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Serving the real estate industry's media needs for 25 years.

Last month marked 25 years since David M. Grant told his boss he was leaving to start his own public relations firm, specializing in real estate. Though he admits opening a firm specializing in real estate didn't sound too smart at a time both commercial and residential real estate were in deep recession, looking back from the perspective of today's robust economy, Grant says it taught him a valuable lesson.

"I had never thought like an entrepreneur until I opened my own firm," he recalls. "But when you start in a bad economy, you learn fast. And you can hardly over-estimate the importance of caution. So when real estate hit bottom in the late 80's and early 90's, I was better prepared for it than I would have been if I had not started my company in the recession of 1974."

Today, LVM Group Inc. (named after an economics professor of Grant's at New York University) boasts real estate-related clients in a wide variety of areas, including development, commercial leasing, residential brokerage, retail, leasing, construction, management, property ownership, re-development, syndication, marketing, restoration, architecture and general consulting.

But when Grant started his business, all be bad was one $500-a-month client, a $3,000 loan from Bankers Trust, and a list of credentials. That list included four years as a newspaper reporter, eight months of writing for The New York Times' real estate section, two and a half years in the public relations office of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and 11 months as a vice president with Howard J. Rubenstein Associates.

As the mid-'70s recession receded, and as New York City finally began to recover its own miasma, Grant's one client blossomed into many. This was not an entirely good thing.

Grant's entrepreneurial efforts had begun as a one-person firm operating out of the bedroom of a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. After several months, he and his wife Betsy moved to a two-bedroom apartment, so that his work would be less intrusive at their home. But with Betsy taking a respite from her job at a real estate company, it took only a few months for her to suggest that her husband's working out of home was putting a crimp in their marriage.

"My wife told me that I should get either a new office or a new wife," chuckles Grant. "It took me about half a second to decide to take the office."

As the firm grew, so did Grant's networking. He became very active in the Public Relations Society of America (the PRSA, which now has 20,000 members), serving as president Of its New York (and largest) chapter and on the boards of two of PRSA's national sections, the Counselors Academy and the Professional Services section. Grant also became a partner in Pinnacle Worldwide, a network of 65 public relations firms around the world.

"Being so active in professional societies has translated into many benefits for my firm and my clients," says Grant, "including the ability to get the attention of other public relations people when I have a particular need to reach into a specific city or country, anywhere in the world."

By far, the service most in demand from the five-person (plus free-lancers) LVM Group (including ex-journalists Bob Rumerman and Donna Peltier) is publicity - i.e., getting clients quoted and mentioned in newspapers and magazines, and on television, radio and the Internet. But the firm also provides an array of other public relations and marketing services, including writing and editing by-lined articles, letters, newsletters, brochures, position papers and annual reports; crisis management; preparing and supervising direct-mail campaigns; speech writing and arranging speaking engagements; organizing special events; aiding in community and governmental relations; preparing submissions for competitions and awards; and general management counseling.

Two recent estate examples may demonstrate how good public relations can work.

When LVM was retained by Sumitomo Realty & Development on behalf of 666 Fifth Avenue in 1994, the 40-year-old office building needed to compete with more modern towers and fill much vacant space, despite its prominent address. LVM began a media program that imparted a modern, forward-looking image to both the building and its management, by focusing on high-tech upgrades and a range of other improvements. The building was repeatedly mentioned in The New York Times, Crain's New York Business, the tri-state area real estate trades (especially those read by the all-important brokerage community) and other media.

"With our help, the building went from having a great deal of space available to being virtually fully-leased," says Grant. When the program ended, Sumitomo's representative wrote to LVM: "The exposure this property received through LVM's efforts was even more than we hoped for... LVM gave us significantly greater results than had the same dollars been spent on pure advertising."

LVM represented Peter and Anthony Malkin's 1185 Avenue of the Americas for many years, up to and including its sale at the end of July. Several years ago, the almost fully-leased building faced the prospect of some 350,000 square feet coming back on the market in 1996-97. LVM began an intensive media campaign to reinforce the owners' direct marketing efforts to highlight the available space.

"For example, when Tony Malkin told me his was one of the few firms to pay brokers 100 percent on signing a deal, I went to The Times' commercial real estate reporter, who ended up doing a big story on it, with a photo of the building and of Tony. That certainly got the brokers' attention!

"And in support of a brokers' party, we placed a number of articles about the event, which attracted more than 300 brokers."

In 1996, leases representing more than 200,000 square feet were signed or awaiting completion. What's more, when the Malkins bought several buildings in Fairfield and Westchester counties, they hired LVM to publicize them.

"The Malkins moved aggressively to improve and lease the suburban buildings," says Grant. "But I believe our intensive work was helpful in getting the buildings some with 100 percent vacancy - fully leased."

LVM has represented Peter L. Malkin and Anthony E. Malkin's W&M Properties in their activities in residential, office, and retail properties, and their affiliate W&M Construction Corp in its construction activities, for many years. As well, LVM works for the Malkins' wholly-owned broker dealer, Wien & Malkin Securities.

"Working hand and hand with these acquisition, turnaround and management specialists in their expansion activities and their capitalizing structures has been a challenge well met by LVM," says Anthony Malkin, president of W&M. "We consider LVM a part of our company and rarely contemplate a transaction or major program without close consultation with them. That close relationship has secured public relations placements which are timely and assist us in expanding market awareness of our credibility, track record, and capabilities."

Of course, since most of LVM's clients are in real estate, it doesn't hurt that Grant has 30 years of experience in the industry.

"When a real estate firm hires LVM whether for commercial, residential or specialty products and service - there's no learning curve for us," he notes. "We know the industry, we know the reporters, we know the issues, we know the buzzwords, and we know the market. That's why we need very little time to gear up."

Grant is distressed that so many people in real estate think that sending out news releases is what public relations is all about. Indeed, almost nothing upsets Grant so much as a lazy dependence on news releases.

"In general, they are enormously overrated," he says. "News releases are sometimes necessary, but rarely sufficient. Journalists are inundated with news releases, so you should he very judicious about their frequency."

"Generally, what's far more effective than a mere news release is a phone call, e-mail or letter tailored very carefully to the individual recipient. It can be a letter proposing an interview, a meeting for background purposes, an article, or any of several other options," Grant explains.

And Grant's advice must be working. "We've had real estate clients in Business Week, The Wall Street Journal and Forbes nationally, as well as The New York Times and Crain's locally - plus Real Estate Weekly and other important trades," he notes. "Probably 95 percent of the significant placements were from rifle-shot phone calls, rather than shotgun news releases."
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Title Annotation:LVM Group Inc. founder David M. Grant
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Sep 22, 1999
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