The government-ordered shutdowns and stay-at-home orders designed to slow the spread of COVID-19 abruptly brought a halt to the longest-running market expansion in history. Now we’re starting to see firsthand the resulting economic devastation.
The U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) shrank 9.5 percent in the second quarter, which equals an annualized rate of 33 percent! It’s the steepest decline since World War II. The so-called “V-shaped” recovery is looking unlikely. Instead the recovery looks to be drawn out and messy.
What does this mean for commercial real estate? A lot.
CoStar reported that commercial real estate sales prices shrank 2.7 percent in the second quarter. Industrial was the only CRE sector to post a gain. It seems like every day I read about a local restaurant going out of business, a national retail chain declaring Chapter 11, or a major employer announcing it will “shrink our office footprint.”
During the height of the shutdown this past spring, I wrote that the only way you’re going to get out of this crisis is to sell your way out of it. I still firmly believe that. I advised you to keep your brokerage activity level high and actually increase your prospecting efforts even though many brokers were pulling back and turning inward. I further advised you to be creative, think differently and find new client verticals you could target. I urged you to sharpen your prospecting messages, so they were as relevant as possible.
Though the economy has loosened up since last spring, we still have quite a ways to go until we’re out of the woods. CRE brokers need to keep up their intensity level and their out-of-the-ordinary thinking when it comes to business development.
Here’s something that can help you stand out in this unprecedented time and the unpredictable recovery to come: use the media to build your presence in your local marketplace.
A strong relationship with media gets you noticed by potential clients.
Your success is enhanced when you have strong and positive relationships with relevant media outlets. You want as much free (we call it “earned”) media as possible, and you want it to be as positive as possible. Earned media is more credible than advertising. Anyone who reads/listens to an ad, knows that somebody paid for it, so it’s obviously biased. News coverage comes across as more objective.
Don’t discount the value of earned coverage in traditional media (newspaper, radio, television), just because social media have become so popular. Social media are powerful and have opened up many more channels of communication. But traditional media are still important.
For relatively small effort and cost, you can reach a mass audience. The media remain powerful, so here are a few ways to harness mass media power:
- Build relationships with journalists in your market. Make sure they understand who you are and what newsworthy information you are qualified to provide. You want to become a recognized expert, someone who is known to be on the cutting edge of a subject area. Media people love experts far more than public relations specialists.
- Remember journalists are under pressure to fill space and time. Frequently pitch new material and offer to “localize” national stories that relate to your CRE expertise.
- Make journalists’ lives easier by providing them with hard-to-find, fascinating information that other media outlets have not yet reported. As part of my radio talk-show host duties, I do a daily minute that airs during the morning drive. Each day I provide a snippet of information. It’s a hassle coming up with new material. If someone sends me something that is new, interesting and related to my show format, I appreciate it and will probably use the material.
- Be quick in returning calls/emails from the media. If you delay, they may grow impatient and interview your competitor instead. I once missed an opportunity to discuss one of my books on CNBC, because I didn’t notice a voicemail in time.
- Be forgiving. Unless a journalist makes a mistake that humiliates you or damages your competitive standing, let it go when you are unhappy with their reporting. The only thing you accomplish when you complain to journalists is to guarantee they will never call you again.
- Journalists have egos just like everyone else. If you get an interview, one of your primary jobs is to make the interviewer look good.
- Avoid clichés and don’t use too much industry jargon. You can use real words and still come across as an intelligent person.
- Don’t ramble on with lengthy answers. Try to speak in 20-second “sound bites.”
One last thing… The news media and fire have a lot in common. Fire cooks our food and keeps us alive during cold weather. On the other hand, fire can kill you when not properly managed. The same thing applies to the media. If you use media properly, you attract more clients. If you don’t do the right things, media will burn you.
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