Media an opportunity as opposed to a threat for property professionals
Having made the transition from full-time property professional, it has been revealing to see, from a journalist's viewpoint, how nervous many in the property business are about dealing with the media. It's probably fair to say that some in the industry, from developers to agents to engineers, see journalists as a threat, rather than an opportunity. With some basic training, there is huge potential for both individuals and firms to enhance their brand and win more business - at no cost.
Estate agents, who have studied and are involved in marketing, are, as you would expect, better than architects, engineers and quantity surveyors in utilising the media. Some firms in the latter categories don't even return phone calls, but I'm hardly likely to call them again when there are other firms that will engage. Some professionals are afraid that journalists are 'out to get them' and, for fear of making a mistake, opt to say nothing at all, and miss out on building a reputation as an expert.
Another factor is that the big-brand firms increased their market share through the recession and those companies usually have specialised PR/marketing and research departments. On the one hand, this is great, in that PR specialists respond quickly and understand the importance of exploiting every opportunity. But the downside is that many others in the firm never develop the skill of dealing with media, as it's not seen as a core responsibility.
In my view, all professionals should develop long-term relationships with journalists, as doing so will boost your career. Journalists need stories and topics to write about so you should identify the journalists writing in your sector, arrange to meet them for a coffee and find out what kind of issues they are interested in.
Rather than sending every story out in a general press release, you should place at least one story a year exclusively with each journalist. They will appreciate being given the story first, and will probably give it better coverage than normal. A few other journalistic noses may be temporarily out of joint, but if the story is good enough, they will cover it as well, so you have deepened a key relationship and maximised coverage for your client - and yourself.
I had a great example of this recently when I was contacted by an enthusiastic agent with one of the big firms. I didn't know him, but he asked me to lunch. He told me about his work and I wrote a column about one area and quoted him as an expert throughout. A colleague of his learned from this, invited me to lunch the following week and another column soon resulted. I have no doubt that their boss is highly impressed to be reading strong PR for the firm, self-generated by two of his younger staff. And clients love reading about their agents in the papers as it reaffirms that they are being represented by top experts.
If you keep an eye on the media, you will notice that the same property experts are regularly quoted. That is because they have developed a relationship with journalists and make themselves available for comment. Remember, there is nothing to stop you alerting a journalist to a story, even if you are not involved. The journalist will follow up the story themselves, and will be grateful for the tip. The day will come when that journalist has a story about something you are involved in, but you would prefer not to see publicised yet, and those favours will pay off.
Some firms take PR very seriously, and when I was in the business, a portion of the profit share was allocated to those most successful in generating press coverage and promoting the brand, to everyone's benefit.
Every firm should invite a journalist in to brief their staff on the basics of writing catchy press releases and conventions like "off the record". After that, it's just a little confidence.
Dubrovnik in Croatia was a fascinating place to be in last week. The Old City is a UNESCO heritage site and is architecturally stunning. Dating from the 10th century, the city is spotlessly clean and with no visible crime. The city has survived sieges and earthquakes and those buildings badly damaged in the war of the early 1990s have been beautifully restored. Dubrovnik is a 'must-see' for anyone interested in architecture, planning and conservation.