Public Relations: The Land Real Estate Professional’s Ultimate Weapon

Public Relations has become the most fundamental tool for shaping public opinion, investment markets, company reputations and business outcomes. As a land professional, your career is tied to a commodity with many stakeholders and many opinions on how land is to be managed and regulated. Far from being a “nice to have,” PR defines success—and failure—in today’s world.

Land professionals and Accredited Land Consultants (ALCs) have a right-down-to-the-soil impact on the physical and economic well-being of America. In a high-risk world, land—particularly commodity-producing acreage—offers roots of stability and a solid base for expansion. Land professionals, including brokers, agents, appraisers and auctioneers, together comprise the infrastructure upon which land is profitably conserved, exchanged and utilized.

Public Relations Gets You Known

But who really knows these things about land professionals?

By survey, one of the biggest hurdles a land professional faces is trying to explain what they do, what their knowledge and skills are, and how to care for the land and livestock on that land—free range, antibiotics vs. organic, and so forth. Ninety-eight percent of the general public has no knowledge of agriculture. This is a strong indication that effective public relations is not in play. The objective of PR is to make your business well-known and highly regarded so that you don’t have to repeatedly explain yourself.

If what you do, your purpose and the benefits you provide as a land professional are not clear to your public, some other perception will take its place—one that usually favors a competing interest.

Public Relations is About Reaching Minds: It Manages Emotions and Directs Attention

Public opinion regarding land management, its resources and the concept of stakeholder (the general public) over shareholder (the owners) is being shaped today by social media. And that social media, uncontrolled, has the liability of amplifying emotions over logic, presenting inaccurate data as fact, and omitting balanced points of view. It is a runaway horse, and only the art and science of public relations can manage.

Strong new community realities, such as sustainability; natural resources stake holding; environmental impact management; the control of interrelated natural systems such as navigable waters (Waters of the U.S. or WOTUS) and wildlife habitats—along with many other concerns—have created tension with private ownership. All of these factors influence legislation and can negatively affect land prices. Look carefully at any new legislation that affects land profits or limits sales—or any successful repeal of legislation—and you will usually find a publicity campaign that preceded it.

PR is often confused with activities that are more properly parts of branding, promotion and marketing, or it is thought to be only a plan to put out press releases now and then. While it has high synergy with these activities—even making them more effective—PR has its own precise scope.

It takes only a quick look at the news today to see that we live in highly opinionated times. People with strongly held beliefs and agendas often seek out only the news and information that support their viewpoints, and will disregard conflicting reports. Imagine, for example, trying to sell a fervent Republican on a Democratic candidate—the facts would be flying back and forth, but neither side would be listening to the other. Impasse! PR would need to step in, find the real issues people care about, and either makes a bipartisan solution well known, push a workable compromise, or show one side (or the other) to be the best solution.

PR—not money—is how the world turns today. It’s PR first that determines how the money will be spent.

As simple as it should be, the buying and selling of land will face increasingly complex challenges in the immediate future as more organized groups and government agencies seek to exert influence on how land is managed, transferred and used. Each will be passionate about their position.

Public Relations Creates Agreement

PR is the art and science of creating agreement and cooperation. It achieves this by framing the real issues involved in such a way that both sides might better work together.

Take, for example, the Clean Water Rule. Its stated purpose is to ensure that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are more precisely defined, more predictably determined, and easier for businesses and industry to understand. A visit to the EPA website shows the scope of the rule. But the comments on the regulations.gov website range from fear that individual farms will be decimated to fears that a government conspiracy aims to take over control of farming.

PR exposes the real issues in a strategic fashion in order to gain agreement, and in so doing, a solution often appears that everyone can get behind. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of reframing an issue to eliminate unproductive bias or false data. We want a clean flow of water. We also want viable farms and sustainable lands. Workable resolutions bring about mutual understanding and progress.

Public Relations is Proactive

A recent seminar by Hertz Farm Management, Inc., revealed that most farmers are over sixty-five years of age, and that forty-two percent of them plan to retire within the next five years. Many of them have yet to identify a successor. The number of farmers under the age of thirty-five is dwindling. These factors could change the characteristic of the farm market within this decade—more farms for sale by auction. A land professional who proactively prepares to take on a leadership position will be able to take advantage of shifts in the marketplace—but to do so, requires a PR strategy. Many prospective buyers are investors. They may run their own numbers and valuations, but they look for brokers with strong local savvy—someone who can connect the dots for them and has easily referenced credibility. Keeping yourself in the news, leading thought with insightful articles, and making public your good works are invaluable.

PR releases are written specifically to change perceptions, create strong affinities, forward strategies and form profitable perceptions. They are not fluff pieces full of bragging. Some common errors that show up too often, wasting valuable time and money, include:

  • Written by a committee. You’ve heard that a camel is actually a horse designed by a committee. Don’t let anything you publish sound like it came from a group. No one will read it, and no media will pick it up. Writing has to connect on a one-to-one basis. PR releases with strong points of view and a persuasive story/argument directed at the right public are pure gold.
  • Deliver a relevant message. It is the whole point, really. However, incredibly, it is often missing or overshadowed by less important details. Every PR campaign has, as its purpose, to deliver a specific message and make it stick in the minds of the public. A message is really what the reader comes away thinking, once he or she has read the release.
  • Keep it lean. Factually, you have about 1/125th of a second to grab attention, and from there, every word has to count. Short and sweet communications get read. They stand out from the ocean of verbosity online.
  • It’s not about you. Bad releases often come off as too self-serving and are rarely newsworthy. How great you are is not news, how you can serve your public is.
  • Not written for humans. Releases and web content cranked out to attract the eyes of keyword searchers with sentences built for search engine optimization don’t engage anyone, and make the reader think the writer doesn’t know what he or she is talking about.

Public Relations is Causative—It Gets Results

As a land professional, public relations technology really is your ultimate weapon. You are dealing with the most basic commodity on earth—Earth—and you are living in a time of unprecedented attention on how we manage our natural resources. Your efficient use of PR can help you get out ahead of non-optimum legislation before it happens; influence those who might otherwise oppose you; secure your business leadership; and create a stable future. These benefit everyone.

This article originally appeared in the 2016 Winter Terra Firma Magazine, the official publication of the REALTORS® Land Institute.

Karla Jo Helms, Public RelationsAbout the author: Karla Jo Helms, is the CEO and visionary behind JoTo PR. She has patterned her agency on a combination of her hard-won Public Relations experience, uncompromising high standards and exacting nationwide market research. Karla hosted two breakout sessions and a round table discussion at the 2016 National Land Conference.