We work hard to communicate ARB’s role to our stakeholders. We are guided by our communications strategy which sets out three key aims. These underpin the annual objectives we set and are listed below:
- To increase public and professional awareness of the role and functions of ARB.
- To continue to raise awareness of the Register, specifically explaining to users of architectural services what registration means, and the importance of checking the Register before engaging an architect.
- To extend the network of stakeholders to support ARB to deliver its business plan. ARB’s communications function supports the organisation to achieve its business objectives and thus deliver ARB’s statutory remit, as set out in the Architects Act 1997.
Communications objectives formed a key part of the 2016 business plan. The plan contained specific communications tasks particularly related to extending stakeholder networks. We also committed to harnessing the power of technology through the use of tools including the website, social media and the ebulletin. Additionally, communications objectives were woven throughout the wider business aims to support the delivery of our regulatory functions of registration, prescription, professional conduct and protection of title. Communications is key to the effective delivery of all of these functions as we work to provide informative resources to consumers and clients, registrants, applicants, candidates, schools of architecture, professional bodies and other built environment stakeholders who use our services.
As a public body we are committed to transparency and accountability. We communicate our effectiveness by highlighting successes and identifying and acting upon areas where improvement is needed. For this reason, we see communication as a two-way process. We disseminate information to our audiences but this is not done in isolation, it involves listening to and, where possible, drawing on the feedback, advice and experience of others. In this way, it is also an evolutionary process as we amend resources to meet the needs of our stakeholders.
Maintaining and building stakeholder relationships is a key element of our work.
Our traditional stakeholders
For many years, we have had strong relationships with architects, students and schools of architecture. Professional bodies are also key stakeholders for ARB. We are in touch with employees in a range of different roles within these organisations, they provide us with insights into the views of their members and share key messages via their networks. These traditional stakeholders are core to our work and we report on our interactions with these organisations, groups and individuals via the regular Operational Activity Report, which is presented at each Board meeting as well as reports relating to our different regulatory functions.
Consumer and client stakeholders
In recent years, we have established connections with a number of stakeholders representing consumers and clients. These include the HomeOwners Alliance, TrustMark, Houzz and Which? We continue to remain in touch with these organisations with a view to identifying opportunities for joint working.
In 2016 we hoped that we would be able to establish a relationship with the Planning Portal, an online tool used by local authorities to manage the public facing elements of their planning process. It is widely used by the general public and, consequently, we believe that it should direct consumers looking for architects to ARB to verify their registered status. In 2016 the Portal team advised us that they were looking at ways to develop their business including identifying suppliers to provide a new ‘find a trade professional’ service. Their aim was to enable members of the public to locate providers of construction services, including architects. Whilst we are unable to enter into a commercial arrangement we strongly recommended that the Portal should direct consumers looking for architects to ARB. Unfortunately, the Portal did not shortlist us, advising us that this was in part due to the overall user experience and the support offered to users, and in part due to commercial reasons. We will continue to remain in touch with the Planning Portal team and work with them wherever possible.
Equality and diversity stakeholders
Over the last year we have continued to build links with those operating in the equality and diversity sector. We are committed to ensuring that our processes are fair and do not disproportionately affect any one group over another. Where possible, we seek advice from those with valuable experience, for example, in 2016, we met with the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) to gain an insight into the organisation’s recruitment processes. We also, met with Elevation Networks, a charity that develops the leadership potential of talented young people. We also reached out to our contacts at networks for women in construction and Freehold, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender group in the sector to share information about vacancies and appointments.
We established a working relationship with the Architects Benevolent Society (ABS) who seek to help those in the sector facing hardship. During the retention fee period at the end of 2016 this enabled us to signpost those who cited difficulties to the ABS.
We are also mindful of the impact of our communications on those involved in our processes. In 2016 we met with the General Medical Council (GMC) and attended an event organised by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) to learn more about the issue of mental health problems in other regulated sectors. This led to us commencing work on a tone of voice project, which we aim to compete in 2017. At the September Board meeting the issue of mental health problems amongst architecture students was raised and the Board agreed to consider this matter further. Work commenced on an analysis of the data and literature relating to this area, which was presented to the Board in May 2017.
Internal audit of stakeholder activity
Additionally in 2016, an independent review of ARB’s stakeholder activity was undertaken by the Board’s internal auditors. This was a very helpful exercise, which resulted in a number of recommendations that we have subsequently implemented, including rolling out a press-handling protocol to the staff team and improving how we record our contacts with stakeholders.
We use a range of communications tools to reach our audiences.
Our websites remain popular. The main ARB website logged almost 300,000 sessions, up by 7% from 2015 and there were some 285,000 sessions for the online Register of Architects, up by 4% from 2015. Whilst we are pleased with the 2016 increase in visits, which reflects the efforts we have made to raise the profile of the organisation, the increase is not as marked as it has been in previous years. This may be down to the principle of diminishing returns, but also to the fact that the websites had not been built to be mobile friendly, which is an important factor in Google rankings. Consequently during the second part of 2016 a major project was initiated to rebuild the website to make it mobile compatible and easier to navigate. The new site was launched in early 2017.
Our social media audiences increased across the board with Twitter and Linkedin followers and Facebook likes all rising by almost 30%.
Retention fee messages on Twitter
Our presence on Twitter proved particularly helpful at the end of 2016 during the retention fee collection exercise. Our approach of asking our contacts to share our messages was successful and in the last week of 2016 our retention fee messages on Twitter clocked up a reach of 19.1k, over twice that in 2015.
– Online videos remain a very popular medium for those accessing our communications. Whilst no new videos were launched in 2016 the existing videos continued to remain popular, with 9,590 views.
During 2016 we exhibited at three major events aimed at consumers planning domestic construction projects. We took stands at Grand Designs Live at the NEC in Birmingham and at the National Homebuilding and Renovating Shows in both Birmingham and in London.
Over the course of the three shows in 2016 we estimate that we spoke to 2,200 visitors – the majority being consumers, but also architects, students and other building professionals.
Unique opens for the five eBulletins issued in 2016 averaged at 11,413 per edition, up by 15% from 2015. The Dear Architect column continues to remain the most popular item with readers.
Meeting your Architect form
The Meeting your Architect form, which guides consumers through a series of questions they should ask an architect at an initial meeting, continues to be a popular handout with the public. Over the three consumer shows we attended in 2016, we handed out in the region of 2,000 hard copies and a further 480 copies were downloaded from our website.
Annual Report 2015
The 2015 Annual Report was published online in July 2016 and received 2,068 visits by the end of the year. Whilst the readership was significantly lower than the 2014 Annual Report readership, which received 4,413 views in the year it was launched, it was broadly in line with the readership numbers for the 2013 Annual Report. The higher readership numbers for the 2014 Annual Report could be linked to the trade press coverage at the time which contained eye-catching headlines relating to the size of the Register and rising revenues.
Local authority project
In September 2016, we began work on a project to contact local authorities throughout the UK to ask them to add links to ARB to their websites. The planning sections of local authority websites are key sources of information for members of the public who are considering undertaking building projects. Our aim is not to promote architects over other professionals, but to inform the public about the existence of the Register as an accurate resource to check the status of their architect should they choose to use one.
By the end of 2016, this project had already resulted in a number of key successes. Visits to the Register from .gov websites between September and December 2016 were up by 42% compared to the same period in 2015. By the end of 2016, 73 local authority websites contained links to ARB, this number represents almost a quarter of all UK authorities.
The EU referendum
The 2016 referendum regarding the UK’s membership of the EU has had an impact on the questions we are receiving from our stakeholders. This is reflected in the data with an increase in the numbers viewing webpages about registration with EU qualifications (up 4% on the 2015 number) and non-recognised UK and overseas qualifications (up 12%). Following the referendum we issued a statement confirming our commitment to business as usual. We also produced a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) for our website, which we will update as we receive further information. By the end of 2016 the statement had received 763 views and the FAQs had received 1,754 visitors. We included an article in the July eBulletin informing readers about the statement and the FAQs.
The communications function continued to provide integral support to the wider organisation in 2016 through the provision of communications input and advice to disseminate core messages about regulation and public protection. Stakeholder engagement activity remained a key focus area with the staff team working to extend ARB’s reach beyond its size by tapping into the established networks of other organisations.