Using education as a marketing tool

My brother-in-law, who works for a major drug company, says his firm is always sponsoring conferences and workshops to help promote their products to doctors. How can we adapt this approach for our architect customers?—S.N.T., president

New continuing education requirements for architects will create opportunities for building products manufacturers to reach architectural markets. Architects traditionally have not pursued continuing education as aggressively as have some other professionals, such as those in the medical field. They tend to learn about new materials, technology, and architectural fashions through on-the-job experience and by scanning trade publications.

This is changing, however, as new requirements take effect. In Iowa and Alabama, for example, architects must now take continuing education courses before they can renew their licenses. Other states are considering similar requirements. The impact goes beyond those few states because out-of-state architects who wish to design projects there must also comply.

In part to avoid the chaos that could result from each state having separate mandates, the American Institute of Architects has decided to make continuing education a membership requirement starting in 1996. AIA’s move is also an attempt to increase the value of membership by raising the threshold for entrance into “the club.” AIA has already initiated a pilot program to develop continuing education criteria and methods for keeping track of credits. The pilot will be expanded next spring to allow all AIA members to begin accruing credit hours.

A marketing opportunity
Building products manufacturers have always offered educational programs to architects. While everyone likes to talk about their own product features and benefits, non-proprietary educational programs can also be a valuable part of your marketing mix. The more well-informed architects are about a product, the more likely they are to use it and to establish product loyalty. By conducting lunch-time programs or speaking at professional society meetings, salespeople can make new contacts, establish reputations as product experts, shape opinion, and influence design and specifying behavior.

Some manufacturers offer programs that are quite sophisticated. Manville conducts a week-long school where designers can get hands-on experience installing roofing materials. United States Gypsum has used precision audio equipment to demonstrate the nature of architectural acoustics. And Osmose offers a correspondence course on the fundamentals of wood preservation treatments.

But manufacturers’ programs are often suspected of being more self promotional than educational. To avoid that, AIA is establishing uniform criteria to register programs and program providers. Registering your educational programs with AIA will enhance their credibility.

The trend toward mandatory continuing education will increase the demand for professional development programs, creating more opportunities for you to make presentations and boost your attendance. For example, architectural firms that have been reluctant to give staff time off for training may now feel compelled to do so. Architects will have an increased awareness of their own continuing education needs and will be looking for programs that meet their interests. And if you join AIA’s program, your offerings will be listed in its on-line database and in other directories.

Credit hours
AIA has established three levels that determine how many credits will be awarded for a program. Since you will be competing with other continuing education providers, you should design your curriculum to offer participants as many credit hours as possible.

The first level provides one credit per hour and includes lectures, videotaped presentations, and other simple programs.

The second category yields two credits per hour and requires providers to establish the need and objectives for the program through such means as focus groups or surveys. The program must also allow for interaction through discussion periods, role playing, or other exercises.

A curriculum at the third level, three credits per hour, must address professional needs identified by outside sources such as insurance companies or code offices. Participants must receive feedback through testing or critiques to help them assess whether their learning needs were met.

Sending your salespeople out with a one-hour slide show will result in just a single hour of credit. If, however, the salesperson presented a 30-minute slide show and then facilitated a 30-minute exercise in which participants applied their new knowledge to a problem, they would earn two credits. And if you gave the participants a study kit and a short self administered quiz, they could earn three or more credits depending on how long it takes to complete the take-home materials.

Maximize impact
This is not an idle bean-counting exercise. The three categories are based on AIA research into the professional development activities of architects and how they learn. Courses that provide the most credit will most likely also provide the strongest and longest-lasting promotional impact for your firm. And you can take advantage of the interaction and feedback processes to establish one-on-one continuing dialogues with customers.

Have a question you'd like us to answer?
Send an email to 

By Michael Chusid
Originally published in Construction Marketing Today, Copyright © 1993