Where Are the Newspapers?

The Daily Drag pic

by Jay Zenner on April 17, 2010

Real estate and newspapers are two industries that could help each other out.

The conventional wisdom is that newspaper advertising is a waste of money for real estate agents.  What those outside of real estate may not realize is that it never did much for marketing homes in the first place.  As the Hobbs-Herder folks like to say, the ads were mostly “little heads and little houses” mocking the pictures of agents and their listings.  The real purpose was, like most real estate marketing, to attract clients.  Selling houses in a market with high demand takes care of itself.  The scramble was to sign the clients that would eventually pay the commissions.

Now that the market is quite different, the two struggling industries could help each other out.  Here are a few things newspapers might do to bring back the business from real estate agents.

Go hyper-local with online editions

Instead of further slashing your newsrooms add community and neighborhood coverage to build online readership.  One school of thought is to simply leave that to agents by offering links to agent blogs. However, the quality is inconsistent and spotty or overlapping coverage would not serve the purpose of attracting a large audience. Let interested agents comment or occasionally guest post on the content that the paper creates.

Include a search tool that generates leads.

Many newspapers  already have a search tool but few are using it to generate revenue.  Instead of offering it as simply a convenience to readers, use it to cultivate leads and match them with agents…for a fee.  Why should a newspaper with local credibility and an on-the-ground sales force concede that market to the Homegains of the world?  BestHomePro is an IDX provider that is experimenting with this model in the Durham NC market.

Offer other marketing products

Again, why should the local newspaper concede the agent market for visual tours, single property websites, e-flyers and other property marketing innovations.  For that matter, they could sell yard signs, print services and other traditional forms of advertising.  Shoot, maybe they could even stretch a little and turn their photography staff into a profit center that created really good real estate photography. What do those guys do when there is no sports event going on or breaking news at the courthouse anyway?

Promote the community

Bad news may sell papers but good news sells houses. Feature coverage, both online and offline, promoting the good things that are happening in the school system,  crime prevention, parades,  celebrations, entertainment, etc. Why have most newspapers conceded great coverage of entertainment and cultural events to independent weeklies.  In an obsession to be independent, if not totally objective, many papers will not work closely with the local chamber, visitors bureau or other community development organizations.  Journalistic standards may require newspapers  to cover the bad stuff but they don’t preclude promoting the good stuff.  It’s win/win/win for everyone and may even suppress the bad stuff.

Help agents promote themselves

4PsRE is really about marketing homes but the need for agents to market themselves does not go away. There are agents that develop their own elaborate websites and there are agents that are happy with templates pages hooked to their brokerage site. But there are a lot of agents and even brokerages that use templates from companies like AdvancedAccess.  Why are newspapers giving this market up to them? Ditto for agents that want to blog. Why are the newspapers conceding that market and its advertising potential to ActiveRain and Trulia, who will never do “local” the way the newspaper can?

Newspapers could argue that they don’t see the demand for these services among agents. They may even do some focus groups with agents that reinforces those conclusions. What they may not realize is that most agents don’t realize that the newspaper could be an alternative.  Agents can be just as stuck in their traditional view of their role in commerce as newspapers.

It’s a new world guys! Knock your heads together.  Figure out a ways to help each other market your way out of industry slumps.  This thought has been banging around in my head for awhile but a post at Media Transparent about “hyperlocal couponing” got me wondering why newspapers were conceding this market to national companies too.

My grandfather and namesake spent his entire working life setting type for the Times Union in Albany, New York and my fondest memories as a youth were of riding my bike to the Dairy Queen for a root beer float with a pocket heavy with nickles and dimes I had collected on my paper route.  That gives me some currency to be nostalgic about newspapers, I suppose, but my real impulse is quite different.  Newspapers should drag themselves from the edge of the grave and embrace e-commerce and their traditional strengths in community coverage and become an influential force in their communities again.

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