Why housebuilders need PR – it’s not just about selling homes
The housing market is in a funny place right now, and it has been for quite some time. New homes are being built, but not enough of them. Yet those that are being built aren’t selling at the speed that they need to.
One question that never changes though – no matter where we are in an economic cycle – is ‘do housebuilders really need PR’?
When times are good, homes sell on the back of local adverts and Rightmove listings. When they are tough, sales slow down and belts get tightened.
Why then should housebuilders water down their profit margin by throwing good money at corporate branding, promoting developments and reputation management, if their units are either going to sell easily or not?
It’s a familiar dilemma and one that I have heard over the years from developers of all sizes, from the smaller regional outfits to the big plc housebuilders. I have a lot of empathy for the financial decision, but are they missing a trick, or indeed the point of PR all together?
If just viewed as another marketing tool to help sell a home that is already marketed in many other ways, then quite rightly PR is a luxury that has no real value. However, PR is much more than that. It is not just getting a pretty picture of a home in the weekend newspaper supplements; it is public relations. Written differently it is establishing and maintaining good relationships with your public, be that through media relations, social media, customer engagement or hand in hand with public consultations.
We understand the level of investment it takes to get anywhere close to laying bricks. Big fees are spent on the vital expertise of planning consultants, masterplanners, architects, ecologists, archaeologists, transport consultants, engineers and legal experts, all of whom can throw up any number of surprises with eye-watering figures attached to them. That’s even before you’ve entered the fluctuations of the raw materials and labour market to complete the build process.
Your development team will have sat down with colleagues to formulate a sales and marketing strategy and budget for your projects. They will have worked out a public consultation process to navigate the planning process.
Profit margins on housing developments are tight. So why would you invest money on a process if it isn’t an essential part of putting the last tile on the roof or ink on a sales contract?
I would suggest, however, that doing all of this without working on your corporate branding is a little like building a house without a design, technical drawing or plan. You might build a house. It might stay up. You might sell it. But is it the best house you could have designed? Is it the strongest house you could have built? Did you build it in the most cost effective way? Did you build it in the right location? Did you get the most value from your sale? Will the purchaser recommend you to other buyers? Have you appealed to the widest possible customer base or the best quality customer base? Does the house reflect the quality, vision and principles of the company? Does the house create the greatest value for your company?
As a housebuilder you will have addressed, dealt with and invested in all these product development and strategic decisions.
You know what your brand stands for, you probably spent a lot of money with a branding expert to establish how to get your brand messaging across in a logo. Assuming they haven’t read your brand guidelines book, or even the ‘about us’ section of your website (which I’m afraid to say they probably haven’t), does your public actually know what you stand for?
So how does good PR and communications add value to a house building business? Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are your values and qualities reflected in your corporate branding? Is your brand visible beyond your website, logo and hoardings and do they get across what you stand for?
- When you want to pick up the phone to influence people, do they understand your company, your values and the contribution you make to the local economy and community you work in?
- When you are asking a local community to trust you and engage with your developments in a positive way, have you given them a good reason to take you at your word?
- When you come to sell your plots, have you given buyers an emotional reason to pick your off-plan new-build over the off-plan new build from the other developer down the road?
- When you come to set the price point for your homes, does the external perception of your brand add value to the product you create? Could you command a higher margin as a result of long-term investment in your brand positioning?
It is in answering those questions that the real value of investing in public relation lies.
Brand development, corporate positioning and reputation management is not a nice to have – it is an investment in your product, your company, your share price, your profit margin and in speeding up the development process.