What follows is a true story but the names and a couple of details have been changed to protect the innocent (and in this case they were innocent). Late last year I had a call from a stressed client saying his lettings department had just received a call from the local paper.
His agency’s office is based in a popular university town and does a great deal of business in the student lets market.
A reporter was calling to ask the agent about complaints from local residents that students had held the mother of all-night parties in a house marketed by my client.
How did the local paper know who to call? Well the journalist didn’t have to be Columbo to see the ‘Let’ board outside the house to start his enquiries on the right track.
During the call from my client I asked several questions to get to the bottom of the story and be equipped with the full facts before responding to the reporter myself.
When a negative story breaks, be professional, show that you take it very seriously.
Yes the agency had marketed the property but that was more than a month ago. The house was managed by a private landlord and as the paper couldn’t get hold of her they spoke with my client.
THE WRONG RESPONSE
In situations like this too often agents or indeed many other businesses I’ve seen will pull down the shutters, say a terse ‘no comment’ and hope for the best.
Good luck with that approach guys. It’s a better technique than shouting to the newspaper’s property manager “If you run that story we’ll pull our advertising.”
However, that’s really no way to deal with unwanted attention (remember, in this digital age it might not be the local paper, it could be a community forum or Facebook group for example).
Saying ‘no comment’ or simply ignoring the media is the worst thing you can do. What do you think when you see an under pressure politician or a rogue trader respond to the media by saying ‘no comment’?
If you are like 95 per cent of the adult population of our fine little island you’ll be thinking, “They’re dodgy, they have something to hide, they must have done it.”
Thankfully, this drama didn’t turn into a crisis.
THE RIGHT RESPONSE
Here’s how we handled this situation and you can apply these techniques yourself – if it is ever necessary:
I spoke to the reporter, asked for a summary of the story and for when his deadline was for our reply. The tone was friendly and my aim to help them with their story while protecting my client’s image.
I also explained that although we marketed the property we didn’t manage it and it was the landlord’s responsibility to keep the students in line.
Then I agreed with the reporter that we’d have a written response with him by 5pm that day in line with his deadline.
The response was from the Lettings Manager using her name, never say ‘a spokesperson.’
She clearly outlined the agency’s role, responsibilities and how it was going beyond the call of duty to contact local residents, the students involved and the university to ensure that this wouldn’t happen again.
So rather than a blunt and brainless ‘no comment’ our response was clear, detailed, thoughtful and showed we took the incident very seriously.
THE RIGHT RESULT
When the story went online and in print the reporter was fair to us and we came out of it looking professional, proactive and responsible – which the agency in question certainly is.
We did all we could to reduce any potential negative impact on the agency’s hard earned, good reputation and it worked.
Having a plan for possible negative media attention is a must for any estate agency. It’s like car insurance, you only realise its value when you’ve had a crash and you’re fully covered, or not as the case may be.
I’ve seen agencies really mess this up by ignoring the media and end up with their image and reputation taking a battering.
If you ever find yourselves in a situation where you’re facing up to unwanted media attention my advice is as follows:
Be as proactive and honest as possible. Act quickly and take advantage of your right to reply by getting your side of the story across rather than uttering those two awful and loaded words… ‘no comment.’
Jerry runs www.propertyprexpert.co.uk specialising in helping estate agencies tell their stories, build their brands and stay out of trouble.