Some business & PR truths from a homebuilder

November 23, 2009 at 12:23 am

When it comes to public relations, homebuilding isn’t the most progressive industry out there. Dominated by a lot of small builders and a bunch of really big ones,  the attitude of many builders still seems to be to wrap the flag around themselves, talk about the “American Dream” and ignore reputational issues.

One result of that attitude is that I tend to read building trade publications to learn about building and public relations trade magazines to learn about PR.  So I was surprised recently at a story in Big Builder,  one of the leading homebuilding magazines aimed at (you guessed it!) big builders.

I doubt he considered himself to be writing a public relations article, but Rich Ohmann, chief operating officer of St. Lawrence Homes in North Carolina, hit some basic lessons in his article “Notes from the Brink.”   A lot of what Ohmann talks about directly relates to  homebuilding. Discussing the merits of buying developed versus raw land and how long to hold on to a chunk of dirt isn’t something anyone but a builder will get excited about.

But hidden in that dirt are lessons for all of us about sustaining reputatons, even in bad times, and it’s nice to hear a COO discussing those things.

Ohmann’s Rule #5: “There are only 52 weeks in the year. Make every one of them count. Manage better and constantly. Innovate, create…” A lesson for all of us. It’s certainly advice that a strategically thinking public relations counselor can act on. We know  our clients, especially those of us in struggling industries like homebuilding, can use some new ways to position themselves, build their reputations and sell some product.  Rule 5 certainly seems to suggest that the door is open to good ideas. We’d better have some if we’re going to be an integral part of the team.

Rule #7: There’s no substitute for the unfiltered truth. Wow. That should be music to our ears. How often are we asked to “put a good spin” on something? Here’s a COO of a homebuilder that faced bankruptcy saying,  “We approached the situation with open doors and full candor. We armed everyone who would be affected by our (Chapter 11) filing with facts and clearly stated our intentions to stay open and find a way to continue the company.”  I hope that somewhere behind Mr. Ohmann was a good public relations practitioner with a solid crisis plan.  Whether there was or not, Mr. Ohmann’s experience, as painful as it was, shows the value of common sense, transparency and candor.  I hope Mr. Ohmann’s PR advisors are helping St. Lawrence Homes build on the new relationships and new power that transparency gives a company, even in tough times. It’s a rough climb back from a Chapter 11, but with this attitude,  I have a feeling we’ll be hearing more from this company.

By the way, there’s some good advice here for all of us on how to conduct our business, whether we’re in house or an outside consultant. My favorite is Mr. Ohmann’s Rule #3: “If you’re a builder, build. Do what you do best, nothing else.”  I’m tired of ad agencies telling my internal clients that they can do public relations, of publicity agencies claiming they are doing something more than publicity, and I get concerned when I’m asked to do search-engine marketing. Social media is making the lines between disciplines a little less rigid, but at the end of the day ad people should do advertising, public relations people should do PR and all of us should acknowledge that social media is a tool we all should using, but the heavier-duty aspects of SEM should be handled by those with special expertise. Our clients don’t know better. We have to have the ethical behavior to stay in our lane while working together to pave a wide road toward our client’s success. And if we say we can do something, we’d better be able to do it.

Mr. Ohmann talks about his nine rules as “things we learned we already knew.”  His article may be about building, but there are some good reminders for everyone in every business.

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Entry filed under: Dealing with social media, Ethics in Public Relations, stuff & rants. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

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