Leveraging the media to put your commercial real estate project on the map

Mark Winter

Mark Winter

Guest post by Mark Winter, Identity

Regardless of whether you are building a development from the ground up or repositioning an existing center, your ability to gather favorable press and community support can play a crucial role in the success of your commercial real estate project. It is no longer enough to focus solely on the development at hand and hope that the right tenants, consumers and community leaders find it. Competition demands that developers take a strategic and proactive approach to their media relations and marketing efforts.

By focusing on earned media – articles and feature coverage produced by members of the media and published based on the quality of content and the newsworthiness of the topic – a real estate developer can generate valuable, far-reaching, and free coverage that will cement its reputation in the industry and community. Unlike paid advertisements and advertorials, earned media has an intrinsic value because it comes from an impartial third-party source and has the benefit of reaching numerous and vast audiences.

As a public relations professional with years of experience in the commercial real estate industry, I have seen firsthand the value of this powerful tool. Here are a few strategies to get you started:

Lay a strong foundation

To begin, it is important to capture your foundational messaging. This harkens back to the traditional five W’s of journalism: Who, What, When, Where, Why. Gather all of the key details to ensure clarity and consistency when sharing with the media.

Once you have the basics, take your messaging a step further by identifying the distinctive characteristics of your property and understand how it will fit into the fabric of the community. Drawing forth the unique elements of your project can be as simple as recognizing if it has historic significance, any particular environmental challenges, a complex infrastructure or utilizes green or energy efficient technology. There may be interesting construction choices made or obstacles to overcome, and this may be the basis for a great story. Ask yourself what differentiates your property from others in the market and outline why those reasons are compelling.

The differentiators used to tenant the property are often the same ones that will appeal to potential visitors and attract the attention of media influencers. Lean into the elements that made the property appealing to your company, as they will likely appeal to others. And whether the property has progressive design, a convenient location, a unique tenant mix or fills a void in the business community, make sure to promote how it is unique. Once you get the story together and build effective messaging, it is time to take it to the market.

Narrow your target audience

To gain the most substantial impact for your story, you need to first identify your target audience. Choose the demographic that will be most effective for the type of tenant, resident or consumer you are hoping to attract. The type of property will help narrow your audience and uncover the type of media to approach, be it a commercial retail, multi-family or hospitality publication.

Tailoring your message to different types of media – and individual media outlets – will elicit the best results. For example, television stations are image-driven and are always seeking stories with visual components. Radio programs are more interested in securing live interviews with captivating speakers and print outlets are increasingly combining text with interesting visuals. In addition, many news outlets are geared toward a particular type of viewer or specialize in a particular type of reporting. Whether it is politics, business, education or features, make sure your story is a good fit for the outlet you are pitching.

Do the research

Building a solid media list is perhaps the most critical component to success. Do your research and read the local and national publications that you are interested in working with to identify the right reporters and contacts. Connecting to the right reporter at the right publication is crucial – sending the right information to the wrong person at the right place can have the same result as never having sent the information at all.

It’s no secret that the modern world has moved largely to the Internet as a primary source for news and information. Traditional newspapers, television and radio are still powerful, but be aware of the growing shift to online publications, social media and blogs. Creating a strong online presence can generate swift results and significantly expand your project’s online footprint.

While the process of building a media list and pitching stories may be relatively simple, it is not always easy to achieve success. It takes time to craft a strong pitch and build relationships with editors and reporters. Many commercial real estate executives do not realize that most reporters do not write directly from press releases, but draft feature stories based on pitches. The best pitches are targeted for a specific publication, contain a level of depth and thoughtfulness that will appeal to a discerning audience and have an exclusive element. Reporters are drawn to stories that have not yet been told, and place a significant value on finding unique topics to cover. Exclusivity is an important measurement of a publication’s success.

Find – or create – the opportunity

A key strategy to secure valuable press coverage when you do not have any project updates or transactional news to share, is to position your executives as thought leaders and expert sources. Follow the industry trends and news about commercial real estate developments on a national, regional and local scale, and think of creative ways to join the conversation. Provide media influencers with relevant and timely topics that your spokesperson can provide insight on, and be prepared to respond quickly. Deadlines are the pulse of a reporter’s career, so you will build great credibility by acting swiftly to provide short, relevant and succinct answers.

Another great opportunity is to pitch bylined articles to trade and business publications. Bylined articles showcase the expertise of your company’s leadership by providing insight and commentary on trends in the market – be they niche topics, those pertinent to a geographic area or of local interest. Securing a bylined article can be simple. Once you’ve pitched your idea to an editor, you can gather information, learn the publication’s guidelines and provide an abstract of the piece. When drafting a bylined article for your company, keep in mind the tone, word count and focus of a publication, and remember that your feature is not an advertisement. Write from the perspective of a leader in your company, but go lightly on any elements that appear boastful or off-topic. The boilerplate at the end provides specific information and methods of contact for your company.

Building a strong reputation

In today’s competitive market, developers can no longer conduct “business as usual” and neglect the conversations taking place online and in the mainstream media. By building a strong reputation and showcasing your company’s leadership and vision, you can drive and attract opportunities to put your projects and people on the map.

Through strategic public relations and effective storytelling, you can introduce your company’s next project – whether it is a new property, development or renovation – into the conversation and share your story with influential audiences that will ultimately attract new tenants and consumers. The more you are able to articulate and disseminate the positive attributes of your property and company, the more apt you will be to not only build, but drive your brand.

Mark Winter is partner at Identity, a Michigan-based integrated public relations firm. He can be reached at mwinter@identitypr.com. For more information, visit www.identitypr.com.

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