Getting the Word Out: Leveraging Public Relations and Social Media to Promote Your Expertise Locally – NMP Skip to main content

Getting the Word Out: Leveraging Public Relations and Social Media to Promote Your Expertise Locally

Bob Zeitlinger
Apr 24, 2012

Referrals are the lifeblood of any successful mortgage firm and mortgage professional. Do right by a homebuyer, illustrate expertise in navigating the mortgage system, and credibility is built with the client. “Use my guy,” says the client to family, friends and co-workers. “He really knows his stuff.” Sometimes, though, referrals are not enough to keep the number of leads coming in, especially in this economy. It can be frustrating for hard-working and conscientious mortgage professionals, whose knowledge and expertise blows away others in the industry, yet loses business to these same less qualified competitors. More often, smart mortgage executives are leveraging the media and social media in order to display their knowledge and drive business. Some call it public relations, media relations or publicity. These folks are easy to spot. They seem to be quoted in the local paper discussing trends in mortgage applications or home-buying, and/or the movement of interest rates. If you “Google Search” their names, you will probably see their mortgage-oriented Facebook pages, Web sites, Twitter accounts and/or blogs. Any knowledgeable mortgage professional with a good sense of what’s going on in the local market can do it as well—it just takes time, effort and a little understanding of the process. Remember, though, that it doesn’t need to be an all or nothing effort. Many mortgage professionals are active in social media, while others rely on traditional public relations to build their “brand” and show off their expertise. Public relations Mortgage professionals expend a great deal of time and effort learning regulations, understanding the local marketplace and how to solve problems for their clients. It almost seems a waste not to share that knowledge with as wide an audience as possible. Because homebuying is the largest purchase most people make in their lifetime, there is an ongoing appetite for this type of information. And a variety of media—newspapers, Web sites, and television and radio news outlets—have and will continue to feed that appetite by covering the topic of homebuying. Some deride public relations or publicity as shameless self-promotion. And it can be if the entire effort promotes only yourself and your firm. Profile stories are great, and can point out your success, and how that success is based on helping clients. But a profile is a one-time story. Once the local paper runs a profile on you or the firm, it could be many, many years before it would even consider another one, if ever. The mortgage firms and advisors which leverage the media the best are the ones who promote not themselves, but their expertise. The expertise shows up in stories that address challenges that homebuyers are facing. At a time when the potential homebuyer is reading about how to secure the lowest interest rate, he or she reads a mortgage executive’s commentary, and has that executive has just been added to a short list of mortgage pros they will call. Successful mortgage pros view themselves as important advisors in the homebuying process. Most reporters, and just about all first-time home buyers, don’t have the same intimate knowledge. Even second-time buyers or those refinancing have generally not kept up with changes since their last mortgage application. Not only are you promoting your firm and your individual expertise, but you are actually doing a favor for the reporter. If done correctly, mortgage advisors can be a valuable resource to them over time. The real estate or personal finance reporter’s job is to provide their readership with useful information that enables them to save time and money. It’s easy to see how that overlaps with what the mortgage firm and mortgage professional’s goals as well. How to get started ►Determine the local media outlets where real estate and homebuying issues are discussed: Typically, this list includes the local and regional daily newspapers, weekly newspapers, and any local, news-oriented Web sites. Also, to be considered are business publications are any local TV or radio news outlets. If increasing referrals among accountants and attorneys is a goal, regional trade publications reaching these audiences can also be included. ►Read or watch these media outlets: Review their Web sites, and search terms such as “real estate,” “homebuying” and “mortgages” on these sites. See which reporters have covered these areas and what types of stories they write. In most cases, contact information for reporters can be gathered on the media’s Web site. At the larger media outlets, there should be a reporter who covers real estate or personal finance. ►Introduce yourself: Whether it’s via phone or e-mail, simply state your firm, who you are and your credentials. Provide background on your firm and on yourself. If representing a mortgage firm, offer information on individual mortgage professionals and areas of specific expertise. Some may specialize in home mortgages; others in commercial lending; others in Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans; or some on refinances. Offer to be a “source” to the reporter and list the topics upon which you or your firm can comment. You can even suggest an introductory meeting. Aside from an initial phone call, it is typically best to e-mail reporters with ideas and information. ►Stay in touch, even if the initial conversation doesn’t result in an interview or meeting: As you come across interesting information, forward it on to the reporter. If you notice a trend or any changes in the local marketplace, send that as well. If it is an important development, suggest that it may make a good story for the reporter’s readers. Regular communications—at least once a month, but not more than once a week—is vital. Help set the agenda for reporters. It’s okay to suggest stories, but just as often, your role as source is to provide an update on what’s going on in the market. Help the reporter connect the dots. Here’s an example: “You may have seen statistics about falling mortgage approvals. I’ve noticed a drop as well, and attribute it to new constraints put on lenders because of pressure from federal financial regulators. My firm is still doing solid volume, but the approval process is much more labor intensive these days. If you are interested in a story along these lines, I can provide further commentary.” Don’t be surprised if the reporter doesn’t response to your offer right away. I’ve had reporters call six months after suggesting a story to say that they’re now ready to work on it. Even if the reporter doesn't want to pursue a story suggestion for whatever reason, he or she may be working on a different story and looking for insight or perspective. “I just happen to be working on a story about the right time to refinance,” a reporter might say. “Do you work with homeowners on this often? What kinds of advice do you give them?” If you don’t specialize in refinancing, refer the reporter to someone in your network who can answer the questions. Part of being a valuable source is helping reporters find appropriate sources. They know that no one mortgage professional will have expertise in all areas. The reporters appreciate your helpfulness. ►Know what a reporter considers newsworthy: Following a reporter’s coverage of the local real estate market should provide a sense of what is worthy of coverage. Usually it can be summed up in one word: Changes. Anything that deviates from the norm (think “man bites dog”) is a candidate for a story. Think changes in laws, regulations, interest rates, fees, and types of mortgage options available. ►Provide examples of newsworthy information that is available monthly: Every month, real estate and personal finance reporters write on the current state of mortgage rates. This provides an opportunity to contact these reporters at least once a month to let them know your thoughts on changes to available rates and their effects on would-be homebuyers and refinancing plans. ►A client’s problem may also illustrate an issue of interest: Here’s an example: “I’m working on more FHA applications than ever before. Many of these folks are now self-employed or under-employed, and are going the FHA route.” ►Alert reporters to changes in regulations, or proposed changes in regulation: Reporters are busy and may not be aware of a major piece of regulatory reform being proposed. Let them know what’s being suggested, the impetus for it, and the expected ramifications. If you have a position for or against this, great. If not, that’s okay as well. As long as you can put the proposed rules in context. Will it have an impact on homebuyers and their ability to get a mortgage? Will it increase costs? These are just some of the questions a reporter will have. The more you can answer them, the quicker you’ll rise in their rank of “go-to sources.” Some opportunities will be based on news, such as drops or increases in interest rates. Some will be more feature-oriented and less timely. Here are just three examples:  ♦15-year, 30-year, ARM? Deciding the best mortgage for you ♦New rules, more documentation: Stricter standards means more paperwork for buyers ♦Top five tips for ensuring a smooth mortgage ►When working with reporters, etiquette and ethics are important: There are several unwritten rules for working with reporters. When offering ideas and information, don’t send one mass e-mail to them. Ideally, you are fostering individual relationships with all of these reporters. Some will devote more time and space to real estate issues; some only cover news-related items; others write features on homebuying. Sending one e-mail to all guarantees that a good portion of the e-mails will be inappropriate. If one reporter calls to get comments for a specific story, don’t share this with competing reporters. Reporters at different media outlets are very competitive with one another. Disclosing what one reporter is working on to another is a series breach of trust. ►Be cognizant of a reporter’s deadlines: The scene from the movie of the reporter rushing to finish a story on deadline is not Hollywood make-believe. These folks are on deadline just about every day or every week. If you don’t have time to speak with a reporter immediately, ask when their deadline is, and try your best to meet it. If you can’t, refer the interview to someone else in your network. Social media Back in the day, a daily newspaper, TV station or magazine used to be one of the few ways to communicate to large audiences. The advent of the Internet, and more recently, the popularity of social media allows for just about anyone to be a publisher of online information. There are many social media outlets available to mortgage professionals, including Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and blogs. The “social” part of social media is that these sites encourage a conversation and allow for interaction. These sites provide a way to push content out—whether it was created by the mortgage firm or by someone else. Remember, content used on social media sites should be similar in nature to information used in the public relations efforts. It’s okay to provide content on you and your firm, but you need to engage site visitors with information that captures their interest. How many people will come back repeatedly to read about you and your products? LinkedIn, primarily for business, has “Groups” such as real estate attorneys and accountants, designed for foster dialogues and share information. YouTube has the ability for mortgage firms and mortgage professionals to create their own “Channels.” While “boy coming home from dentist” videos still dominate, more and more businesses are creating channels to convey useful information. With a task as important and personal as securing a mortgage, providing a prospect the opportunity to see and hear directly from the mortgage firm via video can be a big boost. Like YouTube, more companies and business professionals are using Facebook to provide information and communicate with past clients and prospects. Having former clients “Friend” you and your business is a tremendous marketing tool. Having them post photos of the home you helped them finance is even better. Like the public relations effort, this can take a great deal of work. The good news again is that you don’t have to use every social media tool available. You can focus on Facebook, or a blog or whatever one you believe is most useful. Bob Zeitlinger is the founder and managing director of B to Z Communications, a full-service public relations firm in northern New Jersey. Zeitlinger has more than 20 years media relations and marketing experience for a variety of clients in the financial and professional services industries. He may be reached by phone at (201) 244-1213 or e-mail [email protected]
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