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December 2008 / January 2009

Gearing up for marketing yourself in '09

THE ESTATE AGENCY

THERE is frost on the ground and the bitter wind of recession is blowing, but at The Frost Partnership, with 13 offices in the Thames Valley, the Chilterns and Middlesex, managing director John Frost and his staff are busy warming up business for 2009, with a co-ordinated canvassing campaign.

“Since August we have expanded our lettings services throughout all of our offices and with the increase in demand for lettings we have used more canvassing cards over the past six months, with a very good response,” said company spokesperson Nicky Frost.

“They work and therefore we do invest in this type of marketing. We use two types of canvassing cards — one is the ‘sold or let in your road’ style, targeted at roads/villages where we have had a recent success.

“This form of canvassing is still used a great deal, although there has been a lesser percentage used recently due to the slower sales market.

“The other kind is our generic canvassing cards, displaying our services, which are still used frequently for sales.

“In January we will also be publishing and direct mailing our newsletter to over 100,000 homes in the areas we serve. Throughout the year we have three mailings with a total circulation of over 300,000.

“This mailout is organised via the Royal Mail. The cost is high, but we firmly believe that it is important to keep the company brand at the top of people’s minds.

“The newsletter is designed to keep our local residents in touch with the local property market and our company activities. We also promote a selection of properties in the bulletin, too.

“I have ‘upped the ante’ on PR through our regional papers and national press when the opportunity arises. The response to PR has been very encouraging, with a welcome amount of viewing requests as a result.

“We have maintained a strong advertising presence in the regional property papers. We advertise in four main regional papers with a readership of approx 250,000.

“After reducing the pages in most papers due to the time of year and the lack of activity in the run-up to Christmas, our full advertising schedule will resume in the New Year.

“Like most businesses we are very aware of our stationery costs at the moment. Many of our property details are matched and e-mailed out to applicants where possible.”

As far as property portals are concerned, The Frost Partnership, said Nicky, are on Rightmove, Findaproperty, Propertylive.co.uk and Globrix, with banner advertising on Globrix.

“We have recently assessed the responses to all these portals and as a result have recently come off one of the major portals due to the lack of leads generated,” she said. “As the market changes we will re-assess our position on this.

“As a company we believe in supporting our local community and therefore we have sponsored local Christmas and school events and charities.

“We have donated money towards a local cause and helped to print leaflets and promote the events locally using branded signage. In return we have good publicity and high brand presence in the area.

“Generally we have cut costs where possible, but compared to most estate agents in our areas, we are remaining active with the intention of coming through these more challenging times in a good position to move forward quickly.”

As the housing market contracts and times are tough, promotion and marketing needs are changing for estate agencies all over the country. As 2009 beckons, with little promise of brighter economic fortunes generally, we asked agents and a printing firm which has long served the needs of agents, how promotional needs are altering in this difficult market.

Star Melfyn Williams, the former National Association of Estate Agents president, who is a partner in award-winning North Wales firm Williams and Goodwin, spoke of his reasons for optimism in the last edition of EAN — and reports that the agency is “managing OK so far, with sales agreed in October up in all three offices on October 2007”.

“The market is tough but with the right attitude and sales force we are making it happen,” he said. “We’ve not really changed promotional/printing/marketing material other than increasing quality and contrary to most agents we’ve also increased newspaper advertising.

“For several years, we’ve used mail drops and have done so again this year. The message is more about confidence now and bricks and mortar being a good investment, reminding people property is not a six-month investment.

“We’ve never been extravagant so the need to cut costs is less with us. We’ve always had a policy of watching the pennies even in boom times — isn’t that what good business people do?”

THE PRINTING FIRM

DESIGNHAUS.EU have long been a leading provider of printed matter to estate agents, previously under the name Abel Drew Printhaus, and spokesperson Sharon Milner says there was a massive downturn in volumes starting in May across all products.

“That covers stationery, administration and marketing,” she said. “It continues and we see no short-term improvement.

“Customers are cutting their stationery from double-sided printing to single-sided, cutting from full colour to two colours and using a single design for both letterheads and details sheets instead of two separate ones. This all adds up to a larger order at a lower unit price, which represents better value for the client.

“They are abandoning exotic papers and branded paper stocks like Ghorsmule and Conqueror and using regular stocks like our LaserJet and Super LaserJet stocks for better value.

“Agents are having business cards printed with “presented by” and the branch address, but not specifically for a named individual so the cards can be used by any member of staff in that branch.

“A number of agents have closed their shops and gone ‘mobile’ or are working from home. We have been helping them with rebranding to make the best of this. Our help has covered straplines and unique selling points for new business models.

“Letting agents seem to be holding up well, but to maintain their position in a competitive market we have produced top quality brochures to cement their position against newcomers.

“In the last few weeks we have seen a modest improvement in the number of canvassing card orders with customers making solid preparations for a canvassing push in January.

“Most popular at the moment are canvassing cards with calendars on the back. The logic is that they have ‘intrinsic value’.

“The householder is likely to hang on to them for many months as they have some long -term use and value. The feedback we get is that when agents go on a valuation visit they find the cards pinned to a notice board or stuck on the fridge — typically with toddlers’ magnetic letters!

“Also, cards with a photographic pun and an uplifting message are very popular.”