Technology

Presentations With Pizazz

Tech-Savvy Brokers Use New Tools to Move Beyond PowerPoint.

It's hard for Garry Rodgers, CCIM, to not use the word “cool” when describing his company's latest marketing tool. But after popping in the business-card-size CD emblazoned with the Rodgers Group logo and watching the short multimedia presentation that introduces the company, viewers tend to agree with that assessment. Equally impressive is the fact that Rodgers wrote and directed the professional-looking and -sounding production, and his cousin Randy Rodgers, an artist who has about two years' experience with computers, created it technically.

Cleveland, Tenn.-based Rodgers Group is at the forefront of local commercial real estate companies making a big splash with the next wave of presentations. Forget the plastic spiral bindings and the glossy two-pocket folders. These new presentations combine audio, still photography, video, and graphics to create productions that resemble corporate commercials. They reside on hard drives, CDs, Web sites, and in e-mail folders. With the click of a mouse, you can reach one or one million potential buyers, around the block or around the world.

“The point was to get out of our market,” says Garry Rodgers, whose family-owned company specializes in industrial build-to-suits. “We use this [presentation] to market to [national] clients who come to Cleveland looking for properties.”

Using Adobe LiveMotion, Jasc Paint Shop Pro, Cool Edit Pro (recently renamed Adobe Audition), an inexpensive digital camera, and a vision, the Rodgers cousins put together a fast-moving overview of the Rodgers Group's experience, expertise, and client list that automatically starts when the CD is inserted in a computer. “I have the presentation saved on my hard drive, so I bring it to important face-to-face meetings,” says Garry Rodgers. “Then I leave a copy of the CD with them. Reaction has been very positive so far. This is the sort of thing that sets us apart from our competition,” he says.

Setting yourself apart is the name of the game in today's highly competitive market. That directive, combined with a wide array of computer design tools and faster Internet connections, is raising the bar for commercial real estate marketing presentations.

The Wow Factor
Best known among those tools is Macromedia Flash, a program for creating high-graphic, low-bandwidth files that can be e-mailed or downloaded quickly and played on any computer with a Flash reader — which nearly 98 percent of today's desktop computers have, according to industry sources.

Garry Rodgers first experienced Flash power a few years ago at a CCIM Institute conference. “When I got my designation in 2000 in Denver, I went to a marketing seminar given by William Gladstone, CCIM. He said, ‘PowerPoint is dead,' and showed a CD presentation put together with Macromedia Flash. I thought, ‘That's what I want to do.'”

“It really gives a presentation the wow factor,” says David Ebeling, communications manager for Sperry Van Ness. The Irvine, Calif.-based brokerage company has created an online marketing system that its broker affiliates can use to create everything from a printed proposal to an online Flash presentation.

“It brings a little Hollywood to commercial real estate,” says Mark Alexander, CCIM, owner of Mark Alexander Commercial Realty, a Sperry Van Ness affiliate in Fort Myers, Fla. “When I get a new listing, I send a link to the digital postcard by e-mail to my stable of investors. Many have told me that no other broker provides them with this type of marketing information, which just makes my day.”

With the online tools, “we start marketing the day after a listing is signed,” Alexander says. This ability helped him sell a medical building at full price three weeks after listing it and another property within 12 days at 97 percent of list price.

The Medium Is the Message
The word presentation conjures up many images: printed spiral-bound proposals, brochures, or a series of PowerPoint slides. The upside of such a media plethora is that one size doesn't have to fit all: Brokers can pick the medium that best matches the client.

Equally important, the ability to put information into so many different formats in such a short amount of time “is pretty impressive,” says William R. Younce, CCIM, a Sperry Van Ness senior adviser in Portland, Ore. In about an hour, he can create a 40- to 50-page printed proposal that contains a property's description, market analysis, and sales and rent comps, as well as maps, photos, and broker information. “At the same time you create portable document formats for e-mailing. So you can either print it out, send PDFs, or do both. And then from that you can create a printed brochure, an e-mail postcard, or a Web site,” he says.

Other brokers concur that mainstream adoption of technology has significantly shortened the amount of time from listing to closing. But brokers need to assess their clients' comfort zones and match the presentation format to each client's level of technological sophistication.

Skip Duemeland, CCIM, of Duemelands Commercial in Bismarck, N.D., usually e-mails his presentations as Microsoft Word brochures, along with Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, planEASe reports, maps, and demographics. He is buying a digital video camera to add 360-degree property views.

But he doesn't want to lose those potential investors that might not be technologically up to speed. “We mail via FedEx the written brochure for those buyers who do not have e-mail,” he says. “Many of the older generation do not have the technology resources. However, they do have the expertise in the business area and the funds to support a [property] purchase.”

Along with considering clients' technological expertise, keep in mind that expectations can vary according to property type too. For example, Garry Rodgers now is working on a retail CD presentation, hoping to attract national tenants that aren't in the Cleveland market. “Retail is much more glitzy than industrial development,” he says. “This CD plays to that glitz.”

Creating Multiple Format Presentations
Commercial real estate professionals tailoring presentations to clients and situations is a step in the right direction — away from the one-presentation-fits-all approach popular in the 1990s after real estate professionals discovered PowerPoint's magic.

PowerPoint is still the industry standard for presentations, but if your audience sighs when you click forward to your next bullet point, maybe it's time to add a little action to your presentations. You can create movement by adding a short video clip, such as a talking-head segment or a virtual property tour, or by animating graphics, panning across still pictures, and fading in and out. An array of software programs streamline the process by building on PowerPoint presentations. (See sidebar "Making Multimedia Magic.")

Perhaps more important than creating a multimedia presentation is creating a presentation that can be provided in many formats: print, e-mail, and Web being the three top distribution points. Here are some tools that are almost standard for achieving this.

PDF Files. Using the full Adobe Acrobat software, you can convert files from PowerPoint, Excel, Word, Publisher, QuarkXpress, and other pro-grams into PDF files and e-mail or post them to a Web site. PDF files can contain charts, photographs, spreadsheets, numerous fonts, and other static graphic elements. You can scan any printed material — brochures, newsletters, reports — and convert it to a PDF file.

Regardless of operating system or computer, anyone with the Acrobat Reader can open and view PDF files. Those without the Reader plug-in can download it for free. Viewers can't make changes or alterations to PDF files, but they can print them for future reference or distribution. PDF files even can be viewed on personal digital assistants or other mobile devices with e-mail access.

PowerPoint 2003. By upgrading to the 2003 version launched in October, you can add sound, animation, and video clips to your presentations. The new version includes the free viewer that you can e-mail along with presentations to recipients without PowerPoint. The program also includes a CD creation kit, with an auto run feature that automatically launches the presentation. Users must have the Windows XP operating system to run the new version.

Web Formats. A couple of options are available for presenting via the Internet. If you want to contact a group of investors or clients on a regular basis, consider e-mailing HTML newsletters, which can contain text and graphics. Several online services provide templates to aid users in creating these without knowing HTML coding, and they often provide database and tracking services for additional costs. HTML newsletters have an average response rate of 18 percent, much higher than Web banners or other online advertising, according to Forrester Research.

To create an easily downloadable multimedia Web presentation, you must convert files into Flash or another format such as Apple QuickTime or Windows Media Player. Programs such as LiveMotion do the job without requiring you to learn HTML coding, but the process is time-consuming. Hiring the necessary expertise might be the best option; in some cases, as with the Rodgers Group, it might already be in the family.

The Final Frontier?
Without a doubt, Internet-based communication is the next great frontier for conducting business transactions. Factoring in travel costs for face-to-face meetings, the number of people the Web can reach simultaneously, and the fact that Web delivery either can be on demand or at a specific time, it is only a matter of time before Web presentations are standard business, alongside even less familiar technologies such as Web conferencing.

While commercial real estate is one of the last bastions of the technology-averse, it won't remain that way for long, given the way technology speeds up transactions and widens the market for every property. Learning to use it to your advantage can only strengthen your market position in the coming years.

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