An interview with Kevin Hawkins, President of WAV Group Communications
Real estate brokers for decades were the “voice of real estate” in their local markets. It was pretty straightforward: Most daily newspapers had real estate sections and there were hundreds of journalists dedicated to covering real estate exclusively. They were always writing about real estate and contacting local brokers as they had the data they needed and knew the local market and trends better than anyone else.
But times are changing. PR isn’t what it used to be. With the pressure to differentiate services and stand-out among the larger brands, it is even more important for mid-size brokers to understand how they should use PR. To get a better understanding of the situation and what brokers can do to stand out in their local markets, we spoke with Kevin Hawkins, President of WAV Group Communications and an experienced real estate public relations guru.
Imprev: How has local real estate PR changed over the years?
KH: Essentially, newspaper real estate sections and their editors have disappeared from the media landscape. Now, real estate is just one of many beats assigned often randomly to a business reporter and few know the beat deeply because they write about it infrequently. The result is that you are more likely to read a story in your local newspaper citing Zillow than a local brokerage.
Imprev: What can brokers do to create or maintain visibility of their brand in their local markets? Is it a losing cause, should they throw in the towel?
KH: No, don’t throw in the towel just yet: Local brokers can win back their share of voice in their local markets, but they have to be proactive to win over the journalists, bloggers and social media influencers that are writing about real estate in their local markets.
Imprev: What is the most important thing a broker should do to win-over local real estate reporters?
KH: First and foremost, get to know the local media. It may sound obvious, but this is still the most common PR mistake people make. There are two parts, first, you need to identify who is writing about real estate in your local markets, and second, you need to know what they are writing about. Sounds simple. It is, yet ask any blogger or business reporter covering real estate and they will tell you that most of the information they receive is completely unrelated to what they are writing about.
Imprev: So, brokers just need to know the reporter’s name and what interests them?
KH: Actually, knowing the media is more than just consuming what they produce; it is also reaching out and getting to know them. Real estate is about relationships. It is what makes agents most valuable in the process. PR has the same major component: To know the media means building a relationship with them. Get to know them and let them get to know you. Reporters and bloggers are most often cut from the same cloth: Trust is vital. It’s much easier to build trust face-to-face, so find those opportunities to interact. They may be too busy for lunch, but if they are speaking on a panel somewhere, buy a ticket to the event and attend. Pick up the phone and after you give them a brief story pitch, ask them what they are working on. You will be surprised how just picking up the phone and touching base will build a relationship quickly with a reporter or a blogger as few people rarely do that these days, relying on a text, a tweet or an email to be the main contact method.
And keep in mind that reporters favor different communications to interact with you, and some only want a tweet or text. That’s part of what you need to find out as you get to know the media. But just making an effort by reading what they write about and suggesting story ideas that fit with their interest – that’s more than half the battle in winning back your local voice.
Imprev: What catches reporters’ attention? How can a broker stand-out among others who are trying to connect with local media?
KH: Someone I know at Bloomberg, whom I met at a National Association of Real Estate Editors (naree.org) conference, said to me “Today, just about every story anyone at Bloomberg writes about starts with a data point.”
The fascinating thing about real estate brokers is they have more local data than anyone. Far more than a major portal could provide. More importantly, brokers know their local markets better than anyone, with rich anecdotal stories that make that data come to life. A reporter or blogger can’t get that from an Infographic.
In fact, the “data point” based news story has been the precise news story formula that brokers have used for decades. Local home sales news releases are 100% data driven stories, and brokers, local associations and even MLSs have been sending those monthly reports out like clockwork. And what happens: There is a news story published, local neighborhood bloggers share it and recycle the data, and social media influencers in your local market also share the link.
Imprev: What advice do you have for brokers as they cull through their data? How can they make it interesting?
KH: Move beyond just home sales data and trends. Think about all the potential news story topics that come from the data you can provide and the insight you can add because of your local expertise. That’s a space you own and you need to embrace it. For instance:
- 5 Local housing trends you know about
- Real estate value in (local market) grew/lost $X billion/million last month
- Why are these neighborhoods hot?
Hopefully, a few of these ideas will spur more ways you can take local data and build a great story hook for a local reporter or blogger. If you’d like more examples, I wrote a blog post earlier this year about how to pull a great news story from a data point. The key to all of this is being pro-active: Pushing your stories out to those who are writing and posting about real estate in your local markets.
Imprev: What advice can you share with brokers who are new to PR?
KH: Be responsive. You not only have to push out stories, you also must respond to the pull. When a reporter or blogger calls or sends you an email, they are almost always on deadline. They need to talk to you now, and I do mean now.
This is probably a real estate journalist (or any journalist or blogger’s) biggest pet peeve – getting someone to respond quickly. What’s ironic for the real estate industry is the fact that brokers are often frustrated by their agents’ abysmal response to a lead. A study by the WAV Group for Weichert, Realtors found that an agent NEVER responded to 48% of buyer inquiries and when they did respond, the average response time was 917 minutes, or 15.29 hours!
Yet if you ask a business reporter how fast the typical broker responds to an email or a phone call, they might characterize their agent’s response time as lightning fast. The problem is that brokers don’t understand the urgency and do not call back promptly. I have heard reporters share their frustrations when a broker either never return their calls or calls back the next day, well after the story has been written.
And there’s the rub. The one thing the portals may be doing better than brokers is simply calling or emailing the reporter back promptly. But it’s a problem that today should be easily fixed.
Because we are always connected with a smartphone, there really should be no excuse for not responding back immediately. I subscribe to the 5-20 minute rule: I try to initially respond that I received their inquiry within 5 minutes and attempt to get back to them with the information they need in 20 minutes. If I am not available, I find someone who is.
All it takes is a personal commitment and a genuine understanding of how valuable a prompt reply to an inquiry about a story is.
Imprev: What is the secret to building strong relationships with the local media? Do you have any tips?
KH: Treat every inquiry like royalty, no matter the publication. If you do this, you will win more coverage in your local market every time.
Few companies, portals or brokers, actually do this. If the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Bloomberg or their local major newspaper calls, they are more likely to jump to respond. But if a local blogger makes an attempt, nothing happens. There is often a pecking order and I think that’s a bad strategy.
In my experience, there are two advantages to treating every call like it’s a chance at the cover of TIME magazine.
First, it’s a much better strategy to be hyper-responsive to everyone because you will be remembered, not just for the next story as a potential source, but for years to come. Writers talk and share their likes and dislikes when it comes to sources. Earn a good reputation by being responsive and you’ll find that may be the most important thing.
Second, everyone starts somewhere and you never know where he or she will end up. I took a young new reporter I bumped into a few years ago at a Real Estate Connect conference to lunch. Today that reporter is the editor of a major trade publication. He still remembers our lunch.
Responsiveness helps writers simply do their jobs faster and better, and he or she who calls back first, are likely to get more calls in the future.
Imprev: Any parting thoughts?
KH: Yes! Remember, media begets media, and in your local market, if you know the media, share your data and respond to inquiries quickly, you really can be THE voice of real estate in your local markets.