Coldwell Banker builds up media strategy

From its online presence to its leaders' accessibility, the company is reaching a broader audience

With foreclosure and subprime issues all over the media, real-estate companies have faced challenges in their communications and PR strategies. Parsippany, NJ-based Coldwell Banker Real Estate handles the challenge by offering high-level executives for media appearances, promoting a new advertising and PR campaign featuring founders Colbert Coldwell and Arthur Banker, and stressing the message that real estate is local, as well as a solid investment.

"As you know, the real-estate industry is in the news nonstop. Previously it was all about when will it subside?" says David Siroty, senior director of PR for Coldwell Banker. "And when the market started to cool, the media jumped on it. It's very similar to what we do with the stars in our country. We build them up and then tear them down."

Siroty, who came to Coldwell Banker in May 2004, worked with president and CEO Jim Gillespie to build him up as a spokesman for the company. Not only can Gillespie, a former math teacher, discuss the numbers, he can also stress the message that real estate is a local market and that buying a house is an investment and a lifestyle, not a lottery ticket.

While Gillespie serves as a spokesman for the business media, including outlets like The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, and Fox News, COO Charlie Young and SVP of marketing Mike Fischer speak to trade media, and VP of operations Paula Young is the consumer expert for general-interest media.

"The four spokespeople are incredibly accessible to us," Siroty says, "They are exceptional at providing not just real tangible evidence, but also anecdotal evidence. They are also extremely good in sound bites."

As a franchise company, Coldwell Banker has a strong plan in place to train and educate brokers, managers, and salespeople on talking to local media. An Intranet site provides fill-in-the-blank press releases, a PR "power book" that explains how to conduct PR on a local level, and Gillespie's views on key issues.

"We're trying to make sure internal and external PR go hand-in-hand," says Sandy Sklareski, director of franchise marketing. "The more information you can share [with staff], not just PR-wise, but internally, it helps them implement it more effectively and embrace it."

Throughout all the media outreach, there are certain messages that the company works to promote. In addition to emphasizing that real estate is a solid investment and is local, Gillespie says that another message is that the overall correction happening now in the housing market will end and consumers shouldn't worry about trying to time the market.

"We talk to the media about how consumers are always changing, but the American dream is still to own a home," says Meredith Topalanchik, manager of client services for CooperKatz & Company, which began working as Coldwell Banker's AOR in the fall of 2007 after the company conducted a national search.

Coldwell Banker and CooperKatz work to get coverage in publications that don't generally cover real estate, including women's, lifestyle, and specialty magazines.

"[Siroty] gets me in front of consumers who aren't necessarily thinking about purchasing with offbeat magazine and dot-coms," Gillespie says. "They want to have a broader perspective about real estate."

The media outreach has also worked to get the focus away from negative numbers and more toward looking at homes outside of the investment aspect, Siroty says.

As part of that plan, Coldwell Banker also hosted the "My Home: An American Dream" contest in partnership with Scholastic, which encouraged kids to share how their houses are more than just buildings, they are homes.

"The process of home-buying has changed to include the Internet and the dreaming and initiating phase," Siroty says. "The dreaming phase is where a consumer is just dreaming about what life could be like in a new home. Those consumers are going to places like to learn, to engage with brands, to gain an understanding of what they're about to get into."

At a glance
Coldwell Banker

CEO and president: Jim Gillespie

Headquarters: Parsippany, NJ

Sales volume: $265 billion, US/Canada 2007

Comms budget: Undisclosed

Key trade titles: Realtor, Real Trends,, lore

PR and marketing team:
David Siroty, senior director of PR;
Heather Roberts, senior manager of PR;
Sandy Sklareski, director of franchise marketing;
Lisa Yauch, manager of franchise marketing

PR agency: CooperKatz & Company

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