Branding, not brandishing themselves

A controversy over advertising by top-producing brokers at Prudential Douglas Elliman proves that when it comes to branding, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.

Curbs on ad content by brokers who operate as Elliman employees but also seek to brand themselves or their groups went into effect at the end of the year, and now those brokers must have their ads vetted by the company’s marketing and legal departments.

The issue of how separate an identity a top broker could create while still working for one of the largest real estate companies in New York simmered for several months before the changes were put in place, said president and CEO Dottie Herman. She declined to discuss specifics, but said some of the content had a little too much autonomy for her taste.

“Some of our ads were a little too much and you didn’t know who was Prudential Douglas Elliman. I am a big believer in branding and promoting brokers, but sometimes some of these ads I didn’t even recognize as ads for my company,” she said. “I reined some of this in, and I talked to everyone, and now we have put a system in place so that all of the marketing and branding is consistent with the Prudential Douglas Elliman brand.”

While Herman has had to ride herd on her branded brokerage groups, which include Lisa Maysonet and her Group Maysonet, and Jacky Teplitzky and her Jacky Teplitzky Team, she’s still a big proponent of the concept of branding within a brokerage, a practice that began about a decade ago in California and has gradually worked its way to New York.

“It is not necessarily the top 5 percent of our brokers who are branding themselves; you are seeing a lot of the newer, younger brokers doing it as well,” added Herman.

Brokers who do so must foot the bill, but Herman says the investment can pay off handsomely.

Building momentum

At the New York office of Sotheby’s International Realty the concept of branding is building momentum, according to Ellie Johnson, vice president and brokerage manager at Sotheby’s.

“We think it is wonderful when a broker brands themselves as an individual, positioning themselves in the market,” said Johnson.

Even so, she said Sotheby’s maintains a watchful eye over broker ads. “There is no right, wrong or negative. In general, a company has to be confident enough that the brokers promoting under their umbrella are interested in being true to the company brand. When an individual starts to just brand themselves as an individual, this might be someone looking to perhaps go off on their own,” said Johnson.

“I call it co-branding, in which one brands a known name with their own. It is possibly the most effective means of jumpstarting a real estate career. Some people do it wrong, they divorce their name from their company and just promote themselves,” said Nikki Field, a senior vice president with Sotheby’s.

Field advertises herself and her team of associates as the “Field Team” in publications like Hamptons Cottages and Gardens, the New York Times and Avenue. She allocates 20 to 25 percent of her profits to advertising and said marketing has been important to her career. According to her biography on the Sotheby’s Web site, since joining the firm in 1998, Field has ranked among the agency’s top five producers and has had record-breaking sales of nearly $500 million.

“I’m promoting Sotheby’s, myself and my client’s properties; it’s a win-win for everybody, and I’m selling properties because of it,” said Field.

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

Other firms also set limits

Other firms, such as Halstead Property, are also setting limits on brokers’ marketing efforts and requiring that all promotional material be cleared by the marketing department.

Halstead lets brokers use a company Web site to download approved marketing materials such as market report information, articles and company logos that brokers can incorporate into promotional materials.

“We have even done some customized Web sites for some of our brokers. Whatever they feel they need to do to help themselves get in front of their clients, we help them do this, and we are right out there with them,” added Diane Ramirez, president of Halstead Property.

Jacky Teplitzky, an executive vice president at Prudential Douglas Elliman and a broker since 1996, decided as a newbie to build her business and her brand simultaneously in an attempt to gain industry footing.

“It doesn’t happen overnight, and you have to be unbelievably consistent, you can’t just expect to be quoted in the New York Times and have your phone ringing off the hook the next day,” said Teplitzky.

Creating a niche

For Lisa Maysonet, senior vice president and founder of Group Maysonet at Prudential Douglas Elliman, the niche that has helped hone her brand is new development. “I am doing a lot of new developments now and I am looking to promote those new developments and to promote myself as an expert,” said Maysonet.

Like many brokers with her level of experience and expertise — Maysonet has been a broker for 29 years — she retains the services of a publicist, but admits the benefits aren’t tangible.

“It’s not a trackable thing, it just really is not. It is something I am looking at right now myself. I think what is trackable is proven results,” Maysonet said.

Deanna Kory, a senior vice president with the Corcoran Group, created a niche and built a successful brand in part through her skills as a home stager.

Kory, a broker for 22 years, has all of the trappings of success: a graphic designer and driver are part of her 13-person team that includes seven sales people, an approach Kory likens to a corporation.

“It is a tremendous financial commitment on the part of the agent because a splash in the pan doesn’t do anything,” said Kory.

Cathy Hobbs is an Emmy Award-winning journalist and interior designer.