Economists were already forecasting a slowdown in the construction
of retail, industrial, and commercial property when the events of
September 11 transpired. Projections for commercial real estate
worsened. With lenders hesitant to provide loans, the consensus is that
hotel and markets for large, retail mall construction are likely to be
brutalized in the upcoming year.
But the good news for real estate PR is that the residential market -
particularly luxury residential - continues to show a remarkable
resilience, buoying the economy and heartening investors.
"While the hotel market parallels the pulse beat of the economy, the
luxury sales market is going to stay particularly strong," expounds
Steve Solomon, EVP and head of the real estate division at New
York-based Rubenstein Associates.
One of the reasons why the current downturn doesn't resemble the deep
recessions of the '70s and late '80s is that planners were keen not to
encourage an excess of housing during the last boom period. "The real
estate market has not been over-built," confirms Solomon.
Rubenstein's clients include New York real estate luminaries like The
Worldwide Group, Donald Zucker, Jack Resnick & Sons, and the Manhattan
Mortgage Group. One of the agency's biggest current projects is 425
Fifth Avenue, a 67-story mix-use luxury high rise by the Davis Partners.
Such mix-use developments will account for some of the strongest growth
- and greatest challenges - for seasoned real estate communicators
during the next year.
While the luxury market will fare well, Solomon believes that New York
agencies need to be extra sensitive in how they portray their real
estate clients and the benefits they bring to a community. He points to
a new condominium development in TriBeCa, a neighborhood close to the
World Trade Center. "You can't make believe that September 11 doesn't
have an effect on your New York clients," he says. "It's meeting and
overcoming those challenges that creates credibility for an agency."
Florence Quinn, president of New York-based Quinn & Co., believes the
luxury market will do well because clients are looking for the high-end
amenities that a luxury residential development can offer. One specific
trend she sees is hotels, such as the Westbury, developing residential
properties within the hotel complex. The hotel guests are located on the
bottom floors, while the top consists of luxury residential
She believes that aging baby boomers with money want to be able to call
upon the services of the hotel.
Quinn also notes the "designer label" effect of commissioning famous
architects to plan developments. "Luxury buildings are using well-known
architects such as Robert Stern and Richard Mier to build residential
luxury condos," she says. "These architects ensure that the buildings
will be of high quality, create immediate brand recognition, and allow
the owners to brag. And it creates opportunities to go to the
Quinn worked on the Foundry development on New York's 10th Avenue. The
12-story building comes complete with a waterfall and Zen garden. To
raise awareness, Quinn created coasters that were distributed to bars in
the neighborhood. The agency also distributed mints that were branded
with the Foundry name. "We started to create a buzz before we put the
properties on the market."
Of course, location and space constraints will always make New York one
of the most expensive places to buy real estate. Not surprisingly, a
PricewaterhouseCoopers report - Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2002 -
states that the urban locations with the top markets will be New York,
Boston, San Francisco, Southern California, Chicago, and Washington,
PR's place in redevelopment
Other areas have a booming real estate PR industry as well. In southern
Florida, "redevelopment" has become the buzzword of the moment. Land has
been developed to the edge of the Everglades, which has provoked not
only the public affairs issues that invariably arise from trying to
recast neighborhoods, but also the challenge that comes with trying to
explain the advantages of urban living in a suburban environment.
Kreps/DeMaria/Treister is busy promoting the Downtown Dadland project,
which stands on the site of a mall that is being torn down and turned
into an amalgamation of apartments and retail units. "The redevelopment
of the mall into a mix-use space has generated a significant amount of
media attention," says managing director Israel Kreps. "We're focusing
our attention on a savvy group of real estate writers based in New York
and Florida. Their interest is piqued by the trend of bringing back city
centers through urban renewal." The development targets young
professionals and empty nesters that are attracted to living in an urban
Kreps also has a number of high-end clients geared specifically to the
luxury market, including elite Fisher Island, where Oprah Winfrey, Mel
Brooks, and Boris Becker have second homes. It also represents the
Cloisters, a community of 40 villas on Coconut Grove Bay in Florida. The
agency runs extremely targeted PR efforts to sell the luxury houses: VP
Lisa Leuchter Treister concentrates her efforts on working with
charities' wealthy patrons, who are likely prospects for the
With the Cloisters, the agency set up an event that connected it to the
Green Street Cafe, a popular restaurant close to the development. The
agency sent out an invitation to potential customers with homes valued
at more than $500,000 to become Sunday guests at the restaurant.
Those who participated drank mimosas on the roof overlooking the
Cloisters, and were given passes for breakfast or lunch. In November,
the agency hosted a lecture/cocktail reception about Latin American
Contemporary Art, which drew an upscale Hispanic crowd. "It's only 16
miles from Piscayne Bay to the swamp, so residential real estate and
luxury residential are always going to be in demand," says Kreps.
The celebrity hook
Celebrity links can also create quite a stir. Boardroom Communications,
another South Florida agency, specializes in publicizing high-end luxury
houses. Its clients include real estate heavy-hitters such as Wimbish,
Barclay, and GMAC Reality, all of which sell or develop luxury
(Paul Wimbish sold the Versace mansion in Miami.) "People love stories
about the rich and famous," says Don Silver, Boardroom's VP of marketing
and consulting. "Any time a celebrity buys a home in the area, it gives
us the chance to call gossip and society columnists, and place stories
Microsoft has taken this approach a step further online. Its website
Homeadvisor.com features virtual home tours, with the actual celebrities
selling their properties. Weber Shandwick Worldwide's Seattle office
represents the site, and account manager Scott Charleston concurs that
the cult of celebrity is a good way to raise the profile of a property,
as well as attract media attention. "Homeadvisor.com has featured
celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg and Randy Travis," he says. "It's a
Residential real estate PR is not just about selling homes, however.
By design, the state of California has some of the most stringent rules
for land development in the US. In the last year, 630,000 people moved
to the sunshine state, while only 210,000 homes were built. "Real estate
is an extremely regulated industry," explains Laer Pearce, president of
Laer Pearce & Associates. "Not only is PR incredibly important in
espousing the benefits of living in certain neighborhoods, there is also
a huge amount of public affairs work that goes into getting a
Newhall Ranch, a 21,000-home development outside of LA, is one of
Pearce's clients. The dynamic neighborhood features schools and
pedestrianized shopping areas. Pearce says that agencies with real
estate clients need to be prepared for every possible problem under the
sun, including animal-migration corridors, air-quality issues, zoning,
traffic congestion, environmental regulation, homeowner rules, and local
"There is a very not-in-my-backyard mentality when you're developing a
new housing project," says Pearce. "And where there's so much
regulation, our communication skills and strategies are needed. We have
to be able to build bridges, prepare the land developer for hostile
questions, and help communicate their views."
All of these issues contribute to a fascinating PR discipline. "There is
always going to be a market for the right location and the right
amenities," concludes Anne-Marie St. Germaine, senior VP at
Chicago-based Jasculca/Terman Associates. "The great thing about real
estate PR is that unlike other areas of the communications business, you
can actually witness the results of your labor."
Also see Media Roundup, p.10.
PR AND URBAN RENEWAL IN ATLANTA
Atlantic Station, a 140-acre mix-use housing and retail development
being built on the site of the old Atlantic Steel Mill in midtown
Atlanta, is being watched with curiosity by elected city officials
around the country.
The project is being hailed as a model of how a municipality can reclaim
desolate, brown field property, and turn it into a thriving urban core,
complete with movie theatres, hotels, restaurants, supermarkets, condos,
The trend of rebuilding city centers, which started in earnest over the
last decade, is a by-product of urban sprawl, lengthening commute times,
dissipating air quality, and a renewed interest in urban living.
The Headline Group, an Atlanta-based PR agency, saw so much potential in
the Atlantic Station project, that it moved its offices from the popular
Buckhead area to a building overseeing the site.
"One of the first things we did was set down and streamline the
communications process for the developers, making sure that they spoke
with a single voice," says Mary Eitel, EVP of The Headline Group.
The agency generated stories about the project on a local level.
Atlantic Station received a full page of copy in the Atlanta
Journal-Constitution. "Locally, we need everyone to know how the
dynamics of the city will change," says Eitel. "There were a lot of
people who didn't know quite how big this project was going to be." The
first phase of the project, scheduled for completion in 2003, will
include 1,300 residential units.
Eitel hopes The Headline Group can promote the development on a national
level. "The whole idea of the reclamation of this brown field is an
amazing story," she says. "The great thing about this project is that it
has taken on a national prominence. The EPA has joined in cleaning up
the site. Eventually, we hope that this becomes the model for other
cities around the country."