Negative Perceptions Affecting Your Student Housing Lease Up? Consider PR.

by Katie Sloan

A careful, targeted plan that doesn’t always avoid negative news can be just the key.

Melissa DiGianfilippoA successful, quick lease-up is the number one goal for student housing communities – whether it’s a new build or an existing community. In some cases, property owners and management companies are faced with challenges that seem impossible to overcome to achieve a successful lease up… those challenges can often be related to negative perceptions of the community in the marketplace. It may have started with a minor crime at the community, or perhaps it started before the property was even built because a historic structure was taken down to make way for your new student housing community. There are endless reasons why negative perceptions are formed, and they don’t always make sense.

I’ve seen this happen for both new developments and existing communities, and I’ve seen it completely kill the lease-up when it’s not addressed.

Any branding or marketing expert will tell you that altering the perception of something in the minds of your target audience is a time consuming and grueling process; however, there is a light at the end of the tunnel – a strategic public relations campaign may be the solution to shift those perceptions. PR has the ability to positively impact your community’s reputation in the marketplace by reaching the right audience – whether that is students, parents, university officials or the general community.

A truly effective PR campaign that generates media buzz and community awareness will directly impact your bottom line by capturing the attention of your target audience and shifting their mindset about your community.

So where do you start?

There are four major components of a successful PR campaign:

1. Pinpoint the true source(s) of the perception problem. Don’t beat around the bush and don’t sugar coat it, because the media certainly won’t. The PR professional you work with will need to fully understand the scope of the issue in order to best address it.

2. Create key messages that directly address the source of the problem. What do you want your target audience to know about how you addressed the issue? What other positives are happening at your community? Focusing on your community’s positives can reverse the negative perceptions and make those negatives seem minor in comparison. If you don’t have anything new – create something! Come up with a super creative contest or unique offering that will not only differentiate you, but will also “shock” the market… in a good way. Be sure to identify one key spokesperson who knows the key messages inside out, and have your PR professional go through basic media training with them.

3. Identify your target media and key public list – do your research to ensure you are pitching the right person at the right outlet, and that you are also spreading the messages to other relevant key constituents. PR professionals know how do conduct this research to find the right reporter and all their contact information.

4. Develop your “story” in the form of not only a formal press release, but also in a variety of media pitches that feature a custom angle for each media outlet. Package your story together in the right way for each media person to secure coverage and come up with a variety of follow-up angles that are sure to get the reporter to bite. Be prepared and ready to rock when they agree to cover the story.

I know what you are thinking. You are wondering “why revisit the negativity… especially with the media?” This is where I encourage you to take a step back and shift your way of thinking – don’t let the fear of the unknown be the one thing holding your community back from achieving a lease-up. The media is going to cover the negative in almost every scenario, but if you take control of the message and develop a new, positive story while addressing the past negative story, you will win. I firmly believe that not all PR is good PR, but I do subscribe to the belief that by controlling the message the media receives and fostering a relationship, you will secure positive coverage and earn more leases.

I would be happy to share specific examples with you of how we have used strategic public relations campaigns to overcome these issues for many student housing communities across the United States. Feel free to contact me at [email protected] or at (602) 283-5209.

-Melissa DiGianfilippo is a partner and the vice president of public relations for Serendipit Consulting, a public relations, marketing, branding and event-planning firm with a specialization in the student housing market.

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