Media must question its purpose in coronavirus hit real estate


An open letter to Track2Realty stakeholders

At a time when the media world is first to be affected and would be the last to recover due to Coronavirus hit economy, we at Track2Realty feel it is time to interact with our stakeholders collectively. We have thus far been privately interacting with most of you, but it is time to interact with all of you in an open forum. After all,  in a crisis, any company should first of all question its purpose and we are no different.

I start with a big Thank You to our stakeholders for their trust in our brand of journalism, that has always been different from the mainstream real estate media. Ours has been unconventional in approach since we always wished to have our differentiation and a source of due diligence reference point. When it comes to cross check the developers brand worth, Track2Realty stands out as the most authentic source of information. You have hence supported us over the years and have put in your money with our alternative media company.

In the last few weeks many of you have asked us whether we will continue to do what we have been doing over the last one decade now. The concern has been with the upcoming edition of Track2Realty BrandXReport and future of the media company in the wake of unprecedented coronavirus crisis leading to closure of many publications, some TV channels on the verge of curtains drop and many journalists getting either salary cut, furloughs or pink slips.

The concerns of our stakeholders are not misplaced. Track2Realty is not in isolation with the emerging market realities, or as they say, the New Normal. We are nevertheless resilient enough to survive the rough weather. As a matter of fact, we have weathered many storm in the past as well due to our objective, non-partisan, often critical journalism, and most importantly the brand rating that is more often than not the pain point of many companies carrying home the feeling that they deserve to be ranked higher.

I just wish to assure you all that our news operations, research and reports are well in line. Of course, the time has come for us as well to drive the effort to refocus and answer a fundamental question: Why does our organization exist? It is easier to take a moral high ground to say we have always practiced brutal honest journalism and with courage & conviction resisted both greed & threat. While the world knows it is true with Track2Realty and we have been continuously practicing high quality journalism with fair amount of pride, a crisis must bring values to the fore.

After all, a crisis does not shape the personality; it only brings the true character to the fore, whether it is with an individual or the organisation. We all understand that the world will never be the same again, for the next few years at least. Therefore, while panic could be seen all around this unprecedented time in the history, it also provides an opportunity, and a spur, for all organizations to ground themselves in their purpose. We all must delve deeper on the core questions: Why do we exist? Why are we here? Whose needs are we here to meet?

In a recent Harvard Business Review article it has been argued that the core question any organization must answer when communicating purpose starts with its customers: That is, what group’s or person’s needs are companies being paid to meet? If the answer to that question is either not clear or not motivating to employees, the organization has a problem. Companies are born, survive, and thrive because some group of people is willing to continue to pay them to do what they do.

For the media business also, the time has come to close this purpose gap — the distance between an organization’s stated aims and its lived behaviour. The longstanding view that the sole purpose of the media is to be the medium of information dissemination and thus maximize shareholder (read advertisers) value would quickly give way to a more balanced way of thinking. There is cut throat and hardly any differentiation in the content and message of an end number of media outlets today. Fortunately, that is our biggest strength with Track2Realty, whether it is in creating differentiation or minimising the purpose gap.

One could argue that some method in the madness was long overdue. The old-school idea about the journalistic values could never gain ground in the Indian real estate. The marketing driven mindset that the advertisers’ rupee was the only factor to be considered in framing the editorial policy and that was important than the real concerns of the buyers was, quite frankly, perverse. The good news is that the purpose in media business has knocked our doors, arguably a bit late.

Over the last few weeks the debate among the real estate media has yet again been what is a better strategy to survive – Business to Business (B2B) or Business to Consumers (B2C)?  In my opinion, this is probably the most flawed context of real estate journalism. I am in touch with many journalists representing real estate supplements, websites and TV shows. Interestingly, all of them have one thing in common to say – No! we are B2C and others are B2B. I think the claims are more often than not borne out of misplaced conviction without understanding that the line that bifurcates between B2B and B2C is very thin in this space.

What is B2C? The first and foremost we have to understand this “C” that is Consumer. And what is Consumer looking for in the first place? Credibility of the builder and his projects true worth before putting in his hard earned money. Right? How many real estate media has the bandwidth to do an honest analysis for the due diligence of the buyers? When your revenue model is subject to company’s another arm of brokerage; or barter deals with the builders; or complete advertising support of the builder, you cease to be a media that would do the critical analysis of what the end consumer is actually looking for.

A few stories on taxation and legalities don’t give anyone an edge to claim B2C, and such stories are there in abundance with specialised websites on the subject. Furthermore, many of these media outlets take pride in the fact that their stories are picked by CREDAI and NAREDCO Newsletters. Knowing how the built environment of the Indian real estate operates, we all know that they only pick those stories that pleases them. A critical evaluation is referred as Negative Story by them, thanks to the poor understanding of the word Negative among the large section of industry stakeholders.

Track2Realty does critical stories, touches upon the grey zones of the sector, and doesn’t aspire to be in the story picking list of any industry newsletters. Last, but not the least, we do brand rating and refuse to entertain any request by the developers being rated. But we still don’t get into the B2B or B2C claims. And why should we? A real estate media is just that -Media. And a Media is there for one and all who want a real understanding of the subject with critical, factually correct and non-partisan analysis – whether a home buyer for his due diligence of the builder & project or a builder for the competitive analysis within the business.

Though within the media we were already talking about the purpose of business before COVID-19, thanks to the falling revenue, the topic is even more important now. The time has come for all of us to question the purpose of our existence in this space and introspect. Media has no choice but to re-evaluate its purpose, whether it is by creating a need to be paid & subscribed; re-evaluating obligations to the advertisers, the audience, and a broader set of stakeholders; or rediscovering their own company’s very specific points of differentiation.

Fortunately, this is one area that we have constantly been deliberating upon since our inception. In terms of the macro outlook on real estate journalism, we feel that more and more media outlets will be forced to do the same – question their purpose of being in the business. This experimentation will lead to the evolution of a new media in medium to long term.

The market will no doubt force experimentation across the industries, for example scholastics creating at-home teaching materials. Media space will also be witness to freedom from the clutches of large corporations. A whole lot of alternative media experiments through digital outlets is on the cards.

Emergence of serious and meaningful media could be a blessing in disguise, if only the journalists are motivated, create quality content and bring in more competitiveness in the space of real estate journalism.  And if the short-term crisis is not motivating the journalists to do their best work and professional pride is not driving them, they should better chart their long-term career strategy outside the media. Coronavirus leading to job loss & salary cut has given you an exit window.

The developers also will be forced by the market dynamics to be more realistic in their media engagement and media spend. Gone are the days of costly front page advertisements with leading dailies. The ROI calculation will be more about investing in long-term brand building than short-term sales enquiries. Quality content will take precedence over the volume game of the large media houses, with many of them closing down their real estate supplements.

Fortunately, and I do take pride in saying this, Track2Realty has always been way ahead of the competition curve in creating a differentiation, identifying its purpose of existence, and evolving as a due diligence platform for the evaluation of real estate brands. We will weather the short-term challenges.  

Ravi Sinha

@ravitrack2media

Track2Realty is an independent media group managed by a consortium of journalists. Starting as the first e-newspaper in the Indian real estate sector in 2011, the group has today evolved as a think-tank on the sector with specialized research reports and rating & ranking. We are editorially independent and free from commercial bias and/or influenced by investors or shareholders. Our editorial team has no clash of interest in practicing high quality journalism that is free, frank & fearless.

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