Note to OnTheMarket - journalists aren't enemies

OnTheMarket has launched with a multi-million pound advertising campaign and a strong reliance on individual agents doing their bit to spread the message and logo.

I have no doubt that within a short while it will be a regular part of the residential industry landscape.

But while OTM emphasises an uncluttered look and avoidance of distracting information which gets in the way of purely selling and letting homes, it risks throwing the baby out with the bathwater - and losing a lot of free promotion in the process.

If you want to see what I mean, look at the Daily Mail property pages on January 16.

In one particular article on buyers (written by me, in fact, but don’t let that put you off) there was this quote from a Knight Frank agent giving advice to purchasers. “Check out all the websites including Mouseprice, PrimeLocation and Zoopla. These give an indication of how long a property has been on the market.”

The important point here is not the irony that Knight Frank is in fact a founder of OnTheMarket and has now stopped using Zoopla. No, the important point is that the quote from Knight Frank gave completely free publicity for Zoopla (and therefore the agents who use it) in a newspaper that is one of the most popular in Britain.

More importantly these days, that quote - and de facto plug for Zoopla - will be on Mail Online, which is the world’s most read English language newspaper website.

If you don’t see the point I’m making, look at the stories that appeared on January 19.

They were in the Daily Telegraph, Yorkshire Post, Wolverhampton Express and Star, The Guardian, the Western Morning News and scores - yes, literally scores - of other newspapers across the country and websites across the world.

They all quoted Rightmove’s house price index. Each story mentioned the portal by name, at least once, and at no direct cost to Rightmove itself or agents who advertise on it.

Please don’t get carried away by the fact that many agents hate Zoopla’s gizmos like its algorithm for calculating ‘valuations’ and that as Rightmove uses asking prices rather than genuine sales data its house price ‘index’ may be rather less authoritative than it could be.

The point is that these things like valuations, reduction information and indices, which OnTheMarket may regard as ‘distracting information’, actually give its rivals significant volumes of editorial publicity and authority, at no direct cost to agents.

And because estate agents and buying agents cite Zoopla and Rightmove when they talk to newspapers and broadcasters, extra authority is added to these portals. It’s gradual and happens over time, but it helps them become part of everyday life - and very valuable, in the process.

It is possible OnTheMarket may yet recognise the importance of publicity like this, although it has made a point of not being particularly friendly to most journalists so far.

And some of OTM’s founding agents, whose large press offices are efficient and cheerful about their own activities, are distinctly scratchy and less efficient about OTM enquiries.

That’s life. And it’s not a problem for journalists if OnTheMarket continues to turn its nose up at most newspapers and websites - perhaps that will make it popular in some quarters.

But having these ‘distractions’ to provide regular copy for national and local newspapers, TV, radio, websites and blogs isn’t half a good way of building a brand and increasing public awareness.

This is especially so if, as may be the case with OnTheMarket, it hasn’t persuaded its leading agents to commit a marketing spend to rival Rightmove or Zoopla.

So good luck OnTheMarket. But don’t forget - journalists aren’t enemies.

This blog originally appeared in the Industry Views section of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today

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