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Jumping on the brand wagon.

With 140 years of business behind it, William B. May, the city's oldest name in brokerage, has notched up plenty of firsts.

It was the first real estate firm to be a sitting member of the New York Property Exchange; the first to carry out a transaction using the-then revolutionary underwater transatlantic cable; it was even the first real estate firm to take to the airwaves with a radio advertisement.

This month, the industry workhorse is about to undertake another first, at least for William B. May, as it embarks on a major effort to re-brand itself and, as new brokerage operations president, Eric Lustgarten puts it, "catch up with the third millennium."

The company has big plans to not only expand its staff and appoint new leadership, but to put a new face on its old name with an unprecedented--and expensive--overhaul of its perception among the buyers and sellers in both the residential and commercial sectors. From a newly designed web-site--created by Chris Hannan, of ZoomLookBook, whose past successes include projects with the NYPD, IMG and The Metropolitan Museum of Art--to the opening of a major new storefront headquarters location on 64th and Lexington, William B. May is going all out to put its name back on the map as a leader in real estate.

While its tagline "Building Wealth Through Property Since 1866," may not rank up their with branding legends such as Cocoa Cola's "It's The Real Thing," the philosophy is on a par with the powerhouses of the industry who have cornered the market not only through global dominance, but through clever and calculated use of branding as a marketing tool.

"Branding is a very high item on our agenda," said Steve Iaco, director of corporate communications at CB Richard Ellis, who revealed that maintaining the firm's status as a well respected brand is among the six corporate objectives of CEO Brett White.

The campaign has been so successful, even industry stalwarts are hard-pressed to remember who CB was before it merged with Richard Ellis in 1998 (Coldwell Banker Commercial, for those still searching their minds) and forget about the 2003 acquisition of Insignia ESG. Today, the thousands of brokers in 300 offices in 50 different countries around the world are all one happily branded family covered by the CB Richard Ellis umbrella.

In fact, branding is so important to the company, it has a global committee made up of senior executives from every continent who are constantly engaged in monitoring how CBRE is branded and how it is positioned in the market.

This year, the firm is spinning its brand off of a series of initiatives planned for its 100th anniversary (Coldwell Banker was founded in San Francisco in 1906) including a commemorative coffee table book and a Hall of Fame timeline featuring the companies and industry leaders which have played such a vital role in the company's evolution.

There will be parties and receptions at CBRE offices around the world and, no doubt, a major advertising campaign to ensure that CBRE's people and platform are seen in a light that shines brighter than its competitors.

As Iaco conceded, branding is nothing new to the market's biggest players, but it's a concept that seems to have caught fire in New York City of late as firms strive to compete in an often uneven playing field.

"There are some firms that are just awakening to it and are trying to become more sophisticated in how they position themselves," said Iaco, who said the three elements of the firm's brand are its people, its platform and the intangible element of how the company is perceived.

"We are perceived highly," he said, noting, "We spend a lot to time and effort ensuring all three elements work in harmony. The fact that we went public in 2004 and our stock is up 260% in one-and-a-half years, I think is a very public affirmation of how our brand is perceived." A firm that could do worse than follow the example set by CBRE is Newmark Knight Frank.

Fresh off a partnership deal with the UK-powerhouse, Knight Frank, Newmark has a stellar reputation in the US market, a quality national director of corporate marketing, Jessica Tierno, said was vital to maintain and indeed build upon in developing a new brand strategy.

"The important thing for both parties to consider here was that Newmark and Knight Frank were each companies with strong identities in their markets, and we did not want this to get lost in the co-branding efforts," said Tierno. "We want our clients to know that they will still be dealing with the same people locally and can expect the same great level of service, but that we are now positioned on a global level to provide even better worldwide solutions."

As such, the intent or challenge of the co-branding was to equally represent the joining of the two firms in a way that reflects and represents the close knit nature of the partnership, without losing the identity or name of either firm, and what those names stand for in their respective markets.

An advertising blitz around the time of the annual REBNY Gala in January, along with major direct mail and email campaigns and highly visible space signage, has already gone a tong way to creating a perfect marriage of the two companies.

Meanwhile, the industry is eagerly watching the latest Corcoran campaign as the residential giant strives to ease itself away from the name and personality of its founder with a marketing strategy focused on lifestyles, and Halstead, a direct competitor, staged a glitzy re-launch of its image last month in an effort to remind those who may have forgotten that it is How Real Estate Gets Real.

Pretenders to the residential throne, such as DJK Residential, are also looking to unseat, or at least shake up the behemoths, through new partnerships and branding initiatives.

A buy-over by the giant SIRVA Relocation last year has given the firm--known as DJ Knight in its previous carnation--extra muscle to flex in a campaign that will focus on beefing up its residential brokerage business while continuing to grow its fighting fit relocation arm.

Said James Conigliaro, vice president of DJK Residential, "We have always had a great name in relocation, and now we are establishing ourselves in the brokerage business. The aim of the branding campaign is to make people aware of the services we can now provide. Although we are small, our parent company is a large global company and we now have access to the very best resources."

And the firm is going all out with a $500,000 campaign devised by Chicago-based Plan B that includes a new logo, advertising campaign and redesigned website.

Study the success of previous efforts by such well respected firms as W&H Properties, and it's hard to argue with the money that's being thrown around.

W&H Properties was a brand formed around a set of six Manhattan towers--The Lincoln Building, 250 West 57th Street, 501 Seventh, 1359 Broadway, 200 Fifth and 1107 Broadway--which, in 2002, were removed from the management of Helmsely Spear and taken over by three of the city's leading management and leasing firms.

Each of the buildings had a reputation and, according to Anthony Malkin, the asset manager of W&H Properties, the company wanted to get each a new one.

Supervised by Wein & Malkin, the buildings had all been part of a long and successful business relationship of Lawrence Wein and Harry Helmsely. "We decided it would be easier to get the new word out if we re-branded the buildings under one name rather than try to rework six buildings. Hence, a new brand, W&H Properties was born," Malkin told REW in November, 2004.

In just one year, the turn-around was incredible. Nearly 700,000 s/f of space was leased to tenants and nearly $5 million in commissions were paid to brokers. The strategy is one which the company has successfully repeated throughout its portfolio. Jeff Newman, the W&M executive vice president in Westchester, said the company has turned branding in a new direction by creating a brand atmosphere for its buildings.

Such has been its success, it is now looking at ways to re-brand each arm of the firm--from securities and acquisitions to construction and management--under the one umbrella.

Having built up a good name among the brokerage community, it's already a step ahead of the game, according to Celene Clark, senior managing director of corporate communications at Cushman and Wakefield, another global powerhouse always on the lookout for branding opportunities.

"The market place is very crowded and the competition for the public's eyeballs is unbelievable, but it challenges a marketer to be smarter and more creative in how they brand," said Clark.

Five years ago, C&W started sponsoring sports teams and today, it's rare to see a Knicks game on TV without at least catching a glimpse of the C&W logo.

For while the basics of any campaign are based on the same premise--good old fashioned hard work, respect, reliability, trust in the industry, the spirit and the culture of the firm--electronic and online branding is the wheel that now drives the branding machine.

"Branding online is becoming very important to the future of branding and marketing and that's certainly where smart companies like Cushman & Wakefield are looking," said Clark, who pointed to C&W's global website introduced last July. "Before, nothing was integrated on the website--Asia looked different from America, Europe was different again. Today, it is a truly global website that showcases the company, its clients, its services and its people."

It's hard to imagine what Mr Cushman or Mr Wakefield would have made of it all, but surely a harbinger of good things for Mr William B. May.

Heading into its 140th year of business, the privately held, family-owned firm is braced to cast aside it old school, white shoe image with a branding campaign it hopes will pay tribute to its founders who planted the roots of a remarkable firm.

"We haven't had a direction or market focus and that's because we didn't aggressively look for one," said Eric Lustgarten. "But while other firms are talking about lifestyles, we are assuming our customer base already has a lifestyle.

"We are counting on this campaign rejuvenating William B. May. We are not re-inventing the wheel. We have a history behind us and, with new blood and the same traditions and business values going forward, we want to implant in the next generation of New Yorkers the knowledge that William B. May continues to be a true leader in real estate."
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Title Annotation:Commercial Sales & Leasing
Author:Barr, Linda
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Article Type:Company overview
Date:May 3, 2006
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