Last month, HAR sent out a survey to all of our members asking about communications and how we could improve the ways we communicate with our members.

The feedback was great, and overall the members clearly think we are doing a good job.

There is always room for improvement though, which is why we sent out the survey in the first place. Only 0.4% of the respondents were extremely dissatisfied and 0.8% of members were dissatisfied with the communications efforts of the association and looking at their comments, most were not actually about communications. Having any members who are not happy with what we are doing is not acceptable though, and we will continue to work to improve in their eyes and hopefully also maintain the positive feelings for the 88.6% who are either satisfied or extremely satisfied.

Probably the most telling and valuable part of the survey was the comments section though.

“Save the money you are spending on the magazine” or similar comments were somewhat frequent. About once per year, we write about the fact that the magazine that you are reading right now is 100% paid by advertising revenue. In fact, the print publication actually makes a profit due to both cost cutting measures on the production side and aggressive ad sales by the HAR staff.

Since we are a transparent association in everything we do, I can tell you that the average cost of printing, handling and mailing the magazine is about $20,000 per month. That might sound like quite a bit, but it is also less than half of what we were paying three years ago. The advertising revenues have dropped since then as well, but we have still generated an average of about $26,500 per month from our print and online advertising since the beginning of 2010. That is more than enough to cover our publishing costs. Additionally, for as many members who said they wanted us to stop printing the magazine, we had just as many who said they only read the print version and want it to remain a part of our communications plans for the future.

Other associations across the country have ceased publishing a print edition of their magazines, but they weren’t actually contributing money back to the overall budget. As I have said repeatedly in the past, the day the magazine stops making a profit will be the day I recommend to the board that we stop printing it.

We also had some who wanted us to use recycled paper for the magazine, and I’m glad to tell you that since we switched to the smaller publication size we have been printing the magazine on 10% post consumer waste paper. We would like to have a higher percentage, of course, but the cost of the paper rises quickly the higher the content from post consumer waste. We will continue to look at our options and incorporate recycled paper as much as possible when we must print products.

One of the most common comments to any of our surveys is about lowering dues. We all understand that in more difficult times, costs become more sensitive. They do at the association as well. Our boards of directors during the years have also recognized that. In 2002, the board voted for the fifth year in a row to reduce dues. Dues remained unchanged in 2003. The following year resulted in a net reduction in overall dues/fees with an increase in dues but a decrease in MLS fees. There has been no increase in HAR dues since 2004. At the same time, we have rolled out an enormous number of tools and service (most that are free). Since your dues billing includes TAR and NAR as well, there may appear to be an increase in your overall dues, but that is not because of HAR.

Along with being as cost-conscious as possible, there were quite a few comments asking for TV commercials to add to our advertising mix. TV itself is not terribly expensive if you buy time slots that are targeting the demographic that you seek to reach. The production of the actual commercial is where the cost comes more into play. Along with the overall economy, the advertising budget has been reduced as well so we do not have money in the budget to be able to produce and place TV spots on air. This forces us to be more creative, use more online advertising options and rely more heavily on our public relations (free) efforts.

Another frequent comment is something that we already have been working on. Many of you requested that members of the HAR staff come to your sales meetings to update you on what is going on at the association and in the industry. We are currently working on a program that would allow sales managers or brokers to request speakers on particular topics. We would then determine who the best person to come talk about governmental affairs, our advertising program, new Tempo enhancements, etc. would be. Look for this feature hopefully by early next year.

I did have some personal favorites of the comments, which were:

“HAR is the finest real estate organization in the nation in my opinion. No other REALTOR® organization gets the services we do, and I am grateful.”

“It’s already the best service that money can buy!”

“I think I am blessed to be a REALTOR® in Houston and have access to the best REALTOR® association in the country.”

Maybe I’m a bit biased though…