by L. A. 'Tony' Kovach
For those who want to cut to the chase, this article may not be for you. For those who invest the time, there are rewards in the form of more business in the middle and end of this article.
The plan here is to actually dig into a topic, and provide some context as we flesh out a subject that matters to Americans as a whole and how it impacts manufactured housing professionals like you and your teammates in specific.
Google this question: Is Journalism Dead?
When I did, there were 33 million plus results on that query. Those who recall the investigative journalism that broke the Watergate case (yes, ancient history to many who may read this) or other examples of journalists digging into a story may remember those 'glory days' of reporting.
One of the page 1 Google results was a statement to this effect:
"With the advent of the internet, it does seem as though the end of investigative journalism has come about." – Steve Pavlina
It isn't that reporting doesn't take place anymore. It is, however, often a case of 'advocacy journalism.' Many consider CNN, for example, to be the 'left of center' news resource. FoxNews is the 'right of center' news source. What happened to reporting the news without a political or other agenda?
Some of you may recall the IBISWorld report that stirred up considerable interest in the 'dying' manufactured housing (dealer) industry in March/April of 2011. Well, besides our Industry, newspaper publishing was cited as one of those dinosaurs whose demise was only a question of time. See the chart and graphic below.
From Wikimedia Commons and the Atlantic
Why should we care about journalism, media reporting and publishing in general?
There are many reasons. One is because it is often the media that helps shape (or reshape) opinions in our modern world. Just think about the early reports on tornadoes this year. Arguably biased and negative perspectives on 'mobile homes' and 'manufactured housing' were common in the telling of those news items.
Weather reports often carry 'warnings' about those who live in 'mobile homes.' Why do they fail to mention that a direct hit by a tornado can destroy virtually any residential or commercial structure, as this year's storms have so dramatically proved?
These are facts that anyone professionally involved in the manufactured housing world for even a year is well aware.
Publishing has become so financially challenging in America that many publications have been and are in bankruptcy. There was serious talk in the Obama Administration of having a 'bail out' for publishers.
Part of the problem is what columnist Marueen Dowd raised with a column, 'Penny for my thoughts?' Many today are outsourcing 'reporting' to foreign nations the same as call center and other jobs are being outsourced. While these off-shore reporting efforts may be tainted by their built-in limitations, what it has done is put tremendous pressures on publications.
Now, let's bring this a step closer to home with manufactured, modular and pre-fab home trade publications.
Our industry has watched as a number of trade publications have fallen in recent years. George Allen's blog recently had this quote:
"Gossip? Received this terse email message from 'a friend in the MHBusiness' earlier this week: 'With the proposed $35.00 charge (subscription) for The Journal, starting August 2011, is it too early to plan a wake? Sad."
Perhaps it was no coincidence that the same Industry professional/owner who sent George that message sent the same message to me. Others were, of course, talking about it, calling or sending messages.
George's blog continued from the above quotation in this fashion:
"Turns out it's true. "You will continue to receive your copy of THE JOURNAL free until August 1, 2011. Thank you all for over 30 years in business. We look forward to serving you in the future." Jim Visser, Publisher.
Why is this news? Because, if there's no alteration to this announcement, the last of the 'free', advertiser – supported trade publications passes from the MHIndustry scene! As you'll likely recall, Community Management was the first to disappear, then a couple years ago, Modern Home and Systems Building magazines; and during Fall of 2009, the venerable Manufactured Home Merchandiser ceased publication, followed shortly thereafter by Don Carlson's Automated Builder magazine."
I've personally spoken with Don Carlson, a man I admire and appreciate. Don was the first to publish my work in the MH Industry back in the late 1980s. It is my hope to get Don involved with us, at least as a columnist, here at MHMSM.com. He brings a wealth of knowledge that few possess across the spectrum of 'engineered homes.'
Don's article led me to later write for the Manufactured Home Merchandiser, before finally launching MHMSM.com (also known as www.MHProNews.com!) in 2009.
As Michael Barnabas correctly states in his column this month, Don made a similar effort to charge for his Automated Builder publication – that was publicly posted on his website and part of a widespread effort to pull it off – and it is self-evident that it did not succeed.
We can ill afford to keep losing industry publications, especially general industry publications.
Publishing a print journal today is simply an expensive way to do business. While I have no direct knowledge of the printing and mailing costs a firm such as The Journal has, it could easily be in the $100,000 a year category, based on generally known facts. Layer on top of that the personnel and other costs for publishing, the fact that many have cut back on ad budgets, and you get a quick sense of the challenges a trade journal faces today.
I've personally used the analogy that most publishers today are trying to sit on a two legged stool. One leg may be subscriptions, another leg are advertising revenues. Some have only one such leg. What that means is that the publisher is constantly trying to balance with his OWN 'legs,' their own financial resources.
In our case, at MHMSM.com, other services we provide to clients (marketing, web development, email marketing, consulting, sales or management, among others) give us the additional 'legs' that stabilize and support the trade media platform we operate. By the way, when you need such resources, please keep us in mind; that is what keeps US here for YOU.
We could name Chattel Finance Newsletter (a free and paid version captive-finance focused) or the Allen Letter (paid – community focused). There are some modular-focused websites and blogs, too.
But in terms of a 'general industry' publication, there is The Journal and MHMSM.com (MHProNews.com). That's it.
So God forbid the last of the general industry publishers goes! Because if it does, a critical resource for businesses and professionals goes with them.
In other words, you have a vested interest in trade journalism NOT dying in the factory-built home arena.
How will advertisers get the word out on their products and services to industry professionals? For small firms with limited budgets, where will they access training resources?
While associations can produce their own newsletters, this too has challenges when association budgets are already strapped.
Everyone in our Industry has a stake in keeping trade journalism not only alive, but healthy and growing. One might say, as trade journalism goes, so goes that industry.
Part of our vision for what began as www.MHMarketingSalesManagement.com (www.MHMSM.com = www.MHProNews.com) was to provide resources necessary for news, tips and views that Industry pros could use. We had the goal of providing:
Each point above is important, and certainly this list is not all inclusive. But let's focus on the first, second and last points.
MH Pros need to stay informed, inspired and involved. All professionals do.
That is why trade publications exist, to provide the information and inspiration to let professionals be more successful and more involved in the future of their business and industry.
While some may not agree, the fact is that training is at low ebb in our Industry today. Too many firms in our industry have people working for them who do not even believe in manufactured housing. I've seen manufactured housing communities where employees did not believe in the value proposition at their property.
How do you get people to fill vacant homes and sites if they do not believe themselves?
So there is a self-evident need for training, inspiration and information for professionals at all levels of our Industry. If you are the owner of a firm, and you are not plugging your team members into this publication and the experts who are writing for you here, you are costing yourself money.
Because it is your staff that takes care of customers most of the time.
Every one of our authors is here for a specific reason. They provide specialized insight or information that is useful to one or more segments of factory-built housing.
In order for our industry to have a successful turnaround, a couple things need to take place:
So one feeds the other.
I had occasion to speak recently with a firm that provides leads for customers. I was told a story about a lead for 17 modular homes. Now this company does a good job of making sure their leads are quality leads. So imagine being a factory built home retailer getting a lead for 17 homes.
The sales manager sent an emailed reply (he had a phone number and other contact info available). The email was 'replete' with grammatical and typo errors, even though it was short. The email invited the prospect for 17 modular homes to visit their web site, and then give them a call.
As an industry, we have to do better on marketing, customer relations, training, sales process, lead follow ups and so much more.
Since businesses are what makes up an industry, that means a business like yours should constantly be striving to improve marketing, customer relations, training, sales processes, lead follow up, etc.
We have plans to establish a system that will result in an industry image campaign. That campaign will be 'state based' or region based, so that people are getting information about what is available in their area.
We will be working with firms that plan to take care of customers in a professional fashion. Details will be forthcoming, but for now, take it for granted that companies whose staff are reading here and are working with us will be much more likely to get the leads from home shoppers the image/education/campaign will provide.
So make sure you are signed up for our emails and podcasts. Make sure your staff are, too. Here are the links for those free sign ups:
Our vision for trade journalism in this industry is a robust one. We want to 'partner' with professionals and companies and 'partner' with associations. We want everyone involved to benefit.
Is journalism dead? No. it is not. Not in our industry and not in the mainstream media either.
Our brand of trade media (trade journalism) is the most unique the Industry has ever seen. We provide you with:
So please sign up if you are not already on our emailed news and updates list.
Sign up for your future.
Because the future of factory built housing trade media is right here, right now. By being a part of this process, you will arguably be helping your business, and helping the Industry as well.
Editor's Note: Tony is a member of MH SPIRIT, MHMSM.com's team of SPeakers Instructors Resources Inspiration Training that can help you clarify YOUR success needs and results. Visit mhspeakertrainer.org for more information.