Standout Marketing Strategies

Learn How Industry Professionals Effectively Market Properties and Themselves.

Every year, millions of square feet of commercial real estate worth billions of dollars are bought, sold, or leased in the United States. Before that happens, though, many hours are spent trying to match the right company or individual with the right property. Brokers sometimes are able to use a network of contacts to find interested investors. More often though, they have to rely on marketing the properties to prospective - and possibly unknown - clients who may or may not be looking for space.

"[Marketing] is key; it's exposure of the property," says Bill Gladstone, CCIM, SIOR, a sales agent at NAI/Commercial-Industrial Realty Co. in Camp Hill, Pa. "The goal is to find the largest number of buyers or tenants in the shortest period of time. Exposure will help meet that goal."

Standout marketing campaigns can take many different forms. In recent years, technology has introduced new options for marketing properties, including Web sites, broadcast e-mails, and CD-ROMs. The New York-based Direct Marketing Association predicts that this type of marketing will continue to grow in the coming years.

The effectiveness of marketing campaigns varies widely, but commercial real estate professionals in general have been successful at creating standout materials that work in their markets. Some experiment with the exciting and new, while others rely on tried-and-true methods of promotion. From using technology to its full potential to saving time when creating brochures and fliers, the following tips can lead to effective marketing campaigns.

21st-Century Marketing Not content to market properties using traditional materials, some companies have integrated newer technology into their campaigns. Recently, Leggat McCall Properties in Boston marketed three properties using a 3-inch by 2.5-inch CD-ROM. "We were looking for something that would draw people's attention," says Brad Griffith, president and co-CEO of Leggat McCall. Known as a buzzcard, the CD-ROM contained all the information and images that would have been featured in a brochure.

The buzzcard is an extension of a marketing program that Leggat McCall used about three years ago, Griffith says. The company acquired a large tract of land in suburban Boston and was going to build a 400,000-sf office building on spec. "We created a virtual tour of the project," he explains. Working with Brodeur Interactive in Boston, Leggat McCall created a CD-ROM that contained computer-generated images of the future office building. "It was a very successful marketing program," he says.

When Leggat McCall acquired a vacant 20-story office building in downtown Philadelphia last year, it worked with Brodeur to modify its marketing campaign for this massive redevelopment project. "We had to create something and let everybody know what we had and what we were going to do with it," Griffith says. The company thought the buzzcard might pique people's interest enough for them to take a look at it, rather than another brochure going into the garbage can unread, he says.

Between 2,500 and 3,000 buzzcards were mailed out. So far, the campaign has generated a number of calls about the property. "[The buzzcard] has gotten a lot of recognition - I could never say that about a brochure," Griffith says. Three companies recently looked at the property after getting the buzzcard.

Leggat McCall spent about $50,000 on the buzzcard, but Griffith says prices vary widely based on how much information and imagery is included.

Commercial real estate companies also have become more proactive in using the Internet to market their properties. "[The Internet] has got to be a part of the marketing program," says Allen C. McDonald, CCIM, senior associate at Trammell Crow Co. in Brentwood, Tenn.

Disappointed with the capabilities and results of existing online property listings, several companies have launched their own Web sites devoted exclusively to marketing their properties.

The Dallas-based Staubach Co. developed Staubach Property Dispositions online after determining that existing real estate service providers did not effectively market its large real estate portfolios, according to Janie French, vice president of research and technology for the company's retail division. The site features property descriptions, location data, and photographs, and allows users to search by property type, client, state, or region.

In addition to creating a centralized source for investors interested in its clients' portfolios, having its own Web site allows the company to select what information to include and how to present it. "We ... wanted more control over the information we put up there," French says.

Because the site is maintained in-house, changes and corrections are quicker and easier to make. In-house maintenance also keeps costs down, as the company only has to pay a minimal monthly hosting fee to its service provider.

Currently, Staubach is experimenting with a system that allows it to track activity on the site, including which pages receive the most hits. In the future, the company wants to add virtual tour capabilities, French says. For now, the company is pleased with the response the site has received. "[The clients] think it's great," she says.

Despite its effective direct-mail campaigns, Trammell Crow also advertises its properties for lease and sale on its own Web site. Direct links are provided to LoopNet - where the properties are posted - so users can click through to view more information.

As technology continues to change the commercial real estate industry, some are quick to point out that it will never fully replace the human element of the business. "You can't lose sight of the fact that the Internet is only a tool," Gladstone says. "A broker still has to close a deal."

Efficient Print Campaigns Despite the emergence of technology, direct mail remains a popular tool for most businesses. More than $40 billion was spent on it in 1999, according to the DMA. Most real estate marketing campaigns include traditional pieces such as postcards, brochures, and fliers.

However, while direct mail is one of the most popular forms of marketing, it is one of the least efficient, Gladstone says. When marketing a property, Gladstone sends out about 1,000 fliers and typically receives 10 to 20 queries about the property. "That's not a good utilization of the time these require [to make]," he says. Still, a deal may come out of direct mail, so brochures and fliers remain a vital component of a marketing campaign.

So, to cut down on that time, Gladstone and his assistants spent a couple of hours creating a template in Adobe PageMaker. "We've tried to make it cookie cutter to keep it simple," he says. Originally, they used Microsoft Publisher, but they found it couldn't handle large enough files.

In the template, areas for images and text easily can be changed from property to property, while contact information remains the same at the bottom of the flier. Gladstone says he now can produce fliers that have a consistent look in about 30 minutes. "[The template] is probably saving us between three and four hours a week," he says.

Another way to streamline direct-mail campaigns is to control who receives the pieces. An internal database that sorts past clients and other buyers by the property types they are interested in can cut down on the amount of materials mailed, McDonald says. As a result, both time and money are saved during the early stages of a campaign.

While most companies maintain databases by property types, Trammell Crow further sorts buyers within a property type. "We have a pretty defined group for each property [type]," McDonald says. For example, the retail groups include grocery-anchored centers, specialty centers, and value-added centers.

Recently, McDonald says he used the database to market a portfolio of predominantly retail properties. The properties were specialty centers, which helped determine who was included on the mailing list. "If you have a buyer ... and they have to have an operating grocery anchor in [the center], there's no point in them seeing [the brochure]," he says.

Twice a year, Trammell Crow sends a questionnaire to its database members asking them to update the information. "The bigger and more defined that database gets, the greater the odds are that we'll find a buyer," McDonald says.

In addition to better targeting direct-mail recipients, the message that is sent to them also should be well-focused and direct, says Judi Schindler, president of Schindler Communications in Chicago. "[People] are bombarded with lots and lots of messages," Schindler says. "It's very difficult for people to absorb all that's being thrown at them."

For example, a company may try to take full advantage of the money spent on a flier by listing as many properties as possible on it. However, the flier probably will draw more attention if only one property is listed, Schindler says.

Tools of the Trade The quality of print materials depends largely on the types of computer software used to produce them. As the former owner of a company that created marketing and presentation materials for commercial real estate professionals, Clyta Polhemus, CCIM, director of leasing at California State University Stanislaus-Stockton in Stockton, determined which software worked best.

"The idea is to present a real finished product," Polhemus says. This only can be achieved by finding the right software for a particular project and learning how to use the software. "It's a very time-consuming thing to learn the software, but once you have, it shows in the quality of the materials you create," she says.

For example, Polhemus previously used Publisher to create fliers, but then switched to Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. "There's more latitude in the things you can do with [Illustrator]," she says, adding that finding this out was a process of trial and error.

However, Polhemus warns not to get wrapped up in the software and forget about the hardware. "If a person is going to use mapping software, Adobe software, or computer-aided design software, they need to have a [computer] with a lot of memory," she says.

Sometimes companies can design high-quality materials without using graphic software. For instance, McDonald prefers using Microsoft Word. "We've got every software imaginable, but this seems to work better," he says. The company creates fliers as Word documents, then imports pictures and spreadsheets as images.

Creating an Identity Sometimes, marketing campaigns are built around brokers rather than properties. Jasper Tramonte, CCIM, president of Tramonte Commercial Brokerage in Houston, was being confused with some of his relatives who also worked in the real estate industry. Playing off the fact that his first name rhymed with Casper, Tramonte created Jasper the ghost, a cartoon character that resembles him right down to his mustache and glasses.

The ghost now appears on all of Tramonte's marketing materials, as well as his suspenders, cuff links, and lapel pin. Every year, he spends about $3,000 on ghost materials, and he feels it's money well spent.

"[The ghost] is instant recognition because there's no other one," Tramonte says. "If [someone] calls me Casper, I consider it a compliment because it means [the ghost] is working."

The comprehensive ghost marketing strategy not only has made him stand out from his relatives but from other commercial real estate professionals in his market as well, Tramonte says. "There are so many people in real estate, you need a way to differentiate yourself," he says.

Gladstone also says he believes that personal marketing is a way to rise above the competition. Thus, he takes advantage of every available opportunity to highlight his experience and expertise in the marketplace. "[Personal marketing] is where we put our focus," he says. One area of personal marketing that Gladstone felt could be taken further advantage of was the business card. When people request a business card, they're asking for information about you, he explains. However, because of the size of the card, you're only able to provide contact information and not background information, which could help land a client.

To solve this problem, Gladstone created a color trifold brochure that includes information on his professional designations, testimonials from clients, and information about his Web site. He staples the brochures to his business cards so that everyone who requests a card receives one.

"[The brochure] is an important little piece," Gladstone says. "It gives a little bit more [information] than what they get off a business card." The brochures also are sent to a list of contacts and included with all other marketing materials.

To redesign and print the brochure every year costs Gladstone between $2,000 and $3,000 - roughly $1 to $1.50 per brochure - and he says the exposure it brings him is worth the price. "[The brochure] brings you top-of-the-mind awareness," he says. He's gotten several calls as a result of the brochure and views these contacts as possible future clients.

Marketing campaigns - both property and personal - remain an important aspect of commercial real estate. In order to effectively conduct business, industry professionals should continue to find ways to better create marketing materials that help them stand out from the crowd.

Leah Bocanegra

Leah Bocanegra is associate editor of Commercial Investment Real Estate.Oklahoma City RebuildsOklahoma City is a model of resilience for downtown redevelopment projects, overcoming two events that virtually crippled its core in the past 10 years.First, the area’s oil and gas industries bottomed out in the early to mid-1980s. "We lost thousands of jobs and it was really devastating to Oklahoma City economically," says Tim Strange, CCIM, vice president of Wiggin Properties in Oklahoma City. As a result, the central business district’s office occupancy rate dropped from 97 percent to 65 percent.Then, just as the city was beginning to rejuvenate its downtown, a far graver tragedy struck. On April 19, 1995, a bomb exploded in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building located in the heart of downtown. When the dust cleared, 168 people were dead, 14 buildings were destroyed, and countless other buildings within a square mile were damaged."It will always be one of the most devastating moments in every citizen’s life," says David A. Huffman, CCIM, president of Property Resource Group in Oklahoma City. "You’ll always remember where you were when the bomb went off." The bombing caused more than $150 million in physical damages and forced the city to amend its redevelopment strategies.Prior to the bombing, Oklahoma City had tried to reverse its fortune by attracting national companies to the area, Strange says. When that failed, the redevelopment focus shifted solely to downtown. "The city fathers thought we needed to have a healthy downtown to have a healthy city," he says.The chamber of commerce developed a revitalization plan called Metropolitan Area Projects that consisted of nine individual public projects. These included building a new $34 million ballpark, remodeling the convention center and music hall for a combined cost of $92 million, installing a $3 million mass transit system, and creating a $34 million riverfront walkway.The projected cost of the plan, known as MAPS, was $350 million, which city officials wanted paid upfront. In December 1993, voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum for a 1-cent sales tax for five years to raise the necessary funds. Huffman says this self-imposed tax was "clearly a commitment on the part of the public" to downtown Oklahoma City.Almost a year and a half later, the city shook from the bombing and suddenly it faced not only redeveloping downtown, but also rebuilding it. "The most severe structural damage was sustained within three blocks of the site," Strange says. Office buildings were hit the hardest, followed by churches, then a small number of residential and retail properties.The federal government has committed $40 million to create a federal campus that will replace the destroyed government buildings. Construction is set to begin early next year, Strange says. The federal government also is building a $29 million national memorial where the Murrah Federal Building was located. The memorial is expected to be completed by April 2000.In addition, Oklahoma City purchased the damaged Journal Record Building, located across the street from the Murrah Federal Building, to create a museum dedicated to the bombing. The renovation project, estimated at $12.6 million, should be finished by the end of next summer.Strange says the bombing has had little negative effect on the redevelopment project. "I don’t think it really changed MAPS," he says. In fact, some funds provided through the government loan program have been reinvested in other downtown projects. A new YMCA was built and loft apartments are planned in an area called Automobile Alley, while the Bricktown neighborhood is a booming entertainment center that will be home to a 26-screen movie theater.Still, downtown Oklahoma City is experiencing high vacancy rates. In January, the office vacancy rate was 39 percent. Strange cites several reasons for the vacancy rate, including the consolidation of businesses and a competitive suburban market.Another reason is that Oklahoma City has not historically been a 24-hour city. "There haven’t been other attractions, other reasons for being downtown," he says. "Unless you had to be downtown for business reasons, you weren’t going to go downtown." He expects this will change as more entertainment properties come on line and more people move downtown.Huffman also still supports MAPS and continues to be positive about its results. "The absorption numbers remain low, but it may be a little too early to tell for sure," he says. "The optimism is euphoric."


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