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TP Bites: Landed estates – Strong ethics give estates an edge

In this episode of TP Bites, we discuss what landed estates and country homes can do to attract visitors and commercial partners, as well as why reputation gives smaller estates a competitive advantage amongst peers.

photo of a listed building

In this episode of TP Bites, we discuss what landed estates and country homes can do to attract visitors and commercial partners, as well as why reputation gives smaller estates a competitive advantage amongst peers.


Jordan: Today, we’re here to talk about another piece of research that has landed on our desks, this time about landed estates. As with all our research, it is based on a survey of 2,000 people, members of the British public and other stakeholders. The topic of the research this time around is what elements of landed estates and stately homes’ reputation would be a draw for visitors, partners, and other commercial associates. Some interesting results. 

The headline for me, before I throw over to Luke, is that the most important factor when it came to whether a visitor was inclined to visit a landed estate or whether a commercial partner wanted to do business with a stately home, was ethical credentials. In fact, number one was the stately home’s commitment to the local community and number two was the stately home’s commitment to the environment. Luke, did that shock or surprise you?

Luke: I found these results actually quite surprising, Jordan. Because I don’t think anybody in our industry has conducted any research like this before. I think it was one of those where we did it and didn’t know what to expect. I think there was a bit of a presumption in the office that the family behind the estate or the history behind the estate was probably going to be the most important factor. 

Clearly, that’s still very important, as these results show. But they weren’t the most important results. So, I think that’s what I was most surprised at.

Attracting investment: Ethics and integrity matters

Jordan: Certainly an interesting ray of light here for smaller estates, or estates that are less well known. In my head, there was a presumption that if you wanted to market a landed estate, or if you were landed estate that wanted to strike a deal with international partners, such as, for example, Chinese investors, the only thing that would matter was, how old that estate was, how grandiose that estate was, and how connected that asset was with royalty and other elements or sections of the aristocracy. 

But actually, the ray of light for smaller estates here is that you can punch well above your weight if you invest in ethical credentials. Over the last 12 months, as we’re recording this off the back of the coronavirus pandemic, landed estates have had a really difficult time. A large proportion depend on higher revenue to ensure that they’re on a sustainable financial footing. And that’s been difficult. So they’ve launched new products, they’ve gone into branded goods, foods and beverages. I’ve seen a number of landed estates, for example, launch branded gin. 

So as landed families are sitting at home considering how they can squeeze the maximum value out of their estate’s brand. It’s no longer about having a glorious, wonderful photograph of a landed estate. If you want to do a partnership with Tesco, Waitrose or even an international investor, you’ve got a really strong pitch if you can go to them and say “We beat the rest of the market in terms of ethical credentials. We give back to the local community. We have the most sustainable farm in the country”. You can punch well above your weight. It’s not only about fame anymore.

Luke: Yes, and I was going to pick up on what you said about Coronavirus. Obviously, a lot of country homes and landed estates are very costly to run. And there’s a bit of a challenge in this kind of sector. How do you balance the demand to commercialise that estate, but do it in a way that respects the privacy of the family behind the estate? Done in a respectable and subtle way? I don’t think a lot of landed estates really understand how to do that. 

But what this data shows is real tangible evidence of what you need to do. Most landed estates and country homes are already doing great work in the community. In fact, most of the estates sit at the heart of their community - literally and metaphorically. They employ local people from around the area. 

But what are they doing to support the local community that no one knows about? Those are the types of things that they should be picking up and thinking about how to communicate that work to the local community and outside stakeholders.

Jordan: Absolutely, Luke. And there was something that struck me when you were speaking there. Because this was the second surprising result. For me, I was expecting when I looked at the data to see, maybe not the top, but one of the most important factors, that for visitors and for commercial partners notoriety or fame of the family behind the estate was most important. And as you said, actually the fame of the family wasn’t that significant a factor at all. 

In fact, let’s look at the results. Only 9% of people said that being owned by an aristocratic family made a difference to them. This is interesting because we know from our experience in PR and communications that lots of landed estates tie all their marketing, physical brochures, websites and communications around the family. They go big on their website around having pictures of the family, having the ancestry of the family, showing who it was owned by and who currently lives there today. 

And of course, that’s still important. We’re not saying it’s not important. But we know that many families are anxious about revealing that side of their personal lives to market the landed estate. So, it would have been more awkward for families, if that had been the number one or number two issue. But it’s not, it’s right down at the bottom. 

Family ownership: Give visibility to the family legacy online

Luke: Also bear in mind that lots of estates have been handed away from the family and have since been purchased or acquired by entrepreneurs. James Dyson comes to mind and is one of the UK’s largest landowners. He’s purchased a lot of estates as an entrepreneur. His family didn’t own the estates 10 or 15 years ago. So, I don’t necessarily think it’s applicable to all the estates to leverage those historical and family links to the estate.

Jordan: And we’re not saying, of course, that if you’ve owned an estate for 300, 400, 500 or 600 years that it’s not important to draw on that legacy. We’re saying that if you’re marketing and estate, these results show it would be wrong to go about it by headlining on your own personal story and family ancestry. 

If part of the family’s presence in marketing ensures that your collateral communicates your family values, your local commitment, your commitment to environmental best practice, then that is valuable. What we’re saying is that the image and the visibility of the family is important insofar as it shines a light on the ethics and the history of the estate. 

Another interesting result and I think we’ve spoken a lot about community impact so far. And we’re not saying that history is not important. In fact, it was very important in this research, wasn’t it Luke?

Luke: It was. 30 percent of people said that the historic age of the estate was very important. But I think that the history and the legacy of that estate must be communicated effectively, predominantly online. Maybe the historical nature of the estate is well known locally, but think about what kind of information you can put online. 

I’m not just talking about written content or a timeline of how the estate grew over centuries. I’m talking about images as well. Get some positive images that showcase the historical nature of the estate and make sure that they’re communicated effectively online.

Jordan: And this is interesting. This reminds me of something from my own personal experience. Occasionally, I have been fortunate enough to visit a stately home. And when you’re sitting down in the tea room, there are often these huge, big coffee table books with 100 pages showing the history of the estate down the ages. Wonderful, lovely black and white images of the estate. Yet, often these estates might have a one or two-page website. 

Given the importance of that historic story in marketing the estate. Why isn’t that online? You’re missing a trick.

Luke: Completely agree. That’s exactly what we would describe as low hanging fruit. The quick easy wins that a lot of the owners of these stately homes and estates can do. It’s just about taking those little low hanging fruits and squeezing value out of them. 

But it comes down to this, I don’t think that landed estates, stately homes and country estates are thinking about this all in a proactive way. I think they are, in many cases, running a business like any other business. Having a strong brand applies to anything. It applies to business and it applies to you as an individual. Having a strong brand, a strong reputation, and communicating clearly to target audiences is just as applicable to a landed estate as to anybody else.

Jordan: Target audiences are really interesting here, aren’t they Luke? Because we’ve discussed people who could hire a landed estate and we’ve discussed potential commercial partners, but an important audience we haven’t discussed is the local community. We were chatting just before this podcast about an example from your own work.

Relationships with stakeholder: The local community matters

Luke: Yeah, there is a country estate in the East Midlands, who are a good example of somebody doing this right. Actually, the estate was bought by an entrepreneur 5 or 10 years ago and they are showing clear lines of communication in the local community. They’re building a really good reputation locally as somebody who is looking after the estate and preserving the agricultural land. 

As an estate that’s looking after rare breeds of cattle, they are a classic example of a landed estate that is, in many ways, leveraging and using an entrepreneurial vision to put the local community on the map and to create new food and drink brands. 

In most circumstances, landed estates are huge local employers. The most important audiences for landed estates are the local community. Obviously, by the nature of being a landed estate, you have a lot of land. So, the best way to raise and enhance your reputation in the local community is to host local events in order to meet the local people. It’s not just necessarily in terms of doing PR with the local newspaper or putting more information online. 

Think about how you can leverage the land to bring the local community into the work that you’re doing.

Jordan: Something struck me when you were speaking there, Luke. We’ve spoken about the financial difficulties that agricultural estates and stately homes are struggling with at the moment. And many landed estates recognise that their land will have to be repurposed. But there are some landed estates who are doing a very good job of this at the moment. 

The Duke of Richmond is a good example, 70 years ago put in place a racing track on the estate. There might be landed estates around the country that are thinking about similar things. Perhaps sporting horse racing, shooting, farming, pottery. In order to get the planning permission for those type of redevelopment, you’re going to need the support of the local community. 

So, as well as being a good thing for the landed estate itself, getting the community buy-in and bringing the community with you on this journey, in terms of your vision for the estate, is important for your business as well.

Luke: Agreed. At the risk of repeating myself, what I’ve said on multiple podcasts, I think it applies to all these various different communities that we work with. I think it comes down to impact. It’s about having a positive impact and being able to put the processes in place to communicate that impact. 

So, those landed estates, those businesses, those family offices, must, first of all, must demonstrate their positive impact on the world. They’re the ones that tend to have the strongest reputations. I think that’s the case here.

Transmission Private publishes a monthly newsletter that tracks the future of reputation management for private clients.

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Transmission Private publishes a monthly newsletter that tracks the future of reputation management for private clients.