Polish Your Public Image
by Paul Beakley
Public Awareness: associations are building on NAR's national efforts to CRAFT Local Image Campaigns.
Around the country, associations large and small are building on the momentum of NAR's national awareness campaign, using local radio, print media, and television to put their own spin on things.
Over the past several years, the National Association of Realtors has spent millions of dollars on a national campaign aimed at educating the public about the educational and ethical requirements for working as a Realtor . Slowly but surely, this initiative is changing the public's perception of the profession.
Local associations too are funding the creation of unique advertising campaigns that address local issues, feature local practitioners, or highlight local accomplishments. Here are just a sampling of success strategies.
Pursue free ink
One association's public awareness campaign included a lengthy public relations drive featuring ongoing story placements in local newspapers and magazines.
"Our communities here have local newspapers, mostly free and delivered to homes. People devour them cover to cover, so that's where we wanted to get in," says Nancy McKerahan, executive vice president of the RealSource Association of Realtors in Waldwick, N.J. RealSource, which serves a portion of the New York City metropolitan area.
Find your audience
Familiarity with the local media landscape is a powerful tool for associations setting out to create their own awareness campaigns. The Orlando Regional Realtor Association in Florida, for example, runs a $170,000-plus campaign that features promotions with local radio stations' Web sites--an outlet not available through NAR's program. Throughout the year, the radio stations feature ticket and dinner giveaways to drive traffic to their Web sites. Anyone who clicks on any topic related to real estate is directed to the Orlando association's Web site, where visitors are educated on the value of working with a Realtor .
"In our local market, there are just a few radio station owners that control all the stations," explains Kevin Fritz, vice president of communications and marketing for the Orlando association. "This made it easy for us to set up campaigns with one point of contact that might hit six different radio stations at once."
While the Orlando association's campaign pushes a message identical to that of NAR's national campaign, the spots feature area locations and business names, and even the first names of local Realtors .
Meanwhile, the public awareness campaign created by the Colorado Association of Realtors is a slight twist on NAR's national campaign. While the national campaign tagline is, "Ask If Your Agent Is a Realtor ," Colorado is going with the subtly more assertive, "Be Sure Your Agent Is a Realtor ."
Target local issues
If there was one thing that association members in New Jersey wanted to target in a public awareness campaign, it was the risks homeowners take when they opt to sell their house themselves.
"We really wanted the public to think about the implications of doing a FSBO [deal]," McKerahan says. "There was also a strong public perception that Realtors are all greedy millionaires. So we're focusing on those issues, and letting people know what's in the state law and our code of ethics. We want to elevate their perception of what a Realtor may or may not do."
Adams says Colorado's association was also drawn into a local campaign because of the FSBO issue. "A couple of years ago, it seemed like every article in the paper said you could sell your house yourself, that Realtors are robbing people," he recalls. "Consumers slammed us for charging our commission, so we want to show how we earn that commission."
Of course, running a local public awareness campaign is not free. Some associations assess additional fees to their members to pay for the campaign, and can raise a lot of money to make substantial ad buys. The Orlando association, for example, charged each of its 8,600 members $20, and enjoyed a $172,000 PR budget in 2004.
Other associations allocate funds from their normal budgets for their public awareness campaigns. RealSource's McKerahan says her 3,300-member association set aside about $45,000 to pay for the advertising and public relations campaign. The Colorado association spent $125,000 in 2004, and will be doubling that in 2005.
Payoff of local effort
What are these associations getting for their money? As with all advertising, it's hard to measure the effectiveness of these public awareness campaigns. McKerahan says her association got an uptick in calls about credit scoring after its PR agency placed a story on the subject in a local paper. The Orlando association goes by Web site hits: an average 13,400 visitors per month before the campaign started in 2001, and 42,764 visitors in October 2004. Since the association only advertises its Web site as part of its public awareness campaign, Fritz feels hits are a good measure of the campaign's effectiveness.
Of course you don't have to have a big budget or a big staff to promote members on the local level. Many small associations have public relations or communications committees who reach out to the local media. These volunteers write short weekly or monthly columns for their local publications on real estate topics such as mold or credit scores, often borrowing from NAR press releases or the informational toolkits on REALTOR.org.
In smaller communities, association executives have the opportunity to create a personal relationship with local newspaper owners and grease the wheels for the publication of real estate-related information and association events.
Local associations also train members as spokespersons on specific issues and encourage the press to contact them for interviews.
The key to any good public awareness campaign is to have valuable and accurate information, consistent distribution, and a credible spokesperson.
Fritz points out that the public isn't the only target for these campaigns. "If the members are paying money for (a local awareness campaign), they'd better hear it. We carefully pick radio stations that both the public and our membership listen to. If our members are happy about this and hear the ads and think they're working, then that's all we really need. Based on what NAR is telling us, we feel the used-car-salesman image is eroding."
Local associations turn out their own sophisticated, to-the-point advertisements depicting the importance of using a Realtor .
New National Ads
The National Association of Realtors Public Awareness Campaign enters its eighth year in 2005, continuing to help millions of potential homebuyers and sellers understand the value a REALTOR provides. On the campaign's Web page at REALTOR.org associations can find new campaign materials for download beginning in March.
NAR's 2005 campaign, "Ask If Your Agent Is a Realtor , a member of the National Association of Realtors," will be prominently featured on prime-time network television and XM satellite radio.
Also new in 2005, NAR will increase and strengthen its Hispanic marketing approach. For the first time, NAR will extend Hispanic marketing efforts to television. The inaugural television campaign will be concentrated in early morning and evening news programs, and will air, in conjunction with the Hispanic network radio effort, on premier Spanish-language networks, like Univision.