If you had a vacancy problem 30 years ago, you knew what to do:
- Call up your print directory.
- Put some signs out front.
- Call the newspaper.
The good news is the tasks were simple.
The bad news is it didn't actually work that well. It was expensive, inefficient, and not particularly responsive to the unique challenges a community faces throughout the year. It still worked because everyone was working under these limitations so it was, at least, fair. But no one would call it efficient or particularly effective.
Today both sides of that have been turned on their head:
The tasks we do as apartment marketers have become more complex, but the results have also improved—or at least the options available to us when we build our own apartment websites give us the potential for improved results.
Of course, when tasks are more complicated, you need the requisite expertise to accomplish them and you need the time to complete them. More basic still, you need to understand the various marketing techniques and your unique situation well enough to know what is needed in your particular context.
This is where many apartment marketers run into trouble. Two problems present themselves almost immediately:
- First, there are simply too many marketing tactics out there for any one person to master them all.
- Second, knowing how to market any individual community—let alone an entire portfolio—requires good judgment, a deep understanding of marketing tactics, and time to do all that needs done.
For both those reasons, many apartment communities find themselves consulting with some kind of marketing agency to assist them in their work.
In this post, we will walk you through some of the key questions to consider as you're evaluating agencies.
Is the agency an entire team or a solo operation?
Doing apartment marketing effectively in a digital age requires a lot of moving parts to come together.
- You need to have high quality, floorplan-specific videos and photos.
- You need a community website.
- You need to be showing up on search engines.
- You need to be using Craigslist.
- You need to be using some kind of paid advertising online. This will usually be Google Ads, but sometimes Facebook Ads can also deliver results.
Is it possible that there's a single person out there somewhere with all those skills? Sure, it's possible. Digital photography has made that medium more accessible than ever before. There are ways to teach yourself web development. Google offers free resources to learn how to use Ads and there are hundreds of books out there on search engine optimization.
So, yes, it is possible to find a one-person shop that can do all of this for you. But you probably won't.
The first thing you'll want to establish is whether the "agency" you're hiring is just one person or if they have a team of experts that bring their various skills together to serve their clients.
How much of their work is templated versus custom?
Another aspect to this question is how much of the agency's work is built around a template versus how much is custom. Here there is a trade-off: Templates allow agencies to service more communities, to launch new communities affordably, and to keep rates down—because they don't need as many individual clients to keep the lights on.
Custom work, of course, does help your community to stand out more if it is done well. But it also increases expense. Significantly, it also makes your community a sort of de facto guinea pig for the agency. When you work from a template, you can say "we know this template works well so if there is a problem with this community, we already know what the problem is not which makes it easier to identify what the problem is." With custom work, in contrast, it is entirely possible that the web design you just spent five figures on is all wrong and won't work for your community.
If you're working with an agency that uses a template, it is important to ask why the template is set up the way it is. If the agency does custom work for every client, it is important to ask how they know that a design will work if they have never had a site like that live before. Put another way, you might ask, "what are the fixed elements that a custom shop includes in all their work?"
How does the agency do its own marketing?
You can learn a lot about how an agency does their work by looking at how they promote themselves. You want to be evaluating their own marketing strategy by asking these kind of questions:
- Does the strategy suggest that they are trustworthy?
- Do they know their prospective buyer?
- Do they understand the specific techniques required to market themselves, such as blogging, managing AdWords, and so on?
- Does the strategy suggest that they have taken the time to understand their prospects?
If you see the vendor using a marketing strategy that makes sense for themselves, this suggests a higher level understanding of marketing. Specifically, it suggests that they will also be capable of developing a strategy that will work for your community in your niche.
Much of marketing in the multifamily industry is about first getting the basics right (which tend to be fairly universal) and then, second, understanding the unique challenges a specific community faces in a specific city at a specific time.
You need general knowledge as well as the ability to evaluate highly unique situations, in other words.
How does the agency understand marketing's role in an apartment community's success?
This one takes a bit of explaining, but it's important to understand. Let's start here: Ultimately apartment communities do not care about leads or even rent rates per se. They—you—care about revenue.
Your revenue is based on four things:
- Rent Rates
- Property Management
So from your side of things, you need marketing that works as one gear in a machine that also includes those other factors and which produces high rent revenue. The key question is this: Does the agency see their role in the same way?
In addition to that question, there are several more contextual questions to consider. Suppose your leasing staff complains that the leads coming to their office are consistently low quality. Does this agency have a plan to make sure they are not only reaching a large audience, but that they are reaching people who will be a good fit at the community?
Does the agency have a plan to help you in particular situations that your community might face? Suppose you get a bunch of notices during one of the slowest months of the year and suddenly have to fill a bunch of units at a time when demand is usually very low. Does the agency have a plan for helping you increase demand so that this unexpected surge in vacancy doesn't end up costing you thousands of dollars?
Apartment marketing agencies can help you increase profitability.
If you find a good apartment marketing agency, it's an expense that will pay for itself. When you consider the amount of money that the multifamily industry is still spending on outdated advertising sources like print guides, newspaper classifieds, and the Yellow Pages, it's really staggering to imagine the ways an apartment marketing agency can increase your profitability. You can cut a major marketing expense by eliminating print advertising—and maybe even an ILS or two—while producing improved marketing results.