Posts filed under ‘Real estate communications’

New Jersey Again Leads Nation in People Leaving

An annual study again puts NJ at the top of the states that people are leaving. That again bring up our business climate and land-use policies.

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Continue Reading January 5, 2016 at 11:43 am

Using a Gavel To Hammer Citizens’ Groups Can Cost More Than Legal Fees

Lawsuits, especially over opinions of a citizens’ group, can cost a lot more than dollars.

Should a developer facing a boisterous and vocal community group sue the members of that group to muzzle them? Tempting, isn’t it?

On the Jersey Shore, a homebuilder has done just that. That company received permission to build and sell 76 homes to the general market instead of to active adults, as originally approved. A group of residents, however, doesn’t agree with the change, and has expressed its opposition in a variety of ways. The builder has filed suit, according to the local newspaper, complaining that one of the members of the group has “issued defamatory statements and information constituting libel and slander.”

I don’t know any more than what’s been written in that one article, so I’m not going to comment on this particular case. But it got me thinking: Is it a good idea to fight back against citizen groups by using the courts?

Here are some of my random thoughts. What do you think?

  • Lawsuits are part of the development process in New Jersey. They shouldn’t be, but they are. Usually, suit is filed over interpretation of points of law, not over points of opinion. The arguments are usually esoteric, and tied directly to some law or regulation related to the project.
  • Companies that protect their reputation enjoy better sales, higher customer satisfaction rates and happier employees. They also can usually withstand the unsubstantiated verbal barrages of a citizen’s group. It is, of course, a different story if the citizen’s group is telling the truth and the corporation is isn’t being completely honest.
  •  Court is the appropriate place to prove a point of law, but is it the appropriate place to stop or hobble a conversation? Even if the gavel drops eventually in favor of a developer who complains in court that people are saying bad things about the company or a community, does anyone really believe they’ve gagged the opposition?
  • There are more expenses to a lawsuit than financial ones. One must weigh the reputational and good-will costs and compare them to walking away from a project or just gritting one’s teeth and bearing the insults. A lawsuit will be seen as heavy artillery wielded by a corporation against residents exercising their First Amendment rights. People – including those who will be giving you approvals and buying your homes – may wonder why the company was so heavy-handed.
  • There are other steps to try before filing a highly visible lawsuit (all lawsuits are highly visible). A developer can meet with the opponents to listen to concerns and, if possible, address them. Use public meetings; op-ed pieces; interviews with news outlets; alliances in the community; direct mail pieces; special Web sites, blogs, Facebook pages or other forms of interaction to communicate. A developer who wanted to build in my neighborhood went door-to-door. Does it work every time? No. Will you win over every opponent? No. Can you proceed and honestly say you’ve listened and tried to address concerns. Yes. Have communities been built and been very successful despite community activism? Yes.

A lawsuit is almost always a last resort. If used to stop someone from saying angry things against a corporation, it must be carefully considered, including how much it will fan flames and what it does to a developer’s attempts to build bridges in the community.

If, however, you find yourself filing such a suit, be ready to defend it in the court of public opinion as well as a court of law.

  • Make sure you can clearly explain in a few compelling words why you’ve filed the suit. You have about one sentence to make your case, whether it’s to the media, the mayor or the minions in your company and the community.
  • Make sure your allies and community officials know it’s coming, even if the warning is just a few minutes.
  • Decide with your public relations person whether the filing should be announced or if you should wait for questions.
  • Always respond to the media. Refusing to talk with the media allows your opponents to tell your story for you. Even if you’ve strategically decided not to comment, not returning a reporter’s call is rude. Returning the call keeps the lines of communication open. And remember: Never say “no comment.” You can explain that you can’t comment on pending litigation, or you can decline to speak about specifics, but talk generalities. Your PR person and your attorney must work together to counsel you on your response once a lawsuit is filed.
  • Remember to have your key messages ready and make any interview — media, community appearance or small meeting — yours.

Your development team should include an experienced public relations professional to protect and build your reputation by helping you deal with the media, the community and the government (shameless plug: like In-House Public Relations). Your public relations team is your diplomatic corps. A lawsuit is a big military weapon. You need both to navigate the crazy populist regulatory paths in New Jersey. And your PR team may keep you out of a lawsuit.

The method of dealing with issues that I’m suggesting may take more time and the outcome isn’t assured — you may still wind up in court. But then, a legal verdict is not a sure thing either. The longer method enables you to look everyone in the eye and honestly say you tried to be a good neighbor.

July 25, 2012 at 10:46 am

Spring Brings Optimism To Business, Spring Cleaning Should Include Your How You Communicate

The real estate and homebuilding business is like a neighborhood after a bad storm: Everyone’s happy it’s over and happy to have survived. And while they’re still watching the sky, they’re optimistic enough to smile, start cleaning up and make plans for the future.

Whether you’re a builder, a seller of new or existing homes, or a supplier of the goods and services that keep the industry going, the feeling of rebirth is in the air. I’m hearing a lot people making plans for new business. Those optimistically planning new opportunities would do well to consider one more item that probably needs some spring fixing up: their communications program.

Notice I didn’t say your advertising program. I didn’t say your social media program, your Facebook page, logo, brochures or publicity program. I said your communications program, which includes all those things…and more. If you’ve never considered talking with a public relations professional, maybe this is the time to do it. And if you have, well, work with him or her to take a fresh look.

Some ad agencies have PR departments, but most don’t. PR people look at the world differently than advertising people. We see communications program in terms of measurable goals, consistent messages and strategies that can build and reinforce your most powerful business tool: your reputation. We use all available channels to tell your story to customers, employees, vendors, investors, regulators and the general public. PR is about two-way communications, so we also want to make sure you know what people are thinking of you and your company.

If you’re telling people about your business the same way you did two years ago, you probably need to rethink it. You communications could be as relevant as 2006 home pricing.

Ask yourself some questions:

  • You’ve survived. How are you different than you were?
  • How did you survive? Is it an interesting or inspiring story?
  • How are you reassuring and helping your customers succeed in this new market?
  • What are you doing to support your community. Keep in mind that “community” can have a lot of different meanings.
  • Who is important to the success of your business and how are you communicating with them? Are they listening?
  • How are you measuring success?

These are the kind of questions you need to think about to develop a communications plan for today’s market. Think about hiring a public relations practitioner to discuss these questions. They know how to draw out the answers and they will see things and ask you questions you might not think of. In addition, they will make you flesh out your answers. With the information you and the PR team gather, they’ll develop a plan to develop and deliver messages and gather feedback from the different groups that impact your success.

By telling your story the right way to the right people, you can share your excitement and optimism about the improving market and claim your spot as an industry leader. It’s as important as everything else you’re doing to move ahead for new success.

Let me know some of the new things you’re doing and how you’re explaining them to customers, suppliers and others. And let me know if I can be of assistance.

May 24, 2012 at 3:25 pm

We’re Back: And We’re Talking About Something More Important Than Social Media!

Realtors and every other type of businessperson — including PR people — are buried in articles, workshops, lectures and conferences about the importance of social media. And there’s no denying the importance of taking part in the digital world that’s taking over everything.

But social media doesn’t always work.

 

In-House Public Relations communications presentation to Realtors

In-House Public Relations’ Doug Fenichel, APR, asserted that thinking strategically about communicating what sets you apart will bring in business.

I know: heresy.  But even if you use the right  key words, optimize correctly, add video and put the links on every social medium you can think of, social media might not work.  The reason is simple: If you’re not addressing the right people with the right message at the right time the way they want to get it, your communications just won’t be effective.

Social media mavens sometimes forget to tell you this. But we talked about it in a great discussion with some Realtors at Century 21 Worden & Green in Hillsborough, N.J., the other night.  The participants ranged from one woman who used email but didn’t want any other part of Web 2.0, to a young guy who was really into social media — yes, they both could have been stereotypes for users of social media.

In between were a lot of folks trying to figure out how to use Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, Trulia, Active Rain, their own websites and other digital tools effectively.  There are plenty of places to find how-to guides to figure out the specifics, so we took on the bigger picture.

I asked each person  how they were different from other Realtors and  how they were using that difference to generate business. Most hadn’t thought about it that way. I gave them 10 questions to consider before embarking on any communications initiative and I assured them that the goal in communications today was to engage customers. That’s thinking strategically and such strategies are best executed with a mix of tactics including social media.

You can see the slides and the 1o questions here: http://www.slideshare.net/dougtheprguy/what-makes-you-different-12872274   A strategic approach to communications, such as I’ve described in these slides, is what public relations people specialize in.

Those of us in real estate and  homebuilding are reinventing ourselves as the market begins to come back to life. The communications strategies you used before the crash won’t work. It’s more important than ever to think about how you’re communicating and know what you want to get out of those communications…and those 10 questions gave the folks at Century 21 the tools to start thinking about that.

What makes you different? How are you communicating that to generate business. And how do you know it’s working?

May 9, 2012 at 10:10 pm


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