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Reaching architects: Education with results

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To influence architects in your geographical area with the goals of having them “think awnings” when they are working on projects—and having them think of your company first when they need shade structures—is also the goal of a continuing education program from PAMA, called “Awnings: Enhancing Your Design,” that allows PAMA members to connect with local architectural firms. Members can offer local architects a one-hour “lunch and learn” program that is accredited by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), a definite draw in the field.

“They can get continuing education credits, and they need a certain number of credits in order to maintain their licenses,” says Michelle Sahlin, managing director of PAMA. Most members that schedule and conduct these presentations also provide free lunches. “Architects love it when someone comes in, provides a free lunch, and gives them the opportunity to get additional continuing education credits,” she adds.

After completing the official PAMA presentation (a PowerPoint® presentation with a script) members have the opportunity to provide their own custom presentations about their firm’s capabilities. “The result is that it positions them as the local experts in this area,” says Sahlin.

“Some of our PAMA members have really focused on this, and it has become a gold mine for them,” she adds. “They have connected with a lot of architectural firms, and while it might not happen right away, they eventually start getting projects to bid on.” Some PAMA members have even reached out to their regional AIA chapters, which are often looking for speakers, an opportunity to reach 30 to 40 architects in one sitting.

One company that has successfully utilized this program is Lawrence Fabric & Metal Structures Inc. in St. Louis, Mo. “One way we encourage architects to attend the program is to explain that they can get AIA continuing credits,” says Jerry Grimaud, president. “We schedule a one-hour lunch, bring in sandwiches and drinks, provide the PAMA presentation, and also bring in samples of fabrics for ‘show and tell.’”

Interest has consistently been high. “After almost every presentation, we had people come up to us immediately afterwards or within a week, asking questions on specific projects they had going at the time,” Grimaud recalls. More than half of them had immediate opportunities to use Lawrence’s products. “It has really spurred interest in our products. A lot of architects were surprised to learn about the large number of styles that are now available, as well as the uniqueness of some of the products.” The presentations were of particular value in reaching architects who have been in the profession a long time and grew up in an era when fabrics might last only five years.

During the recession, Lawrence has had a lot more time to dedicate toward the presentations. “In addition, architects had more time to attend,” says Grimaud. “This helped tremendously, in that it has helped to get our name out there. Since then, we have had one of our busiest years this year, and we believe that some of this can be attributed to the continuing marketing we did during the recession.”

William Atkinson is a freelance writer and editor based in Carterville, Ill.

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