COVID-19 forces Property360 to rethink real estate content in a digitally focused world

By Vivian Warby

ANA Publishing

Cape Town, South Africa

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Brands have rapidly evolved over the past few months.

For us at Property360, the coronavirus fundamentally changed who we were as we faced the critical issue of staying relevant in a worldwide crisis. It is something we in the media all still grappling with daily as the “new abnormal” shifts the ground under our feet.

The outbreak of COVID-19 was the impetus for Property360 to fully embrace the digital transition.
The outbreak of COVID-19 was the impetus for Property360 to fully embrace the digital transition.

Our brand — both print and online — services the real estate world of buyers, sellers, landlords, tenants, and estate agents, plus the industry’s many offshoots. Even pre-COVID-19, the strain on our main revenue source (print) was beginning to show, and so we started laying the foundation to turn to a digital platform. When the virus reached us, we lost 80% to 90% of our revenue and had to pivot from being reliant on print for advertising revenue to creating new digital opportunities for our clients and readers.

We also went from being a “soft” read with weekly features to becoming a hard news brand, breaking stories by the hour to provide our readers and clients with insight as they tried to make sense of the new rules and regulations under hard lockdown.

We saw a gap. And because of our wide and deep networks and contacts in the market, were able to fill it. Almost overnight we went from producing about 120 print pages in the form of tabloid supplements, magazines, and some broadsheet pages in the main body of national newspapers, to having only about six broadsheet pages in national newspapers a week. Now the focus was on rapidly updating our digital platforms.

We kept in daily contact with our main clients. We also used social media to aid readers find answers to practical questions, such as when they would be able to relocate to new properties which they were prevented from doing due to lockdown restrictions. We also backed the industry call for the reopening of the real estate market, which had been totally shut down.

Because we had put some of our print products online before the pandemic in the form of PDF flipbooks, we were easily able to switch to digital-only magazines to bring our usual product to our many readers who were no longer able to leave their homes to buy their daily newspaper. We worked out deals with clients to give them access to another way of broadcasting their messages.

We also worked with our parent company to come up with new subscription models. Our weekly newsletter was increasingly being accessed and our digital-only magazine was welcomed.

But it was tough going. We noticed our users and readers splitting into two streams: those interested only in the hard property news and those who were more drawn to the home-related news. To this end we made a quick decision to split the brand into two.

I believe that much of what brands do now will determine whether they limp into 2021 — or roar into it.

No matter what is going on behind the scenes — and a lot is — the product and all it promises needs to be delivered smoothly to the consumer. Readers are astute, and it is not only companies that are “agile” and “pivoting” — so are the readers who are quick to pick up discrepancies and to swap brands.

The big reset made it clear that many readers could do without certain brands. And in the past few months, we’ve watched the sad demise of many iconic mastheads — products that were teetering on the edge even before the outbreak of COVID-19.

To survive, I believe we need to consolidate what we do and keep offering readers and clients a consistently agile brand that is quick to adapt and serve. As COVID-19 fatigue sets in, we have seen a drop in traffic to our dedicated coronavirus sites. Now it is not so much the breaking news stories that draw readers as those offering practical advice on how to navigate the new normal.

As a news agency I believe it is our duty, scary and confusing as the future seems, to help make sense of it all. We have tried to do that at Property360, and our growing number of users says that perhaps we are getting it right.

But more than all the above, I believe it is also our job to help start building bridges to the future, giving readers and clients hope. To this end we have started a series reimagining the property market.

And it is not only our products we need to re-examine. We also need to start reimagining who we as the media could be. We need to pause and ask: How do we want to be remembered in the decades to come? What sort of brand were we? What could we have done better? And once we have the answers, we need to act on them.

Our readers and our clients will demand this of us, but so too will our industry — if it is to survive.

About Vivian Warby

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