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Time to Ditch Print?

January 1, 2008

Associations weigh the pros and cons of electronic publications vs. print

E-newsletters today are so easy, fast, cheap, and effective that many associations are asking themselves why they still have paper publications. Although there are considerable benefits to electronically based newsletters, there are still some drawbacks to consider.

From the money associations would save on the ever-increasing costs of printing and postage, to the reduction of staff time devoted to writing and designing an electronic publication, overall, there’s a strong financial incentive to eliminate print. That’s even before factoring in the reported downturn in print publication advertising revenue.

“We eliminated our print newsletter because of cost and because too many members said they didn’t read it or they never actually got it,” says Della Csehoski, association executive, Cambria Somerset Association of Realtors®, Pa. “Our membership doesn’t miss the print version and say they prefer it online because they can save it or read and delete it.”

Likewise, the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors®, Va., eliminated its printed newsletter last summer and has “heard nary a peep from the membership since it went away,” says Mary Elizabeth Allen, director of communications. Allen relies on a weekly e-newsletter to members and hopes the association’s blog will catch on.

Electronic communications give the impression that the association is modern, efficient, and tech savvy. But the fact that not all members have embraced the digital age is a continual challenge. “One reason we aren’t leaning toward digital only,” says Melanie Green, communications director, Northeast Florida Association of Realtors®, “is that we can’t get our members to keep a current workable e-mail address on file with us. So with the snail-mail magazine, we are at least reaching them in some fashion.”

Eliminating the print publication raises the question: Are you cutting off communication to a segment of your membership? Or are you just communicating less?

“It seems like there are always members who didn’t know anything about an event, service, or benefit that we’d been promoting for months or years, so the thought is: If we eliminate one of our communication vehicles, the communication breakdown will be even more challenging,” notes Perry Crume, chief operating officer, Kansas City Regional Association of Realtors®.

Considering the wide range of ages and business styles among any association membership, finding one communication vehicle to satisfy everyone is a challenge, AEs report.

Listening to your members

“As much as we’d like to think this is a tech-savvy society, at least in Arizona, we don’t see the magazine going electronic for at least another 5 to 10 years,” says Diane Cole, communications director, Arizona Association of Realtors®. Cole’s member surveys consistently return results indicating that nearly 89 percent want to continue receiving the association magazine in print. “Their comments in the surveys solidified our decision to continue with a print magazine, including: ‘Keep on printing it. One can spend only so much time on the computer. Printed matter can be read while relaxing,’ and ‘I prefer the paper version so I can refer back to it when I need more information. I don’t like fiddling with the Internet to get this type of information and don’t read it. With the paper version, I can take it with me or read it in bed.’ ”
Member surveys have been the guiding light for other associations in their communication program decisions as well.

“We conducted a communications survey of our members, and although there was only a small group that commented on this specific issue, it was evenly divided between those who said we should go all electronic, and others who pleaded with us not to eliminate the printed newspaper,” says Elizabeth Coffey, communications director, Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors®. “Our members said they find [the print publication] easier to read and like that they can take it to open houses to read, etc.”

Knowing why members prefer print can open new avenues for communication.

“We expected that very few members relied on our printed monthly newsletter, but were surprised that [in our annual survey] more than 70 percent said they did,” says Scott Sherrin, marketing and communications director, Memphis Area Association of Realtors®. However, digging deeper, Sherrin found that the vast majority relied on the print newsletter only for the monthly listings of events and education classes. “So instead of eliminating it altogether, we reformatted it to focus on the information members really wanted in a printed newsletter. The reduction in size costs about half as much as the old format for printing and mailing.”

Crafting a compromise

In cases where half the members want print and half want e-newsletters, associations have compromised by developing communication strategies that involve less print—either smaller publications or mailed less frequently—and more types of electronic communications, such as e-newsletters, beefed-up Web offerings, and even blogs and podcasts.

Along these lines, the Colorado Association of Realtors® is considering having members opt-in to the print publication. “Our initial plan is if they want to receive our Colorado Realtor® publication they will have the opportunity to request it through our Web site,” says Tyrone Adams, director of communications and events, Colorado Association of Realtors®. Our goal is to print and mail copies of the publication only to those who want it.”

Some associations have eliminated print, and some have actually increased it, but many, it turns out, have taken a broader view of their communications and created a medley of e-mail newsletters, online publications, and print that covers all the bases while reducing costs.

Contributing to Communities

From charity golf to homebuilding, one association’s nonstop community service
It’s not the size of your association but the compassion of your members that makes the difference in a community. Take the 1,300-member Hilton Head Area Association of Realtors®, S.C., for example. In just the past year, its members have participated in five events to raise more than $85,000 for community charities and projects.

“We are a very active association and excel in the area of community service, with at least one-third of our members participating either financially or with their time,” says Jean Beck, EVP.

As a result of the Realtors® Golf and Tennis Tournament in May, approximately $20,000 was donated to seven local charities. In September, Realtors® raised $3,500 for the children’s charity Hilton Head Heroes with a garage sale held in their parking lot. And it didn’t stop there. Realtors® participated in Relay for Life and raised $6,000, winning “Best Decorated Tent” and the coveted “Miss Relay.” Realtors® also held a blood drive in October, and in December they sponsored a Christmas party for the teens at the Boys and Girls Club. And if that wasn’t enough, every June the Realtors® and the Mortgage Lenders Association give $4,000 in scholarships to local high school seniors.

Despite some very cold weather last January, Hilton Head Area Realtors® built their sixth Habitat for Humanity house. Beyond local Habitat participation, three members participated in a weeklong trip to Alabama to help residents of a Hurricane Katrina-ravaged area rebuild their homes.

“Hilton Head Area Association of Realtors® will be even stronger in 2008 in its commitment to community service,” says Beck.

Meet Your New Association Outreach VP

Alice Martin, rce, cae, joined the National Association in February as vice president of AE and leadership development, to conduct outreach field visits to Realtor® associations. “I will be focusing on leadership training, NAR issues and program updates, and some facilitation of strategic plan updates, with Gar [Anderson, vice president of AE and leadership development], focusing on the initial development of association strategic plans,” says Martin.

This new position enables NAR to extend its reach to associations with the aim of ensuring that association leaders and members are better informed not only about management and industry issues and initiatives, but about how those issues and initiatives impact their associations and the real estate business. Martin served as executive vice president of the Arizona Association of Realtors® and has 22 years of association management experience. She can be reached at amartin@realtors.org.

New HR Services for Associations

Through a new program called HR Connection, NAR offers help to associations with a wide variety of human resource issues—from determining FLSA status (exempt vs. nonexempt) to writing an employee manual that complies with federal law.

“For state and local associations, these HR services will be like having their own HR department,” says Doug Hinderer, NAR’s senior vice president of human resources. “They’ll be able to create a workplace that is equitable and enjoyable while at the same time shielding themselves from legal liability.”

Along with guidance on employee relations, benefit programs, and compensation, NAR will offer training for association staff on how to conduct a proper performance review and how to identify and eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace, among other topics.

Heading this new initiative is 24-year NAR veteran Donna Garcia, who has extensive knowledge in employee relations, training, compensation, and benefits administration. Garcia is not an attorney and NAR is not offering legal advice through this program.

Fees for the new services vary depending on the complexity of the issue or project. For information, contact Donna Garcia, 312/329-8311, dgarcia@realtors.org.

For free guidance on HR issues, visit the HR Online Toolkit (REALTOR.org/aehr.nsf/pages/aehrhome), which includes an HR audit form and information on recruiting, training, benefits, and more.

Look for Garcia’s regular column that answers your questions about HR issues here in Realtor® AE every quarter. Submit your questions to hrconnection@realtors.org.

New Program to Shape Local Media Coverage

If your local media are telling only downbeat stories about the housing market, you’re not alone. Associations across the country say local media outlets are disseminating a discouraging national view of the housing industry and ignoring local market reality.

To address national skepticism about the health of real estate, NAR has launched a campaign to help state and local associations change public perception about the vitality of their local real estate market, particularly for potential homebuyers who are on the fence about making a move.

The “Surround Sound” campaign materials and guidance were developed specifically to help associations of any size or budget get the word out to consumers about the opportunities for buyers in today’s housing markets. The Surround Sound strategy is to surround consumers—by dovetailing with NAR’s Public Awareness Campaign—with messages about the opportunities currently available to them in today’s housing markets.
The facts are that 2007 will be the fifth-best year on record for home sales. Despite media reports of a faltering real estate market, mortgage rates are approaching 40-year lows and the housing inventory is higher than it has been in 15 years. Now may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for homebuyers, but many local consumers are “buy-shy” thanks to media sensationalism and misrepresentation of the local real estate market.

The Surround Sound toolkit, (REALTOR.org/press_room/surroundsound.html) includes advice, tips, tools, samples, and resources to help your association develop a plan to reach consumers through many different media. NAR has also established a support system through its grassroots public affairs firm, offering local team resources to help any AE with local outreach efforts.

Ask your Fellow AEs: “What is the value to me and my association to earn the RCE designation?”

Dear Colleagues: I’m hosting this new column in RAE to showcase advice from our fellow AEs. I will post questions on AETalk and gather advice on a variety of issues that affect all of us.

— Kathy Pencek Harbaugh,
rce, e-Pro, EVP, Realtors®
Association of Central Indiana

“The value of the RCE is both realistic and idealistic. The real-world experience needed to qualify for the exam pushed me to take on assignments I otherwise would have avoided such as public speaking. The wide range of information covered in the exam forced me to learn and understand those industry issues outside my expertise and it has helped me do my job better. Finally, it puts into practice what we ask members to strive toward: betterment through professional development. The RCE is an outward symbol that shows Realtor® members and my peers that I’m striving to be the best professional I can be!”

— Sandy Naragon, rce, CEO, Akron Area Board, Ohio

“Earning the RCE designation was a longtime goal for me. I am so glad I took the time to study the Realtor® Association Management class online and learn more about the rules and policies of association management. The most interesting part of this job is that no two days are ever the same—there is always so much to learn.”
— Kristi L. Jerkovich, rce, Southwest Iowa Association

“I desired to become an RCE for the knowledge and to demonstrate to the elected leadership that I was willing to further my knowledge to become the best AE that I could be.”
— Dorothy Hamson, e-Pro, rce, Egyptian Board, Ill.

Next month:
What successful nondues revenue ideas have you implemented lately? And what are the pros/cons to an AE having a real estate license and taking continuing education? Submit your comments to
Kathy@raci.org.

Commercial Services Accreditation Program

The Realtors® Commercial Alliance (RCA), the commercial division of NAR, has launched a program to accredit the commercial services of state and local associations. “Whether you are an association with an existing commercial structure, an overlay board, or just starting to focus on developing commercial services, accreditation can greatly enhance your efforts to establish yourself as a commercial voice in your areas and attract members,” says Jeff Hornberger, NAR’s managing director of member development for commercial real estate. Accreditation has benefits for local associations, says Hornberger, including value-added products, programs, and services from the RCA. “Associations are more likely to recruit commercial practitioners with an accredited commercial program because it meets certain levels of service,” he says.

Your ssociation may already meet the criteria for accreditation. “The program is designed to set benchmarks and assist in developing products, programs, and services for commercial practitioners; it is not designed to impose standards,” says Hornberger. For more, contact Jeff Hornberger, 312/329-5971, or visit REALTOR.org, search: commercial accreditation.

Sentrilock Introduces Next Generation Lockbox

SentriLock, the official lockbox solution for the National Association of Realtors®, recently introduced REALTOR® Lockbox NXT, the industry’s first electronic lockbox to integrate digital wireless communication automating the key renewal for agents.

More than a year in research and development, the product features a larger key bin despite its smaller size, double-layer alloy steel for enhanced security, compatibility with current SentriCard smart cards, and wireless functionality that allows members to change lockbox settings and access options over the Internet without physically being at the property.

”The ability to track who shows a home and when, as well as being able to provide access to the lockbox via the Internet, are significant new features,” says Scott Fisher, president of SentriLock. Visit www.sentrilock.com.

Association Delivers Healthcare Option

The Greater Nashville Association of Realtors® unveiled healthcare insurance for its members in March, through a new program provided through the National Business Association.

The National Business Association and its related insurance options is not a true group insurance plan, which, by definition, includes employees and payroll deduction options. It is, however, similar, according to GNAR President Mandy Wachtler.

“The offering is based on an association model that allows the leveraging of buying power to get reduced rates for real estate agents. And, no one can be singled out individually for a rate increase or cancellation,” says Wachtler.

According to the association’s statement, the relationship with the NBA is not a typical affinity program with a percentage of sales flowing back to the association. “This new service is simply a member service. It is not a new source of revenue for GNAR,” Wachtler said.

The National Business Association is a non-profit association specifically designed to assist the self-employed and small business community in providing access to a variety of insurance programs.

Workforce Housing Ordinances Held Void

Idaho Realtors® prevailed in a lawsuit over workforce housing earlier this year when the Mountain Central Board of Realtors® challenged an ordinance passed by several counties that required a 20 percent set-aside of lots and homes in any new subdivision for workforce housing.

An Idaho District Court agreed with the association that the inclusionary zoning ordinance overstepped the zoning powers given to the city under Idaho’s Local Land Use Planning Act and that it was an arbitrary and unreasonable land use provision. The Court held that both ordinances were in reality a “tax” and that neither was authorized by the laws of the state of Idaho.

“The Idaho Association of Realtors® opposes undue governmental intervention, including taxation regulations that increase consumer costs and regulations which diminish or deny the full and free exercise of property rights,” says Jeremy Pisca, chief legal counsel for the Idaho Association of Realtors®. “The court’s decision is a great victory for Realtors® and private citizens alike and protects private property rights.”