Industry Ad Vantages

In what has become an increasingly cluttered media market, today's MF advertising agencies hat to be more clever than ever.


In what has become a media market increasingly cluttered with fishing poles, today’s multifamily advertising agencies have to be more creative than ever to effectively catch renters. With that in mind, AP talked to execs at three firms that specialize in direct-to-consumer MF marketing to get their thoughts on strategy and approach.

FOUNDER: A housewife looking for work in Richardson, Texas, Marie Madden founded Madden Marketing in 1981. She decided to start her own business after being treated poorly by employment agencies. “I thought, ‘I can do this better than they can,'” Madden says. She specialized first in personnel placement for the apartment industry and soon branched into brochures, signage — she owns Innovative Sign Group — logos, websites, technical writing, lease-ups and more.

THE PEOPLE, THE APPROACH: “We’re like an apartment department store in a way,” Madden exec VP Susan Redmon says. “We do anything that relates to multifamily housing.”

The agency excels at lease-ups.

Once contracted to perform a lease-up, Redmon travels to the client’s community — Madden Marketing serves clients around the country — to conduct thorough research. She visits the local chamber of commerce, knocks on the mayor’s door, analyzes the market, and scopes out competitors.

Another Madden employee remains on site for months at a time, serving as a third-party apartment community observer, opening and closing models, and walking the units daily.

“We’ve got a savvy market out there. People who rent apartments know they can go down the road and get a great deal,” Redmon says.

Eileen Flanagan, marketing coordinator, receives reports from the on-site specialist throughout the day. Redmon stays in close communication, too. In-house artist Mike Martin and a small team of designers prepare promotional materials to suit. Madden has 30 employees total.

“What’s really fun is when we go back and talk to the property manager a year later and find out they’re still in the high 90s and they’ve been able to hold onto their occupancy level,” Redmon says.

PORTFOLIO INCLUSED: Haltom City, Texas’ Barrington at Beach Street Apartments; Allen, Texas’ Crest Place Apartments; and North Dallas’ Park Side community, just to name a few.

AWARDS: The agency has won 30 awards over the last five years. The Richardson Chamber of Commerce recently named it Small Business of the Year, 2005. Signs of the Times magazine has honored Madden more than once. Other awards include Pillars of the Industry and McSam’s.

Rap started in 1975. Founder Robert Perlberg’s first client was the firm that had one day earlier laid him off. National real estate development company, The Larwin Group, was downsizing. Perlberg had spent five years in-house creating their PR department from scratch. As his boss said goodbye, he also encouraged him to start his own Los Angeles agency. “Come be our PR guy,” he said.

Rap soon branched beyond press relations. Though they still do PR, today they are full-service, focusing on advertising, graphics, and web design. Perlberg and a close-knit, 10-person team offer one-stop shopping for Southwestern homebuilders, multifamily clients and others.

THE PEOPLE, THE APPROACH: Rap’s most recent multifamily client was Fountain Park, an apartment community located a few miles north of Los Angeles International Airport.

Fountain Park enlisted several agencies. Rap came on board to market. The challenge: To rent 750 upscale apartments on the quick, instead of going the traditional route of achieving a maintenance-level of renters and pacing themselves.

“We devised a $200,000 marketing plan, advertising, signage, and brochures — in some instances adding things a multifamily development doesn’t do.” Perlberg says. “We added totally different components, like a postcard campaign to high-end apartment communities on the West Side and a campaign that used art work that didn’t look like anybody else’s.”

Rap even placed free flat-screen TVs in some apartments — lease today and it’s yours!

“Fountain Park’s need was to create velocity,” Perlberg says. “You can’t rent 15 apartments a week if you’re only going to get 30 or 40 prospects through.”

How fast did Rap fill them up?

“It all got done in a handful of months,” Perlberg says.

Rap puts its own spin on the typical agency-client relationship, too.

“We’re a little different than most agencies because we allow our creative people to actually talk to clients,” Perlberg says. “They go to client meetings. We make them visible.”

Perlberg’s team consists of Marty Zweben, a PR specialist who’s been at Rap for 27 years, and office manager Joey Armor, a 16-year Rap veteran. Creative director Craig Peterson comes from a design background, not real estate — Perlberg says he brings fresh eyes to the property game. Robert Franssen oversees the company’s newest department, website creation and management.

What’s Rap’s main rap?

“We believe very, very strongly that everything a consumer sees from the very first impression — which could be a sign, could be a banner, could be an outdoor board five miles away — has to be consistent. If you let down in any of those areas, there’s a hiccup.”

PORTFOLIO INCLUDES: Bay Colony, an active adult community in L.A.’s South Bay region; the Seabridge marina housing community in Ventura, Calif.; and Prefumo Creek Estates, a housing community in San Luis Obispo, Calif., just to name a few.

AWARDS: In 30 years, the team has received more than 300 awards.

FOUNDER: Following his father and grandfather into the advertising business, Harry Merrick IV started his Washington D.C.-based 20 years ago.

“When we opened the doors in 1985, all we had was a staff of three and one client,” says Merrick, who serves as company CEO. “But the drive was there — and we had an idea we thought would set us apart from other agencies.”

That idea was to serve just the real estate industry — a disciplined focus that has worked for the company.

“By concentrating our efforts in one area, we’ve been able to adapt and evolve as the industry has,” Merrick notes. “We’ve built the agency’s capabilities around the specific needs of the real estate market. The expertise and depth of experience we bring to every project is something our clients find invaluable.”

The addition in 1990 of Glenn Towle as an accounting assistant proved notable, too. Towle’s financial savvy proved key to the company’s growth — he was made partner in 1996 and now has the title of COO.

Today, Merrick Towle has over 50 employees and features a diverse client list that ranges from regional builders to national property development and management companies.

THE PEOPLE, THE APPROACH: The process of successfully marketing clients’ products — rental apartments in urban or suburban settings, value priced or ultra-luxurious, new home sales, single or multi-family — begins with communications.

“We see our account executives as consultants, and we focus on communicating with clients to really get a full understanding of their needs,” says Amy Weedon, the agency’s account planner. “They go beyond solving problems to actually identifying them and, ultimately, anticipating them. Even more important than that, their job is also to identify and take advantage of opportunities.”

“We look at everything: the target audience, the nature of the property, the neighborhood it’s in, right down to the finishes in the kitchens and baths,” adds account supervisor Justine Song.

In serving clients, Merrick Towle’s next step is to look externally at the marketplace, developing a profile of the potential residents. This takes into account all types of categories — income level, personal preferences, sense of style. The result is a “marriage” between the personality of the prospective renter and the community being leased.

Then comes execution. From websites to print ads, interactive CD/DVD’s to brochures, outdoor to direct response, Merrick Towle’s creative team will supply the pieces that make the campaign pop.

Further down the line, production director Donna McGee ensures the quality of the finished product — whether it’s a black and white flyer or a full-color, hand-assembled, metallic-inked, spot-varnished brochure. Meanwhile, media director Annette Picon sees that all this creative has somewhere to go, putting clients’ best feet forward with effective media purchasing strategies.

Adds account supervisor Greg Benson: “There are no formulas here, no cookie cutter approaches. The only thing that’s common to every assignment is that it’s all real estate — beyond that, they’re all unique and deserve unique approaches.”

PORTFOLIO INCLUDES: The Alban Towers, a renovated, ultra-luxury D.C. apartment community; The Ellington, a youth-driven, D.C. urban apartment community; and the Residence at Bullo Rock, a resort-style planned community in Chesapeake Bay, just to name a few projects.

AWARDS: Industry kudos include six consecutive Pillars of the Industry awards from the National Association of Home Builders.