Cut print, but fill the value vacuum

If years of business turbulence and dubious ad performance weren’t enough to move you to eliminate your print newspaper spend, yesterday’s Tribune bankruptcy may be the signal you’ve been waiting for.

The Los Angeles Times killed its once-great real estate section three months ago. Now they’re bankrupt. There are lots of sad things about this, but none of them have to do with brokers who have paid too much for too long for ads that are, as Google’s Avinash Kaushik would say, “Faith-based initiatives.”

Truth be told, most brokers know continuing to pour money into print makes no sense from a strict ROI perspective. These ads don’t sell houses. There are two major barriers that come up time and again in our discussions with brokers struggling with the need to right-size and update their marketing budgets to reflect reality:

1. Sellers expect to see their home advertised in print

2. I need to be in papers to maintain my brand

These are legitimate concerns. Cutting print off at the knees probably will hurt you if you do not take action to fill the void of perceived value you create by doing so. This action cannot be taken in isolation.

Most brokers don’t yet know how to fill the void and thus remain handcuffed to the old way they know makes no sense. They may cut a little here, shrink a little there. But the P&L still tells the same story.

It need not be so.

The embrace of listings syndication by brokerages was a step in the right direction. But it’s just a start. A new marketing plan needs to be built upon the ruins of the old model. One that can be presented compellingly to consumers, the performance of which can be measured, and the value of which hangs not so much on money spent, but expertise and technology leveraged.

I refuse to accept that most sellers — the median age of whom was 39 last year — aren’t open to a well-thought out electronic marketing strategy in lieu of the quarter-page ad in which their home shares center stage with an agent head shot.

As for the branding question? We’ve known for ten years that the first place consumers go in the real estate process is online. Plenty of room for branding there, even, despite what you might think, in the sterile world of CPC.

So, the reasons why many brokers persist with print are valid — but only for those unwilling to to take commensurate action to replace it.

It can be done. We’re working with several companies right now to do it. They’ve stopped writing the big checks and sleep well for having done it.

Brian Boero