The smart play in bringing property to the market
As a former estate agent it is interesting to observe the estate agents and their relationships with media from a journalist's viewpoint. Agents promote their marketing skills as one of the reasons clients should engage them and how they market their own brands is critical to success.
Yet there has been little change to the standard property marketing plan in at least 30 years, although social media may change all that.
Chartered surveyors study marketing in college and those that gravitate to the selling side of the business usually have a good feel for the subject. The demands on their skills vary according to the market.
In a strong market developer clients will often be swayed by which agents show the most creativity in their marketing plans. In recessions, with insolvency practitioners the dominant vendors, there's little room for creative and expensive marketing strategies when all the client wants is a basic package at minimal cost.
That said, there is an opportunity for agents to freshen up the standard marketing plan, which usually consists of a standardised brochure, a signboard, some standard newspaper advertisements, a press release, website listing and a trawl through the enquiry list.
The newspapers remain the dominant force in property advertising and the agents need the newspapers as the journalists need the agents. In my experience agents receive little or no training in dealing with the media. When I call firms now, looking for an opinion on some market or other, it's not hard to detect the uneasiness in the attitude of younger agents in particular. They seem to be afraid that they will be tricked into saying something that they shouldn't so they clam up and miss the opportunity for exposure in a national newspaper.
Estate agents should regard journalists as an opportunity to develop a career-long relationship, to the benefit of both. I have rarely seen a journalist run a story that embarrassed an agent but I've seen many stories "pulled" or delayed to suit a helpful agent. The worst thing an agent can do is to mislead a journalist or not have the basic courtesy to return a call.
Stakeholders in the market will notice whose name is mentioned most often in association with deals or market commentary and many a smart agent has built a career on healthy relationships with journalists. Agents should provide basic training for their staff on the conventions of "off the record," "embargos," and writing press releases.
As regards marketing their own brands, just like most business sectors, there is a distinct "sameness" to the main players –similar websites, brochures, research, offices, staff, qualifications and fees. In that "sameness" lies the opportunity to stand out.
The impact of the internet and social media is only beginning to be felt. Ireland has the youngest population and the highest birth rate in the EU and tomorrow's clients and purchasers are already living their lives through their smartphones.
The agents and the newspapers are going to have to have to keep adapting and the newspapers must work out how to exploit having the most popular websites in Ireland.
All of the main agents have good websites but most fall in to the trap of not having their telephone numbers prominently displayed on the homepage. Today's consumers use Google as a phonebook. What's the point of trying to get people to your website and then hiding your telephone number in tiny print on a back page –or behind a contact form?
Social media is increasingly important as a means of engaging with your market, promoting properties and your brand. All the main players are on Twitter, although some don't have an Irish account. Over the bank holiday weekend one leading firm was being slated on its own Twitter account for not replying to job applications, which led to general criticism of their website and app. These media are powerful tools but firms should have a policy for managing their online image.
There is scant engagement by most firms via LinkedIn and Facebook. Several large firms have no Facebook page at all for Ireland or their sites are out of date. Impressively, the Real Estate Alliance site was being updated with new properties over the holiday weekend and there was good engagement with marathon runners on the bank holiday.
Property marketing that includes social media is well established in the US. Digital video offers opportunities for consumer interface and agents ignore these media at their peril.