist. Entrepreneurship equips you to look at issues and spaces from different vantage points, work 48 hours immersed in the work, collaborate with a large team. There were times when I wondered whether I should quit being an entrepreneur. However, there is a sense of joy since you are exactly doing what you set out to do. If that pulse is missing, then it’s not for you,” she concludes.