Long perused by wistful dreamers and active buyers alike, real estate and development listings, brochures and publications are certainly among the most enduring and endearing forms of content marketing.
There has been a lot of new activity of late, from the sumptuous Elliman magazine that landed with a thud outside my home bundled with the New York Times a few months ago, to Coldwell Banker’s empathic “Home Field Advantage” videos featuring baseball stars, as well as its use of user-generated photos and videos as part of the sales process, to name just a few.
Last week I went to a memorial service for Jack Thomas, one of the three founders of Adweek, on the North Shore of Long Island. On the way back, I stopped to look at a house I lived in as a boy: a modest three-bedroom in a middle-class neighborhood. But 100 yards away was the verdant Ogden Phipps estate.
The son of one of the Phipps’ horse trainers was a classmate of mine. Sometimes we’d steal a glimpse of the mansion where the other .001% lived -- but mostly we romped through the pastures. I was sorry to see the inevitable notice posted at the entrance last week: The 160-acre property is being developed. I later Googled Spring Hill at Old Westbury, as the project is called, and two items of particular interest surfaced.
The first was a 2010 story from the Long Island section of the New York Times carrying the boosterish headline, “Not Just Another Subdivision for Developable Estates.” In the first sentence, there’s a link any marketer would die for: It leads to a 1:46 video extolling the development of a property “where old-world charm meets the ultimate in luxury living.”
I could, I’m quite sure, hear Mr. Thomas’ well-known howl of indignation. Back in 1987, he and his Adweek partners (one of whom is the publisher of MediaPost), backed a market test of a real estate lifestyle publication I’d proposed covering the second-home market around New York City.
Northeast Second Home was not glossy — “more like a funky country weekly such as the [Martha’s] Vineyard Gazette,” I wrote in my proposal. “And while it will celebrate country living, it will endeavor to be journalistic in every positive sense of the word — a discipline not often practiced in the real estate and travel field.”
My backers — ardent believers in the old-school principle that the division between church and state was sacrosanct — would not have had it any other way. Brokers’ advertising, of course, would pay the bills as well as be a main attraction for readers.
But this was not content marketing; it was independent content that would attract readers. And had we survived into the digital age — Wall Street tanked the month Northeast Second Home rolled off the press and we knew the real estate market would soon follow — I’d like to believe we would not be linking from editorial to video ads from advertisers.
The second item that appeared in the Google results was a story about Kean Development, the builder behind the Spring Hill project, in the Spring 2013 issue of Shawn Elliott Luxury, another custom broker’s magazine that’s every bit as hoity-toity as the 340-page Elliman magazine (and its sister, elevate, which launched last winter), what with ads from the likes of a Bentley dealer, a sea-plane taxi service and Rolex.
Even if I’m nowhere near the target demographic of these branded publications, never discount the power of pass-along. I can now tell acquaintances looking to spend upwards of a couple of million in the Hamptons what Ian Schrager is up to lately, along with what’s new in pet bling (blueberry facials, cashmere and “pawdicures”).
I called Brown Harris Stevens broker Wolf Jakubowski, an old miniscule-stakes poker crony of mine, to make sense of all this content marketing after receiving his latest email newsletter on Monday. “Wolf’s Townhouse News” features one new listing and two exclusives in Manhattan — one with an asking price of $8.9 million; the other, $13.7 million.
Jakubowski said he doesn’t pay much attention to the upscale shelter publications as either a reader or an advertiser, be they published by brokers or independently. There are just too many, and — pretty as they may be — who can differentiate one from the other? Brown Harris Stevens gets its best response from insertions in the New York Times 12 or 14 times a year, and the Wall Street Journal’s “Mansion” section on Fridays, 26 times a year, he told me.
Whoa. Wait. What about those emails I’ve been getting?
“Oh, well that’s really the primary vehicle because the email newsletter goes to people I know,” Jakubowski quickly replied. “When they see a house, they themselves may not be looking because they bought one from me 10 years ago. But they may have a friend who’s looking. And that’s what generates business. They know me already.”
The simplest ways to engage, built on experience and trust, still work best.