Top Cat Creative Services

Increasing Your Name Recognition
by TC McClenning
A Real Estate Executive special feature, January 2000

Standing out from the crowd.Ultimately, that's the goal of most successful Realtors—setting themselves apart from the thousands of other agents in the profession. Custom logos, unique selling propositions, slogans, direct mail, and advertising are a few ways Realtors are striving to do this today.

Another area growing in popularity is advertising specialty merchandise. Customized promotional products such as pens, key chains, magnets,and notepads have become a multi-billion dollar industry. At one time, only the large corporations such as Coca-Cola could afford to have their logo emblazoned onto merchandise for marketing purposes. Today, even small businesses and independent contractors like Realtors are making use of this marketing technique.

One such agent who relies heavily on personalized merchandise is Madeline Williams, a multi-million-dollar-producing Realtor with Coldwell Banker St. Charles, located in the a suburb of St. Louis, MO. She uses a variety of products, including notepads, rulers, bookmarks, stickers, calendars, and magnets.

When asked about ways she's tried to promote herself, Madeline laughed and responded, "I've done it all! Shopping carts, movie theatre programs, a Web site, advertising specialty items—you name it. Some places I've advertised have been a complete waste. My personalized items, though, are always a big hit."

Her bookmark shows her photo, custom logo, and contact information on the front and a list of major airlines and hotels, along with toll-free contact numbers, on the reverse. On a recent flight, she gave one to the passenger next to her for the book he was reading.

"The bookmarks are a wonderful travel aid because most people like to take a book to read on the flight. The added bonus is the useful reference information on the back of the bookmark."

Williams also passes out her personalized products at an adult education class she teaches on home buying. She finds that people really appreciate the variety of useful items she gives out. "Business is all about relationships and the more we, as Realtors, cultivate these relationships, the more we're successful."

Ward Berlin, owner of Sparrow & Jacobs, a promotional products company located in Colorado Springs, CO, with a line of items targeted specifically to Realtors, explained, "The key to an effective ad specialty is that it somehow be useful to the recipient. It's a challenge for a Realtor to select a product that does this and isn't a wasted effort. In such personalized marketing, it's important for agents to put themselves in the place of the recipient in terms of whether the product will be used and appreciated."

The company puts out a catalog of postcards and specialty products, such as calendars, magnetic message centers, custom labels, door hangers, mugs, jar openers, and pens. Berlin said the company is always working to expand its line of available products. "We try to think up the ideas for the Realtors and become a marketing partner with them. Probably about 30-40 percent of the calls we receive at our customer service center (1-800-237-1324) are agents wanting us to do something not found in the catalog. Our 12-person art department is always happy to help out in these cases."

One RE/MAX agent who has mastered the use of advertising specialty items is Tim Baker. A top-producing Realtor with RE/MAX Affiliates in Naperville, IL, Tim has 20 years' experience in the business and currently has eight assistants working with him. RE/MAX agents as far away as Georgia and Maryland quickly recommended Tim Baker be included in this article.

He is sought out at the annual RE/MAX convention to get whatever kitchen implement he's giving away. Tim plays off his last name and gears his promotional efforts toward kitchen- or baking-related items. He's given away a gamut of products: adjustable measuring cups, microwave muffin tins, strainers, drink shakers, measuring spoons, chip clips, potato peelers, egg timers, and cutting boards. All have been customized with his name and contact information. Does it work? About 20 percent of his business comes from RE/MAX agents across the country sending him referrals.

"When we moved to the Naperville area in 1981 and I switched real estate companies, I knew I needed to advertise the change. We started with making homemade bread to pass out to our subdivision. At the time, it was only several dozen loaves of pumpkin and coconut bread, and my wife made them. We now pass out 6,500 loaves of bread, and I have 11 ladies who help make the bread between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

"Shortly after the bread idea began, I started looking into other ways to play on the Baker name, and that's when we hit upon the advertising specialty items."

Baker is now up to ordering promotional merchandise in quantities of 10,000. Three thousand five hundred items are sent directly to the RE/MAX conventions for distribution to other Realtors and the other 6,500 go to his farms and former clients. Interestingly, Baker chooses to have these items, like his recent purchase of cutting boards, hand delivered. He has a small army of school kids who earn extra cash delivering these packages and homemade breads.

"It's more personalized and it saves us a lot of time and money not having to get a huge mailing ready and shipped out," Tim explained. "But when a mailing does go out, I hardly ever send an envelope to my farms that I don't have something enclosed for them. Sometimes it's a two-for-one coupon for dinner at one of several area restaurants or a magnet with the upcoming schedule for a pro sports team. We just mailed out our Year 2000 magnetic calendars. People seem to really appreciate and use these things. I had one guy call recently off a Chicago Bulls magnet I sent him three years ago!"

Outsource Promotional Advertising in Atlanta, GA, has been serving the specialty advertising needs of clients since 1990 with a 3,000-square-foot showroom and a Web site ( that offers everything from an online catalog to marketing articles to daily promotional ideas.

Owner Ross Baxter explained the benefits of ad specialty items: "Statistically, it's been proven that the average retention of a well-placed ad promotion item can remain in place three months to several years. No other medium offers this kind of return in terms of cost per exposure."

Baxter was quick, however, to say that advertising specialties should not be the only way agents market their services. Instead, these products should be used as a strategic part of the whole marketing strategy. "The ad specialty needs to tie into the agent and his/her marketing niche to be the most effective.

"At Outsource, we don't just automatically use the same solution for every client in the same profession. We're not simply an order-taking ad specialty company. There are hundreds of thousands of possible products out there and it can be overwhelming. With our marketing background, we try to offer guidance to our customers about where their marketing dollars will be best spent."

In a society that's becoming more brand conscious, using the wide variety of advertising specialty merchandise available can be an effective way for Realtors to set themselves up as a "name brand" in their local real estate communities. Once the name recognition and reputation are established, the benefits and sales will follow.