By Toby Boyce
In my prior life I spent eight years working in higher education public relations where I heard over and over again that “any publicity is good publicity.” But I’ve never understood it.
A football team has the longest losing streak in the nation can get publicity, but is it good?
However, I whole-heartedly agree that any publicity is an opportunity to provide a positive side to a story — if it is managed properly.
For example, let’s take a situation I witnessed just this summer. A Columbus, Ohio, man was murdered on the front-steps of his rental home. Of course, the local television stations covered the story with the same gusto as TMZ heading after Paris Hilton’s alleged cocaine habit. The home is currently for sale, and the REALTOR® sign and the listing agent’s name were all prominently featured throughout the shots — on all three networks. If that wasn’t enough, the home’s owner was on one station saying something to the effect of “this is a common situation in this area, you hear gun shots all the time – day or night.”
Now, I’m an investor thinking about buying a rental in Columbus and even looking in this neighborhood. What just happened? More than likely, I’m walking away from this area and looking for another location — or, at best, I’ve just adjusted my offer down by a huge percentage taking into account the “neighborhood factors” that I’ll be encountering.
So was this publicity a good thing? Of course it wasn’t. The listing agent’s name was on television associated with a murder, the home’s owner is on record saying this isn’t a good neighborhood, and most importantly a man just lost his life.
While, there may have been little that could have been done to put that publicity into a positive light, most of the time there are a few things you can do to promote your “side” in the most positive light.
- Be Prepared. You know the problem existed. Don’t ignore it and wonder why it isn’t going away. Sit down with the home owner and have a plan of action if something were to happen. What is your “story?” Did that home owner regret his words later? Maybe. However, in the heat of the moment he said what he believed at that moment. Not realizing that he just decreased the value of his property by a significant amount.
- No Comment Equals Guilty. You may simply need time to get a hold of your lawyer or broker to clear a question. However, never — and I mean NEVER — say “no comment” when a question is asked. That equals guilty, period. End of story. Also, don’t hide behind the phone; “calls to Mr. Doe were not returned” is nearly as bad. The best way to handle it is to steal a line from the police — “I hope that you understand. I am not authorized to discuss that at the present time.”
- What Is A Solution? This goes back to the first two points — if you’ve already addressed the issues internally, then you need to create a collection of solutions that could be completed to address the situation. Don’t take this as a chance to just “pie in the sky” items. Be prepared to be accountable for the items you are proposing and use it as an opportunity to build community and local connections while addressing issues in the community, block, association, or neighborhood.
- Blame? Really, are we in fifth-grade? Or Washington, D.C.? Don’t go blaming others for the situation — it does nothing for anyone. The public sees you as whiny and the person you called out is now angry and not interested in addressing the situation with you.
- Show Compassion. What killed BP’s Tony Hayward with the Gulf disaster? He was perceived to not care about the people of the Gulf Coast. Like it or not, perception is reality. If you show that you care about the situation — genuinely caring — the overall public will respond favorably to you.
Is this list a license to “spin”? Of course, that’s what public relations is all about, getting your message out to the public to lessen the distance between how they really see you and how you want them to see you. I equate spin to flipping; if done right it is a “win-win” situation for everyone involved.
Any chance to get your “story” out to the public is wonderful, but not all publicity will be good publicity.
Toby Boyce, MBA, is a real estate practitioner with Keller Williams Consultants Realty in Westerville, Ohio. Visit his Web site: www.delawareohrealestate.com.