Media Analysis: Press put faith in property market

The property market might yo-yo, but the newspaper supplements that cover it have a constant presence. Sarah Robertson identifies the sections' big issues.

After years of heady growth, house prices in Britain are this year forecast to rise by only two per cent, and are, in some areas, on the slide. But the appetite for information and ideas about property appears entrenched in the national psyche.

All the national newspapers offer a property section, either through a supplement or dedicated pages, but this has not always been the case.

'I am staggered by the number of property supplements,' says Seventy Seven PR associate director James Gordon-MacIntosh. 'The nationals treat property supplements the same way as they used to treat the personal finance pages - like a cash cow.'

The question now is whether the slowdown in the property market threatens the supplements - and PROs' potential for coverage.

Not necessarily, says Four Communications head of property Marion Hardman, because people's major investment will always be their home. In addition, a government initiative - a new form of Self-Invested Personal Pension Plan - is being rolled out next year which will allow policyholders to offset the value of their property.

'There is an insatiable appetite for investment stories at the moment.

There are reports that the buy-to-let market is down, but people in the industry don't think this is the case,' Hardman adds.

More than bricks and mortar

The supplements are far from being solely about property per se. Interiors, gardens, gadgets, celebrities, mortgages, finance, scams and government policy all warrant healthy coverage. The tone and content of a supplement inevitably mirrors that of its parent.

The Financial Times' House & Garden, for example, stands at the high end of the market. It originally targeted investors, although more recently it has focused on architecture and design, a shift overseen by recently arrived editor Alison Beard, according to Ash Communications account director Helen Vickers.

The Sunday Telegraph, like The Sunday Times, is property-driven, with interiors coverage appearing elsewhere in the main papers. The Sunday Times' Homes Supplement focuses on retirement property, holiday homes and gardening, and is celebrity friendly, says editor Kerry Scott. However, staff do not attend press trips: 'We like to be objective,' she explains.

The Evening Standard claims its Homes and Property section - launched ten years ago - was the first dedicated property supplement. It was the creation of existing editor Janice Morley, who owned five flats before she was 30 at a time when 'it was difficult for a girl to get a mortgage'.

The paper caters for the serious side of the property market, covering legal and investigative stories, and avoids 'knee-jerk' reports, Morley says. 'We would never go down the route of personality homes. Other supplements have had many editors and are not committed to the subject,' she claims.

The tabloid stance

At the other end of the spectrum, the Sunday Mirror last year launched Homes and Holidays, and needs ideas for its overseas section, says editor Zena Alli. 'This is a buoyant market with lots of people looking abroad for "fly-to-lets". We are very celebrity friendly and like the usual tabloid celebrity fodder.

'We would also like more coverage of TV programmes and films that feature properties,' she adds.

Meanwhile, the Mail on Sunday caters for 'little Britain' and campaigns against the Government's ambitious housebuilding plans, according to editor Sebastian O'Kelly.

Editors suggest maintaining close relationships with freelance writers, providing good pictures and offering statistics, research and survey results are useful door-openers for PROs and their clients.

Alison Dean, MD at property specialist Jago Dean, believes supplements have 'softened' of late, focusing more on celebrities and lifestyle, and claims that 'there is now a trend for the more serious side of property to be overlooked', which is a worry for those in the industry. 'Several (property) supplements do not cover money, yet people are turned off by the financial sections,' she adds.

Dean also notes that clients benefit greatly from inclusion in supplements: 'If we know there will be coverage, we warn estate agents to make sure they have sufficient people manning the phones because the number of enquiries increases so much.'

SUPPLEMENTS, SECTIONS AND THEIR EDITORS

- Financial Times House & Garden, Alison Beard 020 7873 3000

- The Times Bricks and Mortar, Catherine Riley 020 7782 5000

- The Daily Telegraph Property, Angela Pertusini 020 7538 5000

- Sunday Mirror Homes and Holidays, Zena Alli 020 7510 3000

- The Sunday Times Homes Supplement, Kerry Scott 020 7782 7574

- The Independent Property, Madeleine Lim 020 7005 2722

- Evening Standard Homes and Property, Janice Morley 020 7938 6714

- The Guardian Space, Susie Steiner 020 7278 2332

- The Sunday Telegraph House and Home, Anne Cuthbertson 020 7538 5000

- Mail on Sunday Property on Sunday, Sebastian O'Kelly 020 7938 6000

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