ESI.info External Works Blog- Q & A with Stephen Bird.

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What do you do at ESI.info?

I’m the editor of our External Works channel of information. I headed up the production of the annual External Works sourcebook from 2000, and now look after the same marketplace as covered by our digital publications.

I’ve also got wider responsibility for looking after editorial processes at ESI.info. In practice, that has meant big changes in the way that we do publishing.

Not too long ago, we had a fairly predictable yearly routine of researching, compiling and printing the External Works directory and other titles.

Now, the way that landscape and construction professionals find, use and share product information is changing all the time. So our information, publications and tools need to keep evolving and adapting as well, to keep apace of their working practices.

Can you tell us a bit about the ESI.info External Works blog? How long have you been running it and why did you start it?

The External Works blog is a good example of that new approach to construction information publishing. When our main output was restricted to the annual books, we had to spend a long time planning, ruminating and fine-tuning before we would launch new titles.

Kicking off with specific marketplace blogs, though, was a bit of a departure.

It gave us a new way to connect directly with our users and to get involved in online conversations about landscape architecture, urban design and rural development. It meant we could chip into those discussions and share some of the ideas that we came across during the process of researching our online product indexes.

Importantly, we could start doing that without having to work out complicated new systems or detailed long-term plans. We could start blogging, see which readers engaged and what they were interested in, see what innovations and issues caught the imagination of the profession, and adapt our course as we went along.

What does your ideal blog reader look like? Who is the target audience?

Ideally, I want the External Works blog to reflect the live interests of people involved in designing and shaping the public realm.

The target audience is, in one sense, quite broad: from landscape architects and garden designers to local authority development officers and civil engineers. But they all share a common interest in responding to the landscape wisely and creatively as they manage public space and infrastructure.

At ESI.info, we stand in a position in between designers and specifiers on the one hand, and product manufacturers on the other. I write on the blog to make connections between design and planning on the one hand, and product innovation on the other.

The more readers are inspired by those connections, and the more willing they are to share opinions, expertise and experiences, the more vibrant the blog becomes.

Is there a specific editorial programme for creating posts?

The External Works blog links up with a monthly programme of e-Newsletters, and in turn with a monthly focus on a particular product area on the main ESI.info/ExternalWorks website.

Over the course of a year, we cycle through the full range of products relevant to developing ‘the space between buildings’: from ground engineering and paving, through fencing and street furniture, to playground equipment and trees.

Blog posts aren’t necessarily tied to that running order though. We’ve included ad hoc book reviews and reports on industry events, and are always interested in scoops, especially when they relate to new materials, technologies and design features.

Have you featured any guest posts from manufacturers on the marketplace blog?

So far, I’ve used guest posts as a way of developing common ground with designers and specifiers. Claire Thirlwall, a landscape architect and river restoration specialist, wrote a post on water management and sustainable drainage for us earlier this year. And we’ve currently got posts in the pipeline from the brains behind the cult Bollards of London blog and from a landscape architect reviewing recent urban regeneration projects.

However, that is only one side of the equation. I’m on the lookout for striking pieces – articles, images, videos – from innovative product manufacturers, particularly where their new ideas and alternative approaches will be eye-catching for those involved in the formative stages of landscape projects.

How do ESI clients get involved in the blog? What are the benefits of submitting a guest post?

If that focus on innovation rings a bell with any ESI.info advertiser, it would be great if they got in touch with me directly: stephenbird@esi.info.

As a complement to the carefully laid out and organised product profiles on ESI.info, the External Works blog posts are a great way of plugging into the informal skill sharing and exchange of ideas typical of online professional communities – all the more so when you count the related e-Newsletter, Twitter and LinkedIn Group interactions that back them up.

What highlights are coming up?

Following on from April’s posts on ‘Traffic Management’ and May’s pieces on ‘Street Furniture’, the informative and the quirky, the next few months will focus on ‘Sport and Play’ (June), ‘Drainage’ (July) and ‘Ground Engineering’ (August). We’ll also be having a look at the Landscape Institute’s recently published Guide for Clients.

The flavour of the blog has changed dramatically since we first posted in 2009, and hopefully it will keep branching out: new products and technologies, new writers and commentators, and new types of content – slideshows, polls, discussions, visualisations – all of which will help to capture the imagination of people most influential in transforming places and creating environments.

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