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Use Me! Try Me! No, Me!

Even though they can't measure its effectiveness, some Realtors are sold on self-promotion. Some of these "screaming me-mes" are restorting to wacky tactics.

November 28, 1999|JULIE TAMAKI and SUE McALLISTER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Some real estate agents will do anything to get your attention.

There's the agent who hired a farmer to deliver 500 pumpkins to San Fernando Valley homes at Halloween.

And the one who throws an annual "baby party" at her Hancock Park home where new mothers--some former clients, some not--are invited to show off their cherubs.

And then there's the agent who sends 40,000 mailers--each month--to homeowners and apartment owners in the cities surrounding his Whittier office.

"The worst thing that can happen is for people to forget your name," said Jim Joseph, owner of Century 21 Grisham-Joseph, who, besides the 40,000 mailers, sends press releases and photos of himself to 100 media organizations twice a month.

Once content to distribute refrigerator magnets or note pads bearing their names, more and more agents are taking self-promotion to new levels, launching elaborate advertising campaigns with slick Web sites or throwing lavish parties accented with ice sculptures.

Others rely on the outrageous to attract clients. Like the Colorado agent who stood on a corner with a sign that read "Will Sell Real Estate for Food" and donated 10% of his commissions to a local food bank.

Or the Florida agent who used a western "Wanted" theme to advertise himself on a cable television show only to have a homeowner mistake him for a real criminal and call police when he showed up in the neighborhood.

Of course, not all real estate agents think high-profile self-promotion is the key to success. But for many, figuring out ways to get home buyers thinking about them is just another part of doing business.

"It's not about bragging or boasting," said Don Hobbs, chairman of Hobbs-Herder Advertising, a Newport Beach-based company that specializes in helping Realtors market themselves. "It's about creating an image that people can't forget."

How real estate agents choose to craft a persona these days varies widely.

Joseph, for example, recently sent out photos of himself posing with 2-foot-high numerals making up the number 1,265. An accompanying press release says the figure represents the number of apartment units he had sold to date.

Joseph said he got the idea for the gimmick after seeing toddlers' birthday photos that featured kids posing with oversized numbers. So he and his 3-year-old daughter headed to Sears portrait studio together for her birthday picture and his latest promo shot.

"It's tough not to be goofy, and I don't know where that line is, obviously," Joseph said. "But you just have to do this stuff, otherwise you're lost in the shuffle."

Other agents distinguish themselves by blanketing their communities with their names and faces. Case in point: Heidi Adams and Myra Turek.

Images of the Fred Sands agents are plastered on shopping carts and bus benches all over Calabasas, and they appear in ads shown at local movie theaters and in newspapers. The two women are so high on Calabasas that they even have their mailers, which are sent out three times a month to 5,000 homeowners, printed in shades of peach and green to capture the community's Mediterranean feel.

Myra Turek's Infiniti, meanwhile, carries a license plate that reads 91302--the community ZIP Code--while Heidi Adams' BMW sports a CALBSAS plate.

The advertising comes at a cost, however.

Though agents are often advised to invest at least 10% of their earnings in marketing themselves, Adams said she and Turek spend much more. The movie house ads cost $600 a month, she said, and they spend more than $25,000 a year to advertise on the shopping carts alone, knowing that if they don't do it, another agent will.

"The more [advertising] we do, the more everybody else does," said Adams, who with Turek sells about 70 homes a year in the affluent enclave. "It's like we've created this monster."

Though he did not invent self-promotion in real estate, Mike Glickman is frequently cited by industry observers as the agent who took self-promotion to new heights.

In the late 1980s and early '90s, before the market went south and took Mike Glickman Realty with it, Glickman gave ice cream to neighborhood kids, held contests to choose the father and mother of the year and offered trips to Las Vegas as door prizes at open houses. He even arranged private trash removal in one San Fernando Valley community when there was a garbage strike.

Serial Postcards

Blanketed Area

Clever agents have been quick to pick up where Glickman left off.

Agents like Coldwell Banker agent Nancy Lavigne, who once sent a weekly series of postcards to 500 homes in a Laguna Beach neighborhood she "farms" for new business.

The cards featured the same black and white photo of Lavigne, but each had a different colored background with a single word printed across the front, such as "Innovative" or "Professional." Lavigne left the back of the cards blank until the fifth and final week, when she finally revealed her identity.

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