Welcome to Future Talks by RTF, where we engage in enlightening conversations with the pioneers who breathe life into design narratives. In our upcoming session, we are thrilled to host Phil, an accomplished 18-year veteran writer, journalist, and PR strategist. With nearly a decade dedicated to exploring the realms of design and construction, Phil’s journey includes senior roles at global design firms HDR and LEO A DALY. In 2023, he embarked on his own venture, Storied B, a brand rooted in the belief that everything has a story.
Phil’s unique approach blends the precision of journalism with the artistry of creative nonfiction, allowing him to unravel and convey the captivating stories behind complex and technical projects, including megaprojects. His prowess in design storytelling has been recognized with awards from the American Marketing Association and the Public Relations Society of America.
Join us as we delve into the multifaceted world of design through Phil’s insightful experiences and storytelling mastery.
RTF: Hi Phil, We are glad to have you as a guest on Future Talks by RTF. Thanks for joining us. How crucial do you consider the idea of ‘constantly learning’ in the realm of journalism? How has it shaped the progression of your career?
Phil: Learning stands near the center of journalism and really all storytelling. At a minimum, I have to learn the who, what, when, where, why and how of every story. Design stories often require that I also learn about influences surrounding decisions — the context. I’m learning constantly about trends impacting particular markets, about geographies and cultures and subcultures. Workplace design, for example, changed during the pandemic, and the automotive industry is turning right now toward an electric future. Those changes spur trends in material choices, space requirements, design priorities, etcetera.
As far as my career, I have always been intellectually curious, which led me to study print journalism along with creative writing when I was in college. My post-grad work focused on creative nonfiction storytelling. And as my career has progressed, I have interviewed many people, all with varied expertise, backgrounds and communication styles. Learning from every interview and every story enables me to ask better questions, steer interviews down productive tangents — based on what I have learned or am learning.
RTF: Tell us about your stint with LEO A DALY.
Phil: I worked with very good designers there, and the timing worked out so that I had the opportunity to lead storytelling and PR for a milestone project in the United States. I reframed the narrative early on, centering on the project’s innovative delivery and elucidating in detail how it contributed to each discipline within engineering, architecture, interior design and construction. The story was compelling, contained many “subplots” and captured a lot of attention from trade pubs and awards programs, including the firm’s first ENR Project of the Year.
RTF: What does the balancing act of working for an organisation and building one’s brand look like?
Phil: It’s one and the same. My brand as an employee or contractor has always mirrored the values of Storied B: Integrity, credibility, curiosity, affability, efficient communication, thorough research and accessible storytelling.
RTF: What does it take for writers to get published in the top architecture and design platforms?
Phil: Credibility is important, and it accumulates over time from producing high-quality, well-researched, accurate content. A genuinely good story is always important to editors, but it also needs to align with their audience. There’s a galaxy of niche pubs in architecture and design — each with a target audience — so there exist many opportunities to reframe stories or pitch them from different angles, as long as it’s genuinely good. So it takes objectivity and empathy, the ability to see a story from the platform’s point of view.
RTF: What would be your advice to young professionals who are looking to take a plunge into writing and editing?
Phil: This is hard to answer because of all the diversity that exists in individual backgrounds. That said, I think time and experience help writers learn not to assume things or foist their beliefs or values into a story. This takes practice. Everything, every event, every person represents many stories, most of which are unavailable at a superficial level. Information may lead you away from your early assumptions — toward the story that exists, the story you should write, which may or may not be the same as the story you wanted to write at the outset. Stay open to the fact that there may be information or perspectives you do not have.
RTF: What is your opinion on the evolution of content throughout the years and how has social media affected it?
Phil: Content has grown more omnipresent, and social media is a big driver behind that. Even though content about design and construction comes from many different brands, most of it nevertheless creates similar experiences for consumers, which presents opportunities to differentiate.
RTF: What is your definition of a ‘convincing’ pitch?
Phil: A good pitch is brief and captivating, uses vivid language and answers “Why does this matter and why right now?”
RTF: After around 18 years as a journalist, editor, how rewarding do you find your job to be and what are the plans ahead?
Phil: I still get wowed by what diverse minds can build, what problems they can solve, when they work in concert. I enjoy learning about the details of great design accomplishments, crafting them into accessible narratives so that others can experience what I experienced – the same wow, and hopefully on both an emotional and an intellectual level. That is very rewarding.
RTF: How does your off-the-table life shape your professional life?
Phil: I write about design and construction but I also design and build things – I’m a welder and I build custom bicycles. I think this aids in my understanding of concepts, my ability to empathize with challenges and develop rapport during interviews.
Thank you so much for doing this interview with us. It has been a pleasure getting to know about you and your work. We’re sure that your insights will be highly valuable to our audience which includes architects and design students. We look forward to publishing this interview on our website soon.