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Building Your Story

By Mark Wessel

Most builders “get” such initiatives as advertising or event marketing, but there’s sometimes a disconnect in terms of what public relations is, and where it fits in to your overall sales and marketing program. That’s unfortunate, because most builders have good—if not great—stories to tell. 
So what is PR anyway? Is it news about your company that grabs the media? Project updates on your website? A fundraising initiative? The reality is that it’s all of the above and more. A properly managed PR program can complement other marketing initiatives, helping to build awareness, demand and bottom line sales.

Getting PR
To learn whether PR is right for your business, you can start by asking yourself such things as whether you feel customers and prospects fully appreciate the homes you’re building, your customer service, or how you’re supporting the community. Are they familiar with your current projects? The lifestyle that awaits them as homeowners? If these and other unanswered questions come to mind, then you owe it to yourself to do a better job of sharing your story with the rest of the world.

Building Stories from the Ground Up
To kick-start a PR program, think about how you build homes. You need to decide where to build and what kind of home you’re going to build in order to get people to buy. Similarly, to build a PR program, decide what your most compelling stories are, where you want them to appear and, ultimately, who you want buying into your stories. You want potential buyers to learn more about your projects, as well as your existing homeowners (who could provide repeat business or referrals), carefully targeted journalists (who can spread the word to thousands of potential buyers), members of your local community (whose support you may need) and the local municipality.
Location, Location, Location
In terms of “location,” you need to know which media sources to target. It’s a no-brainer you should target the media in your backyard. Not so obvious: Some media sources only run paid advertorial, while others will run your story whether you advertise or not. There may be media sources outside of your immediate area you should target as well. For instance, if you’re building in Waterloo, some members of the Toronto media could be interested due to such trends as the growing number of baby boomers who are moving away from the GTA to less expensive communities and then banking the difference. Beyond real estate, there’s also the lifestyle media to consider that may be open to tying your homes and communities in with current living, travel or various demographic trends. The business media could be a fit as well. 
Beyond the media, other “locations” with growing importance include your website and social media. Your website should have a news page, showcasing such content as news releases, site updates and media coverage. And you can create synergies between the news on your site and your social media outlets. If you’re distributing a news release on your latest project to the media, make sure to not only post it on your news page, but to also talk about the announcement through your social media or third party social media outlets with links back to your website.

Stories as Building Blocks
So you know where to share your story, but what stories should you tell? Just as the quality of the products going into your home can affect reputation, so too can the quality of your stories. Beyond obvious storylines such as a new site, good PR isn’t just about bricks and mortar, but about the lifestyle and living options your homes can make possible. On the surface, building an entry level home may not seem like much of a story—unless, that is, you tell it from the standpoint of how these homes are enabling people who might normally rent to own their own home. Paint this story against the backdrop of such things as local attractions, amenities and proximity to work and you’ll capture people’s attention. 
Beyond putting the right perspective on things, your next challenge is quite simply, what’s your next story? What else can you tell people about what you’re up to in order to maintain ongoing interest in your business over not just weeks, but months and years?  
If you can do that, then something exciting will happen. Suddenly, the people who matter the most—potential buyers, influential journalists and bloggers, along with the community at large—will begin to take greater notice of what you’re building and what sets you apart from other builders.
And that’s just good PR.

Mark Wessel is the principal of Bullpen PR, a firm that has helped to implement PR programs for builders in Canada and the U.S. since 2000. He can be reached at mwessel@bullpenpr.com.



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