No media has been immune from the online revolution which has led to the replacement of paper with digital, the rise of blogs, video and podcasts and the introduction of interactive forums and infographics. In a survey carried out by Cision UK, only 8% of the PR consultants questioned said that they now meet journalists face-to-face, while a third said that social media was the most effective means of contacting the media. Furthermore, according to Trevor Morris and Simon Goldsworthy’s excellent book PR Today: The authoritative guide to public relations, 34% of PRs said that journalists were no longer as important to them because of social media and it has been estimated that journalists have to produce three times as much copy as they did 20 years ago.
The property media, specifically property consultancies’ two main printed publications, Property Week and Estates Gazette, have evolved from weekly magazines to multi-media research, event and content producers which combine the original publication (somewhat slimmer due a decline in advertising) with a broad online offering of data, regular bulletins, video and forums. The national media, which has generally followed a similar transformation, tends to allocate less space to B2B property news and consequently has fewer property correspondents. National journalists, who also tend to be younger than previously, cover a broader remit than ever before. A former journalist, now a PR agency director, interviewed for my book Promoting Property: insight, experience and best practice, commented on how the balance of property journalists to PR consultants has shifted from 90% journalists and 10% PRs in the early 1990s to 70% PRs to 30% journalists today, due as much to the decline in the number of journalists employed as to the growth of PR as a profession.
Another PR director commented on how property journalists are so young that few have experienced significant and relevant economic events such as a substantial interest rate rise: she finds that her role increasingly involves explaining facts and figures to journalists and supplying a historical context.
Due to changes in the media, the role of promoting property consultancies increasingly involves writing information which can be copied directly into a news story and in doing so, shaping content to suit a specific publication.
The fast-paced news environment means that carefully timed announcements can be scuppered by the leaking of information online and that the strategy for handling embargoes has changed.
Part of the PR challenge is to communicate this change to those clients who still believe that coverage in the print edition of the FT is the ultimate PR success. In reality, the FT’s global online readership is twice that of its offline readership, and an online message has substantially more potential to be shared.
The aim of simply placing a story the publication with the highest readership is a blunt instrument in today’s tailored media environment. Instead, communication favours more direct channels of communication: a readership of 10,000 directly relevant consumers is more useful than a publication with 200,000 readers of whom only 4% are directly relevant. As a well-respected former journalist commented for the book, senior surveyors no longer aspire to network with a property journalist in preference to a broker with a good Twitter following.
Increasingly, property PRs are finding that social media, specifically LinkedIn, is the most effective means of publicity. A director of a PR consultancy described a situation whereby he wrote a LinkedIn article on behalf of a surveyor which was seen read by thousands of the client’s contacts and their networks and ultimately resulted in the property consultancy gaining two new clients to the value of over £1m. While traditional media can provide the same reach, LinkedIn has the advantage of carrying with it the visible endorsement of key contacts and the opportunity to alert individuals to specific stories.
Social media has also been found to address some of the limitations brought about by GDPR legislation. The Cushman & Wakefield LinkedIn account has over 450,000 followers and is well supported by the company’s directors. Frequently commentary which might previously have been emailed to clients and contacts is posted on the LinkedIn page, promoted by the company’s employees to potentially interested parties and consequently reaches a broad yet relevant audience. This approach of optimising comment through encouraging sharing among a highly relevant audience is the new property media.
Assuming that current trends continue, the importance of the traditional media will continue to decline, but the need to communicate with stakeholders will not. Research and expert comment will continue to provide the information that property professionals need to communicate with their clients and PR plays an important role in doing so. And as methods of communication continue to expand, PR must apply increasingly strategic thought, foresight and creativity.
Read more about the subject in Penny Norton’s book Promoting Property: insight, experience and best practice, which was published in April 2020 and can be purchased from Routledge, Amazon and all main booksellers.