Are email newsletters the new Instagram?

September 08, 2022

There are rumors that Instagram isn’t working for architects like it used to. Dave Sharp, Director of Vanity Projects, built his reputation advising small practices in Australia and the UK on digital marketing.

He will share his perspective on quick-action and longer-term marketing strategies at the RIBA Guerrilla Tactics conference November 8-10, where he will talk about marketing tactics for small practices.

Sharp says the days of becoming an instant designer celebrity via Instagram, the profession’s favorite social media platform, are long gone.

Instagram’s algorithm change makes it harder to reach followers

“You still have to be on Instagram, but you can’t expect to be ‘discovered’ anymore. That won’t do the heavy lifting for you in terms of marketing. The trend now is to try to get your work to appear on more traditional (but now digital) design publications like dezeen, RIBA Journal and The Architects’ Journal, or curated real estate publications like Modern House.”

Sharp always recommends LinkedIn as a strong platform for networking business-to-business communities, accessing professional consultants and clients, and demonstrating thought leadership.

But the marketing tool he’s really excited about these days is the email newsletter. He recommends a regular practice newsletter as the backbone of his clients’ marketing strategies and is on a mission to convince his clients of their benefits.

“I now see newsletters as the number one marketing opportunity for architects. They give people the chance to learn about your work, they drive referrals, and firms can use their newsletter planning calendar as motivation to write and generate business. contents.”

Sharp’s enthusiasm for email newsletters has grown in recent years as changes to Instagram’s algorithm have made it much harder for practices to reach their subscribers. Instagram posts are often seen by less than 10% of a practice’s followers, and engagement rates can easily drop below 2%.

In comparison, email newsletters will typically be opened by 40-50% of your subscribers, and 10-20% will click on the content and links they contain.



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Sharp’s free webinar on Email Marketing for Architects offers practices ranging from the basics of the first newsletter to more sophisticated strategies such as automated sequencing of recycled content for new subscribers.

He recommends starting with a monthly newsletter. Firms should plan their content typically three to six months in advance, with upcoming content being assigned to dedicated slots in future emails. This helps guide the firm’s broader content generation strategy.

Each newsletter should start with a main article, supported by a series of secondary elements. This can be a major project milestone or specially curated content, such as a blog post or video. Secondary items may include customer tips, industry awards, tips, project updates, staff announcements, and more.

The mechanics are simple. Sharp will almost always recommend Mailchimp for the email client, which has a simple page builder interface and can perform a wide range of customizable tasks. If the pages are created in MS Word or Google Docs, they can be dropped directly into Mailchimp, and once the layout is designed, it can be used again and again.

Firms can opt for more personalized layouts that reflect their brand image through a choice of colors and fonts, or more basic layouts reminiscent of regular emails.

Sharp says simpler newsletters, which look like emails, have been shown to actually drive more clicks and are more likely to engage viewers.

“Simple, clean newsletters may not look as appealing, but they get better results. They can also feel more personal and less like marketing material. So while each email should contain attractive images, it’s best avoid over-complicating your newsletter template with buttons, separators, and headings.”


Tonkin Liu is one of Dave’s UK clients. In 2021, the practice won a National RIBA Award and the Stephen Lawrence Water Tower Award. Photo by Dennis Pedersen

Create a targeted mailing list

The next task is to create the mailing list. Sharp does not recommend mass emailing. In his view, practices should only engage recipients who they know are likely to want to see their emails.

This includes past clients – these should always be included – current and potential clients, past and present staff, builders and other consultants you have worked with before, and finally, inquiries received via email and through your website.

Import the list into Mailchimp and subscribe to a paid plan, test yourself to make sure everything works and looks good, and then you’re off.

Sharp always recommends that practices take appropriate steps to ensure that emails are only sent to subscribers who wish to receive them. He advises that the first email simply explain the purpose of the email, why the recipient was added to the mailing list, and a message encouraging them to unsubscribe if they no longer wish to receive content from the practice.

Subscribers who never open emails should also be removed from the list after the first emails are sent, and there should be an unsubscribe option in every email, Sharp says.

Use the signup forms on your website to grow your mailing list

Content prepared for a firm’s newsletter can have multiple lives and be put to use on your social media platforms like Instagram and LinkedIn and, of course, on your website.

Firms can set up automated email sequences sent to new contacts using the best from past newsletters. Such routines can appear as a sequence of personal communications and be easily automated in Mailchimp.

Signup forms integrated into your website are a great way to grow your email list over time. Practices can get creative: offer an information pack, a floor plan of a featured project, the opportunity to receive additional information on a particular topic, a “How to…” lesson, or some other perk that might engage your audience.

Sharp says one of the big advantages of digital newsletters, over social media platforms, is that the practice knows their target audience will receive it without having to deal with a social media algorithm.

Much valuable content is simply lost on social media platforms, whereas with newsletters you always know exactly where the information is going and for the most part it is received with interest.

Thanks to Dave Sharp, Director, Vanity Projects.

Text by Neal Morris. This is a professional feature edited by the RIBA Practice team. Send us your comments and ideas.

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