Pamela Dittmer McKuen is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in homes, lifestyle, and travel. Read her work at AlltheWritePlaces.com
Broadcasting for Business
Brokers reveal the benefits and challenges of using the airwaves to build their brand.
March 1, 2011
Back in the late 1970s, before Jan Mansfield got into the real estate business, she needed to sell her house. She noticed that a local brokerage was running television commercials featuring properties for sale, and she decided that she wanted her house on television, too. She contacted that brokerage to list her home.
"My house sold in a week," Mansfield recalls. "I thought, ‘Wow!’ Later, when I became a broker and opened my own company, I already knew TV worked."
As the broker-owner of Nextage Professional Realty in Rockford, Ill., Mansfield, CRS, GRI, has hosted a weekly television show for more than 25 years. While it seems like every other broker and salesperson is posting virtual tours or how-to videos on YouTube, a select but growing number are incorporating broadcasting into their marketing strategy. They create and produce real estate–related shows for television, radio, and the Web. Although the formats and business models vary, their efforts help to build their brand and sell properties, they say.
Mansfield’s 30-minute show, "The Real Estate Connection," airs Sunday mornings on Rockford’s NBC affiliate, WREX. She appears at the beginning of the show to welcome viewers, and again at the end to sign off and direct them to her Web site. In between are about 40 30-second spots, each one describing a different listing. The show also recognizes top-producing sales associates and runs commercials for the brokerage. The four most recent shows are archived on her Web site, www.nextageprofessionals.com.
"It makes you different from anyone else in the market," Mansfield says. "It’s a great listing tool and a great recruiting tool, and the cost is minor when compared with what print costs."
Going Viral on the Web
Robb Spearman, broker-owner of six RE/MAX Real Estate Concepts offices in the greater Des Moines area of Iowa, is another broadcast enthusiast. But his medium isn’t TV; it’s the Web. Last year he not only created a Web-based video channel named Webcast One Live but also built and staffed a production studio. He sells time, production services, and advertising space to anyone who wants to put on a show, now about 30 in number. One of the shows is his own, "Real Estate with RE/MAX."
Spearman’s weekly one-hour show, which runs live on Friday afternoons, is hosted by managing broker Lance Hanson and sales associate Alma Domazet. The two chat with guests who are experts in local real estate, government, and political matters. They also take questions from viewers. During one regular segment, Domazet tours a model home with a handheld video camera. The shows are archived on www.webcastonelive.com and distributed via Facebook, iTunes, and other social media. Spearman also runs local and national RE/MAX commercials on every show that’s broadcast on his channel.
"If you do a traditional radio show, you can’t track how you’re doing," says Spearman. But by tracking his show’s Web metrics, he’s able to find out detailed information about who’s tuning in. "On every real estate show, we know we get 100 to 150 people. That might seem like a small number, but it’s a targeted number. Those people are looking at buying or selling."
"The Internet allows you to do so much more," Hanson adds. "People can watch live or watch on demand, or listen to audio only through a podcast. If we interview a builder, he can take that segment and post it on a blog or to his Web site. It gets passed around, and it grows."
Another practiced Internet broadcaster in the real estate world is Jim Mazziotti, broker-owner of Exit Realty Bend in Bend, Ore. His hour-long show, "The Central Bend Real Estate House," airs on Ustream.tv the first Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m. He talks about local and national real estate markets, office listings, and issues such as renovation loans and mortgage rates. He invites guest experts and takes viewers’ written questions. His only equipment is a webcam and microphone.
"I can sit in my office or be at home; it doesn’t matter where I am," he says. "I’ve even done a show in a park. I’ve done one sitting outside in front of my office sign."
Mazziotti’s shows are archived, too, and on occasion he has instructed his sales team to watch a show rather than attend a sales meeting, he adds.
On the Radio
In the Duluth, Minn., area, RE/MAX owners Jim Ronding and Gary Kalligher have cohosted a weekly radio show, "Twin Ports Real Estate Show," for about three years. Kalligher owns RE/MAX 1 in Duluth, and Ronding owns RE/MAX 1 in Superior, Wis., about eight miles away. Their Saturday afternoon show airs live on KDAL-AM, but listeners can also listen via the station’s Web site.
"We want to be educational, covering local and national real estate issues, but we also go for odd twists here and there," Ronding says. "We had David Oreck, the vacuum cleaner magnate. He’s originally from Duluth. He’s over 80 years old and very well read. We’ve tried to get Barack Obama. Why not? He wants to connect with the little guy."
Other guests have included motivational speaker and business coach Rich Levin and a local philanthropist raising money for a charity that benefits the homeless. The hosts also invite listeners to call in. Sometimes they banter back and forth with opposing views on a topic. But other than their initial introductions, the two brokers rarely promote themselves.
"They’re not listening to hear us go, ‘Rah, rah, RE/MAX,’" says Ronding. "They’re listening because real estate is interesting."
Another radio partnership is Ryan O’Neill and Scott Wollmering, both RE/MAX team leaders in the Minneapolis area. O’Neill is a broker-associate with RE/MAX Advantage Plus in Lakeville, and Wollmering hails from RE/MAX Results in Apple Valley. Their one-hour show, "The Minnesota Real Estate Show," airs Saturday mornings on Clear Channel’s KTLK-FM. Podcasts are also linked on their Web site, www.mnrealestateshow.com.
A typical show includes local market statistics and current mortgage rates, a sponsored home-related segment, and discussion between the hosts. Topics have included tips for selling a home during the holiday season and housing market myths. "We do it to market ourselves and our teams, but also to be an information source for people out there," O’Neill says. "We know a lot of agents and brokers from competing companies who listen."
Ready for Anything
Broadcasting can be rewarding and lots of fun, but it’s also serious work. The broadcasters say they must adhere to a regular schedule so that audiences can find them, and they need to offer stimulating content to entice viewers and listeners to return. They’ve also got to spend time researching market facts, dreaming up interesting topics, and recruiting guests. Some find the grind to be too much, considering that their primary jobs are to manage sales associates and sell properties. Mazziotti started his show as a weekly in May 2009 but changed to monthly a year later. Ronding started out as a solo host, but after a couple of weeks brought in Kalligher to share the load. O’Neill and Wollmering cut their show from two hours to one hour.
Mansfield’s show is prerecorded, which relieves her of a rigid routine. She tapes introductions and closing segments for several shows at a time at the TV studio—with time factored in for a change of wardrobe. The listings are videotaped by an outside production company, and then the various segments are linked together. "I love the idea of radio, but that’s a big commitment," she says. "It’s live. You have to make sure something stupid doesn’t roll out of your mouth. And if you don’t line up guests, it would be very boring."
Occasional glitches are just part of the deal. Hanson last fall was interviewing a guest when her cell phone rang. He quickly went to a commercial break so she could turn it off. One minute before Mazziotti’s December show, the electrical power in his office building went out. "It took me about 10 minutes to get it back on," he says. "By then my phone was ringing: ‘Where are you? Where’s the show?’ I didn’t have time to reset my controls, and the sound level was too low for the entire show."
How Much Does It Cost?
The cost of putting on a show ranges from expensive to practically free, depending on its format and the medium. None of the broadcasting brokers we interviewed are paid, and some are expected to provide their own sponsors. Only Ronding and Kalligher have no financial responsibility at all. And that’s because as long as their ratings are good, the station can sell advertising to support the show. O’Neill and Wollmering have to sell advertising or pay for airtime (up to $2,000 a week) themselves. Spearman, meanwhile, who owns his studio, is just breaking even with Webcast One Live.
Mansfield pays for production and air time, but charges associates to promote their listings. Her rule of thumb is that all open houses and new listings must be featured. After that, she takes requests. The fees cover about half the total cost, she says.
Mazziotti spends nothing on his show as long as he allows Ustream to run advertising messages across the bottom of the screen, and those ads could be totally unrelated to real estate. However, he does plan to invest in upgraded equipment, such as a new microphone to get better sound quality.
Exposure Is Worth It
Although they don’t have hard data to prove it, the broadcasters strongly believe their shows spur sales. Occasionally a listener or viewer will become a client soon after the show, but that’s the exception. Instead, the shows—and the hosts’ predictable appearances and solid content—build awareness, trust, and stature within the community. It’s these qualities that lead to sales down the road.
Ronding estimates he gets half a dozen calls a year from listeners who are ready to list or sell. More often he finds himself in competition with other sales practitioners for a listing. "I tell [prospects] about the show, and they listen, and they say, ‘You guys are knowledgeable; we’ll go with you.’ It solidifies your position as an expert."
Spearman says his venture is too new for sales results. However, phone-ins to a call center number are up, and sales associates are pleased with the exposure they’re getting. "Right now, we’re pretty unique, especially to the extent that we are doing it," he says. "Within the next few years, you’re going to see a lot more of it. Internet marketing is where it’s at."
"What I’m doing is branding myself," says Mazziotti. "My show makes me different from other companies. It says I am somebody who innovates and makes changes in our town."
When You’re In SHOW BUSINESS
"Real Estate Today" is a two-hour, weekly radio show created and produced by the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. The consumer-focused show has segments on home buying, selling, and ownership. Hosted by media veteran Gil Gross, it airs on the radio in 120 cities nationwide and the Web at www.retradio.com and is available on iTunes. You can also add a "Real Estate Today" widget to your Web site at no charge so your customers can easily tune in. Here, the program’s director, Stephen Gasque of NAR (pictured), provides helpful hints for making your radio program stand out.
Do . . .
Engage THEM. While your radio show is airing, your listeners are probably multitasking—perhaps surfing the Internet or driving. Provide stimulating content they want to hear.
Give it time. Loyal audiences aren’t built overnight. It takes a while for people to sift through all the information streaming at them, find you, realize you’re great, and want to visit you every week.
Appreciate your AUDIENCE. One caller to "Real Estate Today" asked whether her adult son qualified for the now-expired $8,000 tax credit so he could buy a house. When Gasque, who screens the callers, said that based on the information she provided, he would qualify, she was so happy she started crying. "It’s wonderful being able to help them," Gasque says.
Don’t . . .
Wing it. Do your homework on the topics you’ll be discussing and approach stories in creative ways. It takes planning.
Use INDUSTRY jargon. You know that "w/d" means "washer and dryer" and that "ABR" means "Accredited Buyer’s Representative," but listeners who don’t will tune out.
Give legal or financial advice. If you tell someone what to do and it doesn’t turn out well, you’ll be held accountable. "But it’s fine to give people ideas and options they might not otherwise be aware of," Gasque says. Just remind them to check in with an expert.