How SME housebuilders can take advantage of public relations
As a property PR agency, we recently spoke to Show Home magazine, to explain why and how housebuilders can take advantage of public relations to promote their schemes locally. You can read it in full here...
The Persimmons, Taylor Wimpeys and Barratts of the UK’s housing industry dominate the new build sector, accounting for 88% of all stock. Just 12% of new properties are therefore built by SME developers.
But it’s these small house builders who are often the most entrepreneurial, creative and flexible in their design, build and finish. They are usually local to the areas they develop; and are therefore ‘in tune’ with local demand and the environment.
But while the SMEs are often progressive in their build and design methods, marketing can sometimes fall by the wayside. Profit margins are tight; and there’s no budget to spend on expensive, full-page, national newspaper adverts – unlike their large counterparts.
Plus, the industry is a cyclical one – so many small builders think that when times are good, Rightmove will sell their homes; and that when times get tough, their sales slow and their budgets will tighten.
However, by remaining committed to a local PR stance – which supports establishing good relationships with key stakeholders – small housebuilders can build a certain level of resistance to periods of economic uncertainty; and pack a punch when it comes to competing with national developers.
What are the benefits of PR for a housebuilder?
PR can help achieve this in a number of ways.
Firstly, it helps to build a strong brand. By communicating a consistent message, it heightens awareness of a firm and/or a development, helping the company to become a ‘household’ name, locally. The builder is therefore likely to be remembered; prompting people to get in touch for more information about a scheme – ultimately, selling properties.
Acomm works with SB Homes, an SME developer, which builds houses in the Colne Valley region of Yorkshire.
Amy said: “When appointed to work with SB Homes two years ago, the goal was to strengthen their reputation and support sales for their current Empire Works scheme. Through continual media relations, the firm has experienced unprecedented demand – and therefore they haven’t needed to appoint an estate agent.
“It saved them thousands of pounds in estate agency fees, while building their brand awareness – and a database full of interested buyers – for future developments.”
Good PR can also add value in other areas of the business.
The property sector comes with a host of unique, complex challenges – and there are plenty of stakeholders to consider, throughout the building process.
For example, a builder must gain implementable planning consent by the Local Planning Authority. It’s a two-way process, in which the developer must positively influence the decision makers. Engaging with the local councillors, highways and Historic England, for example, can have enormous benefits.
Public relations – which is about effectively communicating with all interested parties; not just potential buyers – can help builders to prepare written statements and present plans which paint a development in a positive light.
People within the local community also play a part in the communication process. After all, a company with a positive reputation within its local vicinity, is one that will experience less headaches throughout the development period. For example, if a scheme is being built in close proximity to other properties, then it’s important to make those tenants/home owners feel involved in the design and planning process, to avoid resistance and minimise hiccups further down the line.
Community outreach will also build a public image and foster a sense of goodwill, support and loyalty.
“We help SB Homes to build excellent relationships with their key stakeholders, by finding stories that resonate with that particular audience, and then communicate them in the most relevant manner,” Amy said. “For example, we often prepare written statements to be read out at planning committees, as well as invite local councillors/MPs to see the quality work that the firm is doing.
“Anything that affects the local community, is also communicated thoroughly. For example, SB Homes invested heavily into flood defences for a village that they were building in. We wrote press materials – and conducted a social media campaign – to highlight this; which led to the firm’s website receiving its highest ever traffic levels; which was directly related to an influx of sales enquiries. The benefits were therefore twofold.”
What PR techniques can a housebuilder use?
But before PR successes like these can be achieved, thorough planning is required.
The first stage of conducting a PR strategy is working out which key messages to use throughout the communications. There are a number of people within a business who can provide these insights. For example, by talking to the architects and designers who’ve worked on the project, it’s possible to pinpoint any USPs – such as innovative build techniques; unique design features or investments into local infrastructure.
These key points will be weaved into news stories, e.g. press releases, that the local media will be interested in.
A good story can be formed from project milestones, e.g. when the land is bought, when the first brick is laid, or when 50% of the properties have been reserved; and so on.
Keeping up momentum – by continuing to tell the story of the project – is very important, to ensure that the scheme is fresh in the mind of potential buyers. Sometimes, thinking outside the box is important.
“For example, SB Homes bought a dilapidated building in 2018 – one which was once part of the community. So, we put it to the local people to choose the name of the development. It was a very successful campaign – once which was picked up by the media, and helped to raise awareness of the upcoming scheme, while helping the community to feel involved in the process,” Amy explained.
Other ideas for press releases include award wins and ‘giving back’, e.g. sponsorship of local sports teams or providing donations to charities.
Journalists – and other stakeholders – can also be invited onto site, to create a two-way, long-lasting relationship. This dialogue helps the local media to tell stories which are of interest to their readers, while increasing awareness of a scheme.
“These ideas, whilst highly effective, don’t require 7-figure budgets – which the large housebuilders often have. It goes to show that developers don’t need to come up with cheesy advertising campaigns – it’s about knowing who you are, what you do best and being a little bit creative with it.
“PR isn’t a nice to have. It’s an investment which positions a housebuilder and protects its reputation, which in turn, bolsters sales and creates longevity – giving SMEs a commercial advantage over the large, corporate developers.”
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