Author Chat: Steve Van Yoder

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey

Public relations and marketing expert Steven Van Yoder responds to your previously submitted questions about his book Get Slightly Famous (Bay Tree Publishing, 2007).

When you live in a big city where networks are often already established, how do you suggest getting acquainted with real estate reporters so you become a trusted source?

VAN YODER: Start by familiarizing yourself with the local media outlets. Then, tailor your inside knowledge to the needs of the media. The first step in any media campaign is identifying relevant media outlets, and the key people within those organizations. Build a list of newspapers, magazines, newsletters, and radio and television programs where you want coverage. Visit your public library and familiarize yourself with the media resources available in the business reference section. In large urban libraries look for media directories (such as Bacons Media Source, Burrells, and others) that include information on thousands of media outlets.

Once you’ve identified the media outlets that seem appropriate for your business, get the names of key people, including relevant reporters, editors, producers, and writers. Look up articles written in the past year or so by their top reporters to learn the specific subject areas they cover and to better understand their interests and special angles. Then, you’ll be in a position to approach your targeted media and pitch them your expertise in a relevant way.

How would you suggest putting your fame-building concepts into action if you’re a start up with little money? Where is the best place to invest money to generate fame when you’re just starting off?

VAN YODER: What everything in the book has in common is that it doesn’t cost a lot of money to implement. This is not a book based on hype or fancy brochures or slick ads. It’s a modern take on the good-old fashioned virtue of understanding your customer and doing well by doing good work. Small businesses, especially those in start-up mode, should look for ways to specialize, rather than being “one-size-fits-all” real estate professionals. Avoid going after a broad, undefined market, acting like a deep sea fishing vessel casting a huge net over the ocean.

A powerful strategy is cultivating a “super niche.” A super niche is when you can proactively target a particular market segment, get to know its inhabitants inside and out, and become the business of choice within your industry to members of that niche. Then, you specialize your products and services to the unmet needs of the most qualified prospects in your super niche.

This is what Tom Williams, of WestMark REALTORS® in Lubbock, Texas, accomplished when he began his career in real estate. Looking for ways to differentiate himself, he soon noticed that the majority of his colleagues gravitated to older, repeat clients who were comfortable with the home-buying process. Because conventional wisdom says that first-time home buyers are too much trouble and not worth the small commissions, Williams realized he could have this potentially lucrative market to himself. He threw himself into his newly discovered niche with great success, and his clients found his dedication, advice, and upbeat attitude refreshing.

What can you do if the media keeps picking the least important information and the worst quotes from your interview? How can you make yourself more quotable?

VAN YODER: Journalists have complete control over what they write, or don’t write, about your company. I suspect that if you’re landing interviews, but are not seeing the quality of coverage you’d like, you are not adequately preparing for interviews to ensure you give the journalist the best information they need.

Before interviews, ask journalists to provide short, e-mail lists of questions to help you prepare. Then, outline the messages you want to convey. Make sure your interview positions your business in a way consistent with your brand identity. Create an outline you can refer to as the interview takes place. Thorough pre-interview preparation will help you stay on track and remember the points you want to get across.

You must also learn to speak in a way that makes you worth mentioning. You must be able to express yourself succinctly and memorably. Practice condensing your key points into brief, clear sentences. A good quote ensures that you get mentioned in the final story. The better you become at speaking quotably, the more journalists will want to call you.

The more exposure you get, the more at risk you become if something goes wrong, such as if you make a bad prediction or give wrong advice. How do you protect yourself from the backlash of fame if things don’t go well?

VAN YODER: This is a misguided concern. Nobody — your clients, your associates, or the media — expect you to preach perfection from the mountaintop. As a professional, you have expertise. As long as you don’t overreach, or make sweeping projections or opinions that are not based on the facts at hand, you’ll be fine.

As an expert, media resource, and thought leader, you must actively seek out new evidence that impacts your theories and assumptions. Keep on the lookout for statistics, case studies, and research that either substantiates or refutes your thinking. You don’t need an ultimate truth, but you do need to articulate your position clearly and have the relevant facts close at hand.

With all the competition in cyberspace, how can you make your Web site standout from your competitors?

VAN YODER: When evaluating your Web presence, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How does your business look in the first couple of seconds when somebody types your name in to Google or another major search engine?
  • Does your business come up at all?
  • Do top Web sites in your industry link to your site?
  • Does any media exposure appear in your search results?

The most effective strategy for boosting your online presence and findability involves sharing your knowledge, giving your expertise generously and frequently in a variety of online formats. Make your Web site a source of timely, objective information for your niche. If you specialize in working with older home owners, provide resources, such as articles, a blog, audio and video content, checklists and assessments that help your visitors better deal with the particularities of their situation.

On the Web, content is king. If your Web site is a useful resource, a hub for those seeking information related to your business, it will then quite naturally increase its findability by being relevant to your target customers. Strive to produce a few hundred words of new content at least twice a week to ensure that your Web site is search engine-friendly.

How can a real estate professional gain positive word of mouth advertising about their services in their community?

VAN YODER: In a high-touch, high-trust industry such as real estate, people do business with people, not faceless companies. Getting involved in your community will help you make valuable personal connections you need with members of your target market.

Identify clubs, networks, and associations where members of your target market congregate. Visit a few meetings and join organizations that show promise for advancing your business. Don’t just join, get involved and take a leadership position. The surest way to earn recognition and trust in networking is by positioning yourself as a leader and contributor to the group.

Consider opportunities for public speaking, which can be the fastest, easiest, and cheapest way to establish yourself as a thought leader, and give you tremendous credibility that increases over time.

Identify trade shows, associations and conferences that customers and industry influencers are attending, and get on their panels or lead workshops. You don’t have to be there in-person to give a talk that reaches your target market. Online chats and teleconferences, using either your own or others Web sites or telephone lines, can help you reach a lot of people eager to hear your message.

Melissa Tracey

Melissa Dittmann Tracey is a contributing editor for REALTOR® Magazine, writing about home & design trends, technology, and sales and marketing. She manages the magazine's award-winning Styled, Staged & Sold blog.

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  1. To answer your first question about getting acquainted with real estate reporters, in addition to the ideas listed above, it’s important to understand the focus of an editor. They’re generally interested in larger industry trends and not necessarily just about what you’re focusing on. Pitching an editor on something you or your company has done is fine, but try to take a look at the larger industry issues that are impacting everyone. For instance, in an article we worked on for the Wall Street Journal for DocuSign focused on a particular topic – the growth of eSignatures – but we included a number of customers to highlight the growth in the industry and not just focus on what the vendor said.