In PR, facts tell and emotions sell: Relevance International’s Fiona Harris

By Mickey ALAM KHAN

The role of public relations can never be underestimated in real estate, especially as the luxury end attracts more attention from affluent buyers, investors and developers.

Key to this industry’s growth is the role played by luxury real estate agents who sell the potential of the house to buyers looking to add to their portfolio or live out the next act in their lives. But agents have to constantly maintain market visibility and raise their profile if they have to win upscale listings in a highly competitive pitching process for the right to have that listing on an exclusive basis.

“It’s about surfacing your USPs and answering the “why” question – why you and not another agent,” said Fiona Harris, London-based U.K. managing director for PR agency Relevance International.

Ms. Harris has the chops to opine on this weighty topic. Prior to her current role, she led VIP relations at British department store chain Selfridges. Before that stint, she was international director of public relations at Corinthia Hotels and director of public relations and brand development at Kuoni Travel.

Meanwhile, her time at Condé Nast International in London helped greatly understand the media mindset. Now she serves Relevance’s clients across Europe and other global markets outside the United States (disclaimer: she heads non-U.S. PR for Luxury Portfolio International).

Guiding brokers and their agents in the media is a key mission for Ms. Harris as the scramble for luxury listings continues in an environment where demand considerably outweighs supply. For this effort, PR is key to raise the agent’s public profile and win credibility as a trusted advisor and market expert in the eyes of the seller.

“Individually, a PR strategy will increase the presence and credibility of an agent if their focus is on individual brand profiling,” Ms. Harris said. “Build your social media activity, convey your personality as warm, approachable destination insider and trusted advisor.”

In this Q&A, Ms. Harris outlines the need for PR in this market, the state of luxury real estate worldwide, what smart PR looks like, what type of editorial and content piques the interest of reporters and influencers, the blending of social media and PR, tips on deploying an effective PR strategy for agent and broker, and some of the leading titles covering real estate globally.

Please read on:

Why PR is key in this media cluttered era

  • Increased level of credibility from reliable sources within target audience and ability to talk to any media you wish to target – you are only ever limited by your own creative ideas
  • Opportunity to build brand, values and presence whilst managing reputation
  • Opportunity to work with different story and creative angles to covey a kaleidoscope of messages
  • Ultimately, the trust in editorial as a result of PR efforts is much higher than advertising. And PR is often more cost effective so strong on ROI

The state of luxury real estate PR globally

  • Increased real estate deals globally, with 80 percent across key cities, mainly Asian markets including Singapore, Seoul and Beijing 
  • Investment also at an all-time high: $136 billion in half year 2021 alone in residential markets
  • Race for space continued to lead the luxury market driven by hybrid and flexible living patterns post-pandemic
  • Rise and rise of the UHNW and portfolio house collections
  • Sustainability essential, with ESG across all verticals – from property to fashion to watches and jewelry

What smart PR looks like and how it can impact client acquisition and property sales

  • It’s about surfacing your USPs and answering the “why” question – why you and not another agent. Focus on your strengths, insight, personal style and location features 
  • Describe and then prescribe – after all, you are a destination insider and a trusted advisor all in one. Don’t forget, it’s one of life’s most emotive sells. So, build the human element into all messages
  • Smart PR is done through a defined strategy to achieve goals, whether short-term or longer goals, focusing on building your profile to showcase your sales success and track record to attract more business 
  • Integrated 360 campaigns are key to achieve success across different platforms or mediums as digital PR become more prominent in an age of less print media consumption
  • Smart PR will always have measurables and KPIs set from the outset of the campaigns to ensure results are being delivered to the client

What types of stories, data points and property ​information do the media and influencers want from real estate agents and brokerages?

  • Real-time data, whether it is positive or negative, is always much sought-after across consumer media (Financial Times always wants data to run a story, The Times, Telegraph Luxury), trade titles (Property Week, Estates Gazette, Co Star) wants to focus on big numbers and transactions, whilst lifestyle media (Country& Townhouse, Country Living, Homes & Gardens) look for the unique story behind a property 
  • Look for colour to build stories to excite the imagination. What are the USPs of the location, has the house had a celebrity live in it, does it have an unusual or special feature or history (a beautiful library, an ancient wine cellar, a lookout tower for star gazing), anything noteworthy?

Are social media and PR the same?

  • The lines are blurred between social media and PR in the sense that PR has evolved beyond its print medium into digital PR, which might sound like the same thing as social media but is slightly different
  • Think of social media as citizen journalism – so you can convey your thoughts and photos openly to the world. PR messages are conveyed via the filter of the journalist and their media so you can’t “tell them” what to write
  • From a tech point of view, digital PR has a methodology and strategy in place to drive results – newswires, SEO, key words, syndication, unique content, back links – whereas social media is more about managing your online presence, still using hashtags, etc. to amplify

Examples of how agents can deploy an effective PR strategy individually and in conjunction with their brokerage

  • Individually, a PR strategy will increase the presence and credibility of an agent if their focus is on individual brand profiling. Build your social media activity, convey your personality as warm, approachable destination insider and trusted advisor
  • In terms of their brokerage services, using a corporate strategy will not only elevate their profile but also highlight their capabilities and successes as a broker. Showcase expertise of team, locational footprint, USPs, testimonials from happy clients. But remember, facts tell and emotions sell – so build the emotive connection and don’t be a faceless corporate. Think of how you can build warm and friendly customer touch points into your typical customer journey – whether that be coffee lounges in your brokerage or offering destinations fam-style experiences to customers so they can get under the skin of the location or property
  • Build trusted and proactive relations with your key media so they come to reply on you as expert sources

Influential global media outlets and social media channels for luxury real estate PR

Consumer/Nationals             Trade                               Lifestyle 
Financial Times                      Property Week              Country Life
FT How to Spend It                Estates Gazette             Country & Townhouse
The Times                                 Co Star                            London Magazine
The Telegraph                         React News                   Luxury London
Sunday Times                          Prime Resi                    The Resident
Metro                             
Daily Mail                              
Daily Express
City AM
The Guardian
Bloomberg
The Wall Street Journal
Forbes
CNN
South China Morning Post
Straits Times

Best-practice tips in luxury real estate PR

  • Build your online presence and build rapport with key media and influencers for the long term
  • Define your USPs – flesh out why you are a destination insider and trusted advisor
  • Be different, provide insights and insightful data, be warm

Watch Fiona Harris speak on a recent Luxury Hour panel titled “Raising an agent’s profile with effective PR” here.

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