Head in the Media Sand

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We can blame the media for our condition in the housing industry or we can pick our heads up and act now to control our own situation. Editorial Director Paul Deffenbaugh discusses the media's relationship to the current state of the housing industry.

April 01, 2008

In recent months, I have seen a lot of housing industry people turn and point their fingers at the media. Their claim: the media's reporting is the reason for the lack of consumer confidence in the housing industry. Their thinking is that if the media would just report it is a good time to buy a house, everything would be OK.

People who make that charge have their heads buried in the sand. The reality is the media — both consumer and business — are reporting on an industry in a free fall. We haven't reached the bottom of this downturn yet, and most economists I hear are uncertain when that will happen. There are just too many potential blips out there that can affect what happens. Mortgages, foreclosures, financial institution failures, Fed rates, land prices, consumer confidence, even politics — any one or combination of these influences could alter the direction or trend of the housing industry.

Everyone here knows it is bad. The question isn't how we get the media to start changing perceptions so people will begin beating a path to our models again. The question is about how we manage our companies for a sustained period of poor activity. For some builders, it is already too late. They have either already closed the doors or are behind the eight ball on cash flow and just haven't realized yet how bad their condition is.

I don't mean to excuse the media of any responsibility. We do have a tendency to report only the extremes of events. When times are difficult, bad coverage feeds bad coverage. But when the industry was in a rush, we sure did benefit from good media coverage, didn't we? My point: we can't complain now when we didn't complain before. The media is the media. Or, "It is what it is."

So, what do you do? First, get your ship in trim shape. Pull whatever bandages off now because, believe me, you will be removing those bandages in this downturn. Get it over with. Now.

Second, take control of your story. Never in the history of the world have individuals had such access to broadcast media, allowing them to reach millions of people with little cost. Use your Web site, electronic newsletters and all the other media tools you have to communicate with your clients and prospects. Tell them the truth about your company directly — without media's influence.

paul.deffenbaugh@reedbusiness.com

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