In Los Angeles, Realtors Seek the Spotlight
ROBERT SMITH, host:
This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Robert Smith.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
I'm Madeleine Brand.
Here in L.A., fame is everywhere. And it's not just movie stars, Robert. Plastic surgeons, plumbers, lawyers - they all plaster their pictures on billboards and bus benches. And then there are the real champions of personal branding, and they are real estate agents.
Here is DAY TO DAY's contributor Jennifer Sharpe.
JENNIFER SHARPE: At practically every red light in Los Angeles, there's a realtor's face peering into my car from a bus bench ad. Ever since I put up the for rent sign in my front yard, I can't stop thinking about their headshots and slogans. Ron Wynn leaning casually into the letters of his own name, the Bizzy Blondes team looking like news anchors.
Ms. RAE WAYNE (Realtor, The Bizzy Blonds): If you want a job done, hire a busy person.
SHARPE: Barry Green(ph) smiling warmly in a v-neck sweater.
Mr. BARRY GREEN (Realtor): The right choice since 1972.
SHARPE: I've come to think of them as the celebrities of real estate.
Mr. STEVEN SPREAFICO (Broker Associate, Coldwell Banker): I was in my bed asking God, how can I get these people to, you know, remember me? And it came to me, and there are Frisbees, and I had Frisbees made up.
SHARPE: Overlooking the Sunset Strip from his hilltop home, realtor Steven Spreafico explained that the Frisbees are his way of getting inside gated estates.
Mr. SPREAFICO: You throw these over these gated mansions, shh, whoo, all the way over to the front door. And then they look and they see Steven Spreafico, realtor to the stars.
SHARPE: After seeing Spreafico's ad on a grocery cart, I couldn't get his photo out of my head. He was in a white turtle-neck holding three white dogs over a shopping cart filled with Frisbees, a vision inspired by...
Mr. SPREAFICO: I saw Madonna in this Versace ad. She had white everything - towels, phone, everything. And I asked my friend, well, what could I do? And he knew this lady who had three white terrier dogs.
SHARPE: Personal branding has always come naturally to Spreafico, who remembers first Xeroxing his headshot in 1987.
Mr. SPREAFICO: I made a flyer, put new realtor, housing sitting, caretaking, professional waiter.
SHARPE: Hoping to move off his father's cattle ranch, he took the flyer to Beverly Hills.
Mr. SPREAFICO: I drove to Rodeo Drive and put 150 of these flyers on the windshield wipers of every Rolls-Royce and Jaguar I saw.
SHARPE: Unbeknownst to Spreafico, he was actually part of a late-'80s realtor branding Zeitgeist.
According to Don Hobbs of realtor marketing firm Hobbs/Herder, the birth of the brokerage RE/MAX changed everything.
Mr. DON HOBBS (Co-Founder, Hobbs/Herder): They were the first ones that came along and said you're in business for yourself. Instead of 50/50, you're really going to have 100 percent of your commission.
SHARPE: RE/MAX founder Dave Liniger shifted the marketing focus from the company to the individual. Hobbs sees him as a liberator of the realtor's image.
Mr. HOBBS: You remember the Century 21 jacket? You know, they called it the gold jacket. Like everybody dressed the same, and he came along and said, be free, everybody.
SHARPE: Two decades later, their headshots and slogans have become an advertising genre unto itself, whose roots, according to Hobbs/Herder, lie with the Roman emperors who first stamped their heads and inscriptions onto coins.
But when I called the bus bench advertising company, senior account manager John Lacoda(ph) told me the realtors don't always have a branding vision, especially when it comes to slogans.
Mr. JOHN LACODA (Senior Account Manager): I come up with all the photos for most of the agents.
SHARPE: You are the person that makes them up?
Mr. LACODA: Yeah. I'd say at least half of them don't make a move without me. And you put move (unintelligible) angle italicized?
SHARPE: What else?
Mr. LACODA: Like where new beginnings exist. I haven't had anybody take that one yet. But I like that one.
SHARPE: And what goes into a good slogan?
Mr. LACODA: Well, every slogan's corny, you know? Just make it simple. You want it to reiterate something in real estate.
SHARPE: So you just think they're blatantly corny.
Mr. LACODA: Yeah. I think - it's what you want. Life's too short, have fun now.
(Soundbite of music)
SHARPE: One of his longtime and regularly defaced clients...
Ms. WAYNE: I now know what I look like with a beard. I know what I will look like missing a few teeth.
SHARPE: ...is Rae Wayne of the Bizzy Blondes.
Ms. WAYNE: Like bizzy. B-I-Z-Z-Y.
SHARPE: She's become such a fixture in my landscape, I felt a bit starstruck meeting her.
Ms. WAYNE: We've been recognized for a long time. But just like running into a celebrity that doesn't have her makeup on that day, that happens to us too.
SHARPE: Having successfully built a small empire around their branding identity...
Ms. WAYNE: Something dawned on me and I said, Judy, I think this name could be bigger than we are.
SHARPE: They're now venturing into upscale properties and making new elegant signs for their high-end estates.
Are you going to keep the spelling?
Ms. WAYNE: Oh, absolutely. B-I-Z-Z-Y.
SHARPE: Steven Spreafico, on the other hand, is rebranding with the hopes of crossing over into television and music.
Mr. SPREAFICO: The dog thing was great, but I've decided to not renew my shopping cart. And I'm changing my image to blue-eyed Hollywood cowboy. And my first branding thing is just about to hit. I am so excited. It's going to conquer the town. Let me grab it and show it to you.
SHRAPE: Although he won't miss the shopping carts, he says they have helped him get to where he is now.
Mr. SPREAFICO: I am the biggest name in Hollywood. Steven Spreafico is the biggest, most powerful icon on the Sunset Strip. I am. The whole world is going to know about me someday.
SHARPE: Whether he's talking about himself as a realtor or a celebrity or both, I'm not sure. But one thing I do know - my house still hasn't rented and now I might know why. My realtor doesn't even have a headshot.
For NPR News, I'm Jennifer Sharpe.
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