Marketing to Real Estate Agents — The Top Tier

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A while ago we discussed some techniques for building a client base out of nothing, when you’re just starting out as a Real Estate photographer (Stone Soup). Today, I’m going to assume that you’ve successfully gained a few regular clients, and have a few shoots under your belt. You’re starting to get the hang of things, your photography is getting better, and you’re beginning to eye some better gigs. How do you get the attention of the agents who have those $5,000,000 listings? The ones with the giant living rooms, eternity pools, 5-acre kitchens, and whatnot.

You want those gigs because A) you can charge more for them, and B) it’s a way to get some really killer portfolio material for the day you move up to shooting for shelter magazines, hotels, etc.

The problem is, the RE agents who have those listings are the top 1% in the industry; they tend to be Type AAAA personalities, zooming around in their Jaguar’s and constantly typing and talking on their Crackberries. They are more or less impossible to get in front of, and even if you manage that, their attention spans are about as long as your 3 year old’s right before nap time.
They don’t answer their own phone, they don’t read their own email. They have assistants who do that. They don’t attend office meetings. They don’t conform to office policy, half the time. And they get away with it because they are producing a good 30% to 40% of of the total revenue for the office; no one is going to rock that boat!

So how do you get to them?

[NOTE: before going any further, I highly recommend THIS POST from Chase Jarvis. We now return to our regularly scheduled article.]

First, you build some name recognition. It helps if you’re shooting for a few of the second-tier agents in the office. It’s good if the broker knows who you are. Very early in my career I started publishing a quarterly “New Work” portfolio online and emailing invitations to view it to as many RE agents as I could. About 30% of the recipients of my emails would actually click through and view my work, which is a pretty good response rate.
To send the emails, I use VerticalResponse. There are other services, as well. They maintain my mailing list, making sure that I don’t have duplicate addresses, and they provide statistics on how many (and who specifically) open my message, click through to my website, and also which addresses bounce. Best of all, they’re cheap; sending 1000 emails costs $15.00.

Also quarterly, I printed up postcards. Postcard_compositeI like the big ones, the 5.5″ x 8.5″ size that’s hard to ignore. I keep mine very simple, with a single great photo on the front, along with “Scott Hargis Photo” and my contact information superimposed, and another photo on the back, with contact info again, and an abbreviated price list for RE packages. I use for the printing; I’ve had good results with VistaPrint as well. Both are quite affordable; OvernightPrints charges about $100 for 500 double-sided postcards. If you can get even a single job, you’ll come out ahead.

So by the time I was ready to really go after these high-end RE agents, they (or their assistants) had deleted probably a dozen emails from me, tossed at least that many postcards in the trash, and ignored a few phone messages. They had no-showed at a couple office meetings where I was making presentations. By the time you’ve dissed me that much, you at least recognize my name! And that’s exactly the point; you want them to see your name and go, “Oh yeah, she’s that person who does the photography thing.”

Even if they append that statement with, “Whatever…

So now you’re ready to drop the atomic bomb on these unsuspecting people. A powerful 2-punch combination that they can’t ignore. Here’s how I went about it:

I started by identifying my target agents. This part was easy; I went to the website of one of the big national brokerages. Prudential works well, so would Century 21, really any large (not boutique) brokerage will do. I used their “Find a Home” search engine and brought up an area-wide list of houses for sale and sorted it by price. Make sure you’re not looking at that office’s “Featured Listings” — you want to be searching the full database, the aggregator that pulls in every listing from every RE brokerage in the area.

ScreenShotI started working my way down from the $8 million range to the $1.2 million, following the links to get the listing agent’s contact info. Scale that number to match your own market, the point is to be looking at the really expensive houses. Most of the top agents have their own personal websites, and I checked into those to get the “real” email address (not just the “marysmith@prudential” one that they never check) and to make sure that they consistently get the good listings, regularly.

After a few hours of research, I had identified about two dozen agents in my area who seemed to be real powerhouses. Of course, I already had some idea of who the big players were before I started this exercise, but it was still useful to confirm my picks, and I discovered several I hadn’t heard of. I boiled my list down to a dozen names, based on the (good) quality of their listings, and (poor) quality of their photography, and their geographic location.

Then I sent them this email. For each one, I downloaded an image from one of their current listings, and then went through my portfolio and found something architecturally similar, e.g. if they had a kitchen with a center island and white cabinets, then I’d find one of my own that matched, the message being “You got white cabinets? I’ll show you white cabinets!!”

Here’s the exact text (names redacted):

Dear [Mr. Real Estate Agent],

While browsing the [Office] website recently I noticed that you consistently list high-end properties. I also noticed that you do not appear to be using a professional photographer to help you market these listings. I’m writing today to offer you a free shoot as an introduction to what I can bring to your marketing efforts. Details are below, but it’s pretty simple – call me and I’ll shoot your next listing for free, no strings.
I took the liberty of pulling this photo from your listing on Glen Ave.:Red_KTCH_island

Here’s a similar kitchen I shot on Alito Dr.:

With the glut of properties on the market, I know that you’re aware of the need to make your listing stand out from the rest – and crisp, bright, professional photography is one of the best ways to do just that.
I invite you to review my online portfolio by clicking HERE.

According to a recent NAR survey, over 80% of buyers list still photography as the most helpful tool in their home search. If your property doesn’t show at its best online, you could be skipped over by many potential buyers. And, by including professional photography as a marketing tool in your listing presentations, you’ll be that much more likely to win listings in the first place.

As I mentioned above, I’d really like to be working with you on a regular basis. But I want you to see the results first – so I’m offering you a free “Standard Shoot”, which delivers 15 images, so you can see what I do and what a difference it makes. That’s it- no strings, no obligation. Free pictures.

best regards,
Scott Hargis
(contact info)
I waited a few days (no one responded, but I didn’t expect that.)
Then I started making follow-up calls. The ones who actually answered their phones were amazingly responsive. The assistants, it was hit or miss. Some of them were much too important to deal with the likes of me. Some of them were in charge of doing the photography and hated it; they were thrilled to talk to me, because it was a chance to get out of a task they didn’t like. As far as I can tell, no one had actually read my email. But after I charmed them on the phone, they agreed to look at it if I re-sent it. And the response then was really gratifying. Sending them their own photos totally got their attention, and the fact that I made it very personal, specifically targeting them, made a big difference.

The phone conversations (and messages I left) went about like this:
“Hi ________,
This is Scott Hargis, and I’m calling to follow up on an email I sent you last week. It might have flowed right on through your inbox, because it was an, uh, unsolicited email….but it was a good one!
I’m a Real Estate Photographer, and the reason I contacted you was because I really liked the listings that you get, but from what I can tell, you aren’t using a photographer. I want to be that person, and I’m willing to do a shoot for you for free to get my point across. The email also had a link to my portfolio, which I’d love for you to look at.
If this is something you’d be interested in, or you’d like to chat with me about it, then please give me a call, again my name is Scott….blah blah blah mycontactinfothankyouverymuch”

The first guy I got in touch with booked his free shoot for the next day.
He had this living room shot on his website, selling a $1.2 million dollar house:

I was able to make this for him:

He was thrilled. He also took my postcards and handed them around the office, told me about 2 other agents he works with that he spoke to personally about me, and asked me in detail about my pricing structure, which he thought was totally reasonable.

Another agent called me up and her first sentence was: “I have 5 listings coming on, which one should we make the free one?”, the implication being that she had already decided to hire me for the other 4. We spent the rest of the conversation discussing how great my images are (she had already seen work I did for another agent in her office) and how cheap my prices are (hmmm…..)

When the dust had settled, five of my twelve prospects accepted a free shoot, and of those five, three are now regular clients, and have collectively sent me several thousand dollars worth of work. A lot of people are adamantly against free initial shoots. They feel that you’ll get used and discarded (which is what two of my prospects did.) But it is a classic marketing technique; grocery stores, magazines, newspapers, coffee shops, drug dealers — all are happy to provide a free sample, knowing that you’re much more likely to buy if you know what you’re getting. When was the last time you bought a car without test-driving it first?

So I feel that I accomplished exactly what I wanted; I upgraded my clientele, and without spending a dime; the research and execution of the campaign took maybe ten hours total, and those five free shoots took me a total of about fifteen hours and some gas. Compared with the revenue I’ve seen since from my three winners, it’s a no-brainer.
I would NOT recommend this technique as a “shotgun” approach (offering a free intro to just anyone who asks), nor would I try it on any but the very top-producing agents, where the potential return is very high. But a carefully targeted, selective campaign can work very well.

Had similar experiences? Hit me up in the comments and tell the story here.

7 responses to “Marketing to Real Estate Agents — The Top Tier

  1. all great info! thanks Scott

    I tried this similar on occasion – the point about putting in one of thier own photos can be a bit touchy though, as I have found out. Seems some agents who do their own photography really do think it is good.. so it then becomes like insulting their ‘masterpiece’

    But great info in this post! thanks!

  2. Then there’s the situation where all the high-end properties are already being shot by established professionals…

  3. shhhhh you are giving away all our secrets

  4. I’m a REALTOR and Architectural Photographer. I’ve found that 10% of the Agents from each office are willing to spend money on professional photos. Most Agents are dinosaurs and just don’t understand marketing. Many of the old timers didn’t have to use photos to sell their listings in the past and they’re stubborn when it comes to advancements. I give away a free shoot every Friday to Agents that follow me on Twitter. It’s still in the early going, but it’s giving me exposure at the cost of a free exterior shoot.

  5. Thanks for being so generous with your experience.

  6. Scott – this has worked for me and this is the first I’m hearing of someone else doing it! Something I did that really helped propel my company is joining the local Builder’s Association and helping with everything I could – a clay shoot, taking office head shots, etc. all en gratis. Most importantly, I’m genuine. I tell my prospective clients that I’m not hear to collect a couple hundred dollars, I’m here to make a friend. I want to be the one that’s called when you have a flat tire, or when you need a hand moving something heavy. Makes a huge impact. Thanks for sharing this very valuable article! I’d love to attend one of your workshops sometime soon!!!

  7. This is truly awesome advice for anyone looking to self-promote; not just aspiring photographers!