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Befriend the Media, Build Public Trust

September 1, 2007

BY Amy Ritsko-Warren

he headlines have been ferocious. The national, regional, and local media have sunk their teeth into the real estate industry like insatiable beasts in a predator versus prey documentary on the National Geographic Channel. So do we “fight or flight”?

Although running and hiding is an effective course of action with some predators, it only incites the media. A “no comment” response not only implies you have something to coverup but also silences your voice in the conversation with consumers.

Being on the defensive isn’t always best either, although it’s typically where we find ourselves. In response to a story, we can meticulously craft our reply, but ultimately we have little control over the focus and tone of a piece that was already well formed before we contributed our comments.

That’s why it pays to be proactive with your public relations. Putting yourself in front of the media is one of the best ways to help shape newspaper headlines and consumer opinions. Don’t worry—it’s easier than it sounds.

Getting

started

In conjunction with the Northern Virginia, Prince George’s County, and Greater Washington Commercial Association of Realtors®, the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors® (GCAAR) has participated in a press conference every December since 2000 for local and regional media. The organizations provide lunch at the National Press Club, share tons of statistical information, and introduce the press to incoming leadership so they can put faces with the names of their contacts. “It’s the one time of year we can chat with the media without them being on deadline or having an agenda,” says GCAAR CEO Mike Moran.

Establish your association as the source for housing statistics, and reporters will quickly realize how valuable you are. Once they realize they need you, it’s your turn to ask for what you want. “Our members love the fact that every January the media print a complete yearlong summary of the housing market that they can use with their clients. Because it’s coming from the media, not Realtors®, it has added weight with the consumer,” Moran explains.

According to Julie Ziemelis, director of PR and marketing for the Santa Cruz Association of Realtors®, Calif., “It’s an easy sell when you can pick up the phone and talk to someone you have a relationship with, versus sending a press release to a reporter whose inbox is loaded with other story ideas.” Ziemelis started a proactive public relations program for her 1,600-member association by bringing together her leadership and local real estate writers twice a year. The association’s recent Housing Expo for consumers garnered excellent attention, largely because of these relationships.

The Long Island Board of Realtors® (LIBOR) has transformed its relationship with the media over the past two years with the introduction of its “We’re More than Realtors®” campaign, aimed at changing the public’s perception of Realtors®.

Tricia Chirco, LIBOR’s marketing and communications director, convinced the Long Island daily Newsday to print a full-page center spread of the association’s community service activities with the enviable headline: “A Commission on Compassion.” The story highlights the community service activities Long Island’s 27,000 Realtors® participate in, including those the association funds.
Chirco’s tips for getting a story placed? “Have good relationships with the media across the board. Make it newsworthy. Deliver them the story.”

Ziemelis agrees. “If you can pitch it as if it’s important to the public and can gently prod the reporter, it works wonders in getting media coverage.”

One of the Long Island association’s biggest successes came from a simple inquiry. When the local paper reported that a children’s baseball program was in danger because of a lack of funding, Chirco called the paper and asked how much it would cost to save the program—$500 and a flashbulb later, a photo of LIBOR’s president with the baseball team was picked up by 25 local papers and drew inquiries from the New York Times. “Think: Where’s the opportunity?” advises Chirco.

Opportunities can be found just about anywhere, including in your most valuable resource: your members. GCAAR volunteers were featured on Fox 5 News last spring for helping a local home owner with critical home repairs through the nonprofit Rebuilding Together. How did they get a reporter there? One of their Community Service Committee members has a girlfriend who works for the station.

The moral of the story

It’s not always predator versus prey. Some animals, even real estate associations and the media, can coexist (somewhat) peacefully. So get out in front of the media, start a conversation, and become the expert. You’ll increase your media coverage and your credibility with consumers.


Amy Ritsko-Warren is the director of communications for the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors®, Md. She can be reached at
awarren@gcaar.com, 301-590-8764.