The art (and science) of the deal

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What sets one new-business pitch apart from others is sometimes surprising. Several weeks ago, Coldwell Banker executives explained to Bcom3 Group's Kaplan Thaler Group why the Manhattan shop beat bigger rivals such as Grey Global Group's Grey Worldwide, New York, and Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, for the $10 to $15 million account.

"Chemistry," Linda Kaplan Thaler, CEO and founder, said. "They told us it's obvious we like each other."

Of course, chemistry would count for little if Ms. Kaplan Thaler and her two executive VP partners, Gerry Killeen and Robin Koval, had no body of work as evidence that their camaraderie begets appealing ad campaigns. Recent memorable work includes the AFLAC duck series, as well as the controversial "totally organic experience" campaign created for Clairol's Herbal Essences shampoos and conditioners. Though Kaplan Thaler executives won't reveal much about the strategy of the new campaign, its pitch emphasized the relationship aspect of the real estate business. Coldwell Banker, the brand owned by Cendant Corp. subsidiary Coldwell Banker Real Estate Corp., has more than 3,000 independently owned residential and commercial real estate offices globally.

Coldwell Banker's national campaign in 1999, from Sawtooth Group in Woodbridge, N.J., used the tag, "Find out what real estate should be." According to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR, Coldwell Banker spent $23 million in 1999 on that campaign, its last national brand effort. Last year, it spent $10 million on a campaign for that used the tag, "When you need an address, try ours."

For the effort set to break in early 2002, Kaplan Thaler focuses on the brand's high-end history, but the message will underscore trust. Said Ms. Koval, Kaplan Thaler's director of client services, "Buyers and sellers spend a lot of time with an agent, so the brand, and the Realtors, must be trusted."

Creating a strong bond between real estate agents and customers will likely become more important after the Sept. 11 attacks. In a recent survey of real estate agents conducted by the National Association of Realtors, just over half (51.8%) of respondents said fewer than 10% of clients have left the market completely. Nearly a third (29.3%) said that for the most part, existing clients remain in the market as before, though there are some delays in closing.

One likely scenario, said the association's researchers, is that housing starts, existing home sales and new-home sales are expected to slow despite historically low mortgage rates, because of falling consumer confidence and rising unemployment. In September, sales of existing single-family homes fell 11.7% to 4.89 million vs. August's 5.5 million.

The real estate franchise group of Cendant Corp., parent of Coldwell Banker, Century 21 and ERA brands, reported $149.9 million in gross closed commission in the third quarter, a group record exceeding the previous best achieved during 2000's third quarter, according to Cendant.

Besides chemistry, Coldwell executives also appreciated the Kaplan Thaler's sense of humor. The agency placed an ad in The New York Times classified section. "Great new home," read the copy. "Just 50 minutes from downtown Parsippany. ... Sunny, bright idea factory. ... Convenient Midtown location. ... Ask for Linda."

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