Public relations is big business these days. Whole companies are set up purely to provide this service. Major corporations have in-house teams to improve communication with consumers. Football teams, supermarkets, and TV channels, name a business and there is no doubt they will be shelling out millions every year on PR.
However, in a similar way to social media, there has been some reluctance and hesitancy in the agency world to fully embrace the huge benefits PR can provide. It's getting better, but there remains a slightly fearful attitude of PR and the idea that it could do more harm than good.
In this week's blog I'm going to try and put that myth to bed. First and foremost, PR should be used to raise your profile, to improve your reputation on a local or national basis.
I talked last time about the importance of embracing the social web, in particular social media platforms. Well, social media is a form of PR, too. It allows instant engagement and communication, it offers an opportunity to put your message across and shout out about all the great work you do. If you have a very visible online presence, and regularly update various social media accounts, then it's inevitable that your name will be seen more, you'll plant that branded seed in the minds of potential vendors and landlords.
PR is also arguably more effective than advertising. Column inches, especially if you can gain these in a national newspaper or their online equivalents, are worth more than any interest you can drum up from local advertising due to the sheer volume of eyes that will be seeing your agency’s name.
This is not to say that more traditional ways of getting your name out into the local community should be ignored. Sponsoring the village fête or the local street food festival is an effective way of getting your name out there.
PR isn’t a purely online entity. You can build a successful campaign by networking with people in your local community, getting involved in various projects or well-respected groups.
A basic PR strategy needn't cost the world or require a team of 50 to organise. You could organise an event for locals interested in property investment and property education. You'd need to find a venue, invite relevant people and provide nibbles and drinks, but this isn't going to crush your business financially. What it does do is give you the chance to network and talk with people, particularly property investors, who may at a later date be keen to utilise your services.
Another shrewd PR move would be to hold a charity evening of some description. As well as the obvious benefits of helping out a good cause, it also represents another great way to meet local vendors/landlords.
Don't just take my word for it, though. Catherine Greenwood, our head of PR at Angels Media, says that brand awareness is all-important. This means providing an easy-to-navigate website with good levels of Search Engine Optimisation; social media, too, is crucial, not only for good engagement but also for nipping any negativity in the bud in a timely manner, before it turns into a much bigger problem. Turning a negative into a positive is one of the key elements when it comes to effective PR.
According to Cat, though, the most important PR is third party validation, giving both your brand and your opinions credibility because it's someone else saying how great you are rather than you yourself doing this. “Good PR is getting other people saying how great you are,” she says. Sourcing great customer testimonials/case studies is one way of doing this.
Cath Shuttlewood, a freelance PR consultant working with businesses across the property sector, also offers some pointers on how PR can be best used by agents. “Your news isn't always interesting to everyone else – ask yourself whether your latest piece of news is interesting to your target audience or whether it's just good news to the business,” she advises.
“You're going to want to position yourself favourably to your potential sellers, landlords, purchasers and tenants and if your news isn't going to resonate with them then it might be best kept on the company intranet or staff newsletter. Your clients are going to want to be reassured that you're on top of the key topics that interest them so that you stand out above the local competitors.”
Taking the big national issues surrounding property and making them relevant and interesting to your potential customers is vitally important, as is being aware of the latest stats and trends relating to your local area. As an agent you're at the coalface of the industry, you need to demonstrate your expertise to keep yourself ahead of the competition. Cath says that quick 'facts'n'stats' work particularly well on social media, to show potential clients that you're up to date with all the latest goings-on.
You don’t need to be called Cat, Catherine or Cath to do PR, as Amanda le Gros, Senior Content and Communications Executive at Romans, proves. Amanda says the most vital thing for agencies is to talk directly to potential clients on a local level. “The growth of your network is beneficial to them, but your knowledge of the area that they want to buy, sell, let or rent in is more important. Local PR is ideal for this!”
She also adds: “It’s important for agencies to remember that PR is not self-promotion, your property adverts are there for that. Most local papers will have their own property section and the best ones include property editorial as well as the adverts, so there’s room for both. Your agents should have the knowledge and the statistics to provide ongoing updates on the marketplace, and many editors will be over the moon to receive such localised insights.”
Estate agency, more than many other professions, relies completely on trust, good communications and reputation. If you improve your relations with the public (and the media, for that matter), the credibility of your brand will go from strength to strength.
Until next time...oh, and the sun has put its hat back on today. I must be a lucky charm!
*Nat Daniels is the Chief Executive Officer of Angels Media, publishers of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today