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Is this the future of architecture awards?

March 19, 2018bowerbirdblog

How the Victorian Architecture Awards democratised access to the media.

In 2017, the Victorian Chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects used BowerBird to promote their Awards Program and Entries. Having previously had mixed success with PR firms, they chose to engage their members — Victoria’s architects — to advocate for architecture in Victoria.

Here we examine why it was their most successful media campaign to date.

The Process

In previous years, the equation had been simple:

1. Create press releases around the awards announcements

2. Send to journalists

3. Get articles around the awards program

The problem with this equation is that a handful of publications would write articles on the announcements of winners, and maybe a couple on the shortlist, but the interest from the media would quickly die down.

For the 2017 ‘Vic Awards’, the Victorian Chapter engaged BowerBird to send out the usual press releases around the awards, however, the entries themselves were also imported—with the permission of entrants—into the BowerBird platform.

Members were given BowerBird accounts and received two months free on the platform. When the press releases were sent through BowerBird, all projects were included, allowing journalists to connect directly with architects to publish their entries.

“Members benefitted as they received international media coverage for their Awards projects as well as the opportunity to continue the relationship with BowerBird post Awards,” says Alison Cleary, Executive Director of the Australian Institute of Architects 2010–2017.

The Results

The VIC Awards chose to empower each of their members to get their individual entries published. By using BowerBird as a platform, the Chapter gave its members the tools to share their projects with the world’s design journalists on an ongoing basis.

The exposure was extraordinary. BowerBird estimates that, from February 2017—February 2018, over 250 stories were told about projects from a total of 70 projects that were uploaded to the platform. This is based on unique downloads of projects by verified journalists on the platform, but does not include the flow-on publications and social media exposure. While it isn’t currently possible to track print stories, of which there appears to be many, a full list of 160 verified articles can be viewed here.

Photo (and hero): MRTN Architects | Daylesford Shadow Cottage

With press releases sent through the BowerBird platform, there were also at least 16 stories specifically covering the Awards Program itself:

“In 2017 projects submitted to the Victorian Architecture Awards attracted over 160 stories in a wide range of local, national and international media – both mainstream and industry specific. While in previous years the Victorian Awards did attract some local and regional media, 2017 was the first time we extended the reach beyond state and national borders.”

Journalist Response

The journalists were delighted to have direct access to the outstanding field of entries. There were 81 journalists who downloaded projects, with projects and media releases viewed by journalists in 71 countries.

“The Bowerbird press releases for the 2017 Architecture Awards were easy to access and image selection was, in particular, a smooth process,” says Green Magazine’s Tamsin O’Neill. Green Magazine used the content to publish Awards announcements here and here.

Aleesha Callahan—former editor Australian Design Review, currently editor IndesignLive—used the content provided through BowerBird for researching stories going into print as well as features and profiles for onlineThe BowerBird and Vic Awards partnership made it much easier for me to access all the entries individually, including imagery and descriptions,” explains Callahan. “More than just a press release, I could sift through the hundreds of projects to find exactly what I needed for a range of different stories.”

In comparison to previous years and other awards programs, Callahan found creating content around the 2017 Vic Chapter Awards a much fuller experience. “Often in other awards media, the information is limited and focused on the program as a whole or only the larger, more well-known work. With this partnership, I could pick out projects I’d never seen before, particularly by some of the smaller practices, and showcase their work.”


The reason this process was so powerful is that it wasn’t just the Shortlisted and Winning architects who were able to get their projects published. This democratisation of the awards meant that every project had potential to get published, not just those who won. It was a savvy decision by the Chapter, which understood the power of democratising access to media for its members.

The results favoured the more motivated architects, with those that used the BowerBird platform independently getting the best results from the media push. The conversation also moved away from simple lists of winners, and towards telling literally hundreds of stories about architecture in Victoria.

Photo: OOF! Architecture | Acute House

Activating Members

By empowering and activating members, the Chapter gave every practice who entered the awards the ability to ‘piggyback’ on the awards media, and take control of telling their own individual stories.

Rather than just benefiting from the initial awards media, since the end of the awards program, BowerBird has provided media support and helped architects who entered to continue telling their stories in the media on an ongoing basis.

“Members saw real value in BowerBird’s involvement in the Awards program as they not only garnered international media coverage (sometimes for the first time), but also benefited from BowerBird’s operational model which supports and empowers practices to take more control of their media profiles,” Cleary says.

Sustainable Approach

The process allowed the Victorian Chapter of the AIA to decentralise media enquiries, reducing the amount of resources required for staff to field media requests. “BowerBird’s knowledge of the sector meant they needed little hand holding through the Awards program, which enabled Chapter staff  to get on with the job of delivering the Awards program,” Cleary explains.

The Institute received a full report, giving them unique insights into how the media campaign flowed, and providing concrete evidence of the value of the awards to both members and the Victorian Chapter.

The total value provided to the Institute and its members was conservatively estimated at over $180,000, including editorial value, member savings, and PR savings.

Photo: Robinson Architects | Wallaby Lane House

“BowerBird was a win-win scenario for both members and the Institute,” Cleary says. “The Institute provided a much sought-after benefit to members, and saved substantial amounts of money on media and PR costs.”

The partnership proved that activating members, and helping them to prepare themselves for media coverage was a powerful tactic. The 2017 program was the most successful Victorian Chapter media campaign ever, because it wasn’t just about the awards, wasn’t just about the winners, it was about spreading the story of outstanding architecture.

This was a 100% non-financial partnership at zero cost to the Victorian Chapter.

If you’re interested in your awards program partnering with BowerBird, please get in touch.

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