Our industry will never have the skills or resources to communicate to a mass audience in the way of a great film director like Sydney Pollack, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn a trick or two ...

It is not often that you get to chat to one of the world’s greatest movie directors over your own dinner table. Recently, as you may have read in the pages of Building, Sydney Pollack was in town and, as a film fan, I jumped at the chance to dine with the man behind such classics as Out of Africa, Tootsie and Jeremiah Johnson.

Sydney was fantastic company and with some 10 other guests in the room the dinner conversation ranged across topics as varied as the 2012 Olympics and the state of architecture in the US, to UK foreign policy. While it would have been good to hear of his relationships with Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman or Tom Cruise, all of whom he has worked with in his career, in actual fact we hardly veered near the world of showbiz, gossip or tabloid tales.

The evening made me consider the whole art of communication and why some folk have consummate skills at getting their point across, while others fail miserably. Mr Pollack usually starts with an idea, moves to a script and then after a long, emotionally draining, creatively stimulating period of time – and it can be decades – ends by delivering his thoughts on screen to millions worldwide.

For us in business, communication should also be at the forefront of our minds. If people do not understand what you can offer and how you can help them, then you are limiting your ability to grow. The days of merely relying on a strong heritage, track record and personal contacts are over. Now, it’s all about communicating with customers and potential employees. Both groups need to understand what you have to offer and how this may fit in with their aims.

Regretfully this whole process is now one of the most jargon-filled areas of activity that one can come across. Ironic, considering that we are supposedly endeavouring to make it easier to understand each other. When talking to people with whom I work, I am addressing “stakeholders”. When I write to my clients, I am operating a “B2B communications strategy”, and if I complain that people don’t speak to each other enough in the office, I am trying to address a “silo mentality”. “Stakes” and “silos” surely belong in communications messages aimed at the agricultural community rather than the built environment!

Should I wish to reach teenagers with a marketing message, it will need to be sent as a text or via the internet

Nevertheless, I recognise that articulating what our brand represents and publicising its values is becoming a necessity rather than an option. Cost management firms have even using London’s tube escalators to address potential employees, creating the bizarre spectacle of a recruitment advert for a QS alongside a poster for Dial M for Murder. At Gleeds, we have put up posters above the M4 motorway and even sponsored a booth at this year’s Glastonbury festival. These are just part of a communications programme to make our organisation more accessible to a younger and more marketing-savvy audience – people who are looking for more than just a salary and a good Christmas party.

The battleground for our market is the university “milk round” and the classrooms. As a sector we need to use the techniques employed by competitor sectors and, yes, I am afraid that means being both imaginative and creative in our approach. It also may well mean working with communications professionals who are not necessarily from our own industries. I have two teenage daughters – should I wish to reach them with a marketing message it will need to be sent as a text or via the internet, and they may well check me out to see if I have an entry on MySpace or Facebook. Certainly my organisation will need to have a strong website and communicate in a language to which they relate. In our latest advertising campaign aimed at graduates we have adopted skateboards and youth-related imagery rather than the more traditional ways of representing our industry.

Although most of us cannot hope to afford the talents of people like Sydney Pollack, is it possible that we can still learn from those who present messages to a mass audience?

I can’t ever see our industry rivalling Procter & Gamble and Unilever in advertising spend or sponsoring TV’s Big Brother, and perhaps that is neither appropriate nor necessary. However it is a fact we will need to work harder to engage our audience in a busier and more competitive marketing environment. It also seems likely that we will increasingly need to harness marketing techniques that are from the world of the consumer rather than the constructor.