The Real Estate Dish: 20 Minutes with The Keyes Company's Paula Renaldo
Join QuantumDigital’s EVP and CMO Eric Cosway as he spends 20 minutes with Paula Renaldo, CMO of The Keyes Company. Paula oversees and manages all marketing for the company and its 2,200 associates. She is a next-generation CMO who drove The Keyes Company’s rebranding project in the first quarter of 2016. Paula was born in Brazil and came to the U.S. speaking no English, and is a new mom who balances both a hectic work life and personal schedule.
Listen to the Interview [Audio]:
Eric: Paula, how did you get interested and involved in marketing?
Paula: Marketing, believe it or not, was my backup plan. I graduated from the University of Miami wanting to go to law school. But prior to really digging in and attending law school, I decided to get a job in a law firm in New York City, and I worked at the law firm for a year and decided that law was not for me. And I had a Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing, so I said I’d like to stay in New York City, and my background is in marketing, so I’m going to find a job in marketing. And I started working with a financial services company by the name of Duff & Phelps in New York City as a Marketing Assistant, and I happened to be there while the company went public. And I just fell in love with the experience, fell in love with marketing, and everything that involved marketing the company and getting the deals done, and decided that was the route I was going to take and my path.
Eric: So, you went from almost becoming a lawyer to getting into marketing in New York City, then you moved into the real estate industry. Tell us more about that.
Paula: Sure! My husband and I got engaged, then we decided we wanted to come to Florida—because, obviously there’s no snow in Florida—so we said, “What could be better than no snow and a beach?” And my family is actually down here, so we moved back down to Florida. And, believe it or not, Keyes found me. Our EVP of Recruiting found my resume, and asked me to come in. And it was 8 years ago that I joined the company. I came on as a Marketing Manager in ‘08, which was not a super fun time in the real estate industry. But it was really exciting for me, and it was something new and different. And I’ve been at the company ever since.
Eric: As you look back at your marketing experience with financial services, what are the big differences between real estate marketing and the other industries, such as the one you worked in before?
Paula: You know, I’d have to say probably the biggest difference is, when we worked in the financial services, you’re marketing business to business. There's not a lot of emotions involved it’s just about “Get the deal done. Get the deal closed. Keep the client happy.” And you move on to the next one. With real estate, it’s really personal, and you have to connect with the people, and there are a lot of emotions involved. Because, again, it’s one of the largest decisions someone’s going to probably make in their lifetime. And I find that a lot of times we have to be the voice of reason. And you have to connect with that person, and really have a close relationship where they trust you, and they know that you’re on their side.
Eric: What do you find particularly challenging in your role as a CMO to market not only consumers, but also to help your agent team be successful?
Paula: I think you have to have a balance of listening to what the consumer wants, and listening to what your associates need. And so, for us, that’s really what we pursue with our associates. And a lot of times the challenge can be in—for a company our size, we have 2,600 agents, 37 offices—it’s getting them the information, and getting them the tools that they need, and making sure they understand what they have accessible to them.
Eric: What would someone in the real estate industry be surprised to learn about you?
Paula: You know, I think you probably shared it in the introduction! A lot of people are surprised to know I wasn’t born here, and I didn’t speak any English when I moved here. I had to learn… and I don’t have much of an accent. And so, a lot of people are surprised to find that I actually speak three different languages. And, it’s actually been quite beneficial for me, working down in south Florida because we have a lot of associates who speak Spanish and Portuguese, and work with a lot of international buyers. So, it’s nice to be able to connect with them on that level. I think it makes our agents comfortable that they can call me, and speak in their mother tongue, and I'll understand. They can tell me what they're going through and what they're experiencing, and we can work through it together.
Eric: You attended Ignite, one of the events we put on, and you walked us through some of the major rebranding you were doing. What was the main driver behind the rebranding?
Paula: To be fair Eric, when we started this process, I would have never been able to have told you that we would end up where we are today—with a different logo, brand new colors, and a complete overhaul. Really, this process was started ten years ago. Ten years ago, we actually did a full-fledged strategic planning for our company and where we wanted to go, and what our goals were. And the major goal we had for the company was that we wanted to get to a position where we were number one, number two or number three in all of our marketplaces. We are in six different counties, so we have a pretty large footprint in the state of Florida. And, over the last ten years, we've really put into place products, and services, and a structure that has allowed us—and I’m really proud to say this—we are actually currently number one in our two largest markets, which is huge for us. And so, what we found was happening was we had made all of these changes—and there were all these great things going on with our company—but, because our company is a 90-year-old company, a lot of people didn't see the change. They saw what Keyes once was, not what Keyes had become. And so we said, “Okay, so how are we going to bridge this disconnect?” And we said, “You know what? We think it's time for a refresh.” So that’s where really it started.
Eric: You’re still focusing on the same audiences you worked with before, but you really cleaned up and leveraged your independence. Is that correct?
Paula: Yes. So, if you look at our new logo, you’ll see that there is a K-logo lockup. That is, multiple pieces coming together to kind of build the K that now encompasses The Keyes Company. And for us—what that really meant was—we are a company of many pieces. So, we have our associates, we have our commercial division, we have our luxury division, we’re a shareholder of Leading RE [Leading Real Estate Companies of the World], we have a Family of Services division. We’re a one-stop shop—so we can provide title, insurance, property management, mortgage. And there are all these components that, when we put it together, that’s who our company is. And that's who our people are, but yet they're still the independent individual who is working, and providing for their family, and doing what works in their business. So, I think that’s really the beauty of our brand and where we are today.
Eric: So, you’re a family business, like we are. Is that still part of the brand as well?
Paula: Oh, absolutely! So, we have Mike and Tim Pappas at the head of the family business, which started with their father, our chairman, Ted Pappas, who took over from Kenneth Keyes. Everybody always wonders where “Keyes” comes from—a gentleman by the name of Ken Keyes actually started the company in 1926. And what’s really exciting to see now is we have the next generation coming in with Mike’s daughter Christina Pappas, and then Tim’s son Jason Pappas. And, so that’s been really exciting for us because we’re seeing the future kind of unfold throughout this entire rebrand process.
Eric: As you look back, what do you think were the key factors in helping you make this rebrand successful?
Paula: You know, I thought about this question, and I was trying to figure out what the answer really was. And I came down to 5 things that we’ve learned that I really feel made a difference for us. So, I’d say number one, find the right partner. You need to find a company that you can partner with who can guide you through this process. We actually put RFPs out for both local companies and outside companies, and what we learned was we really needed an opinion from an outsider. We wanted someone who knew nothing about Keyes and was going to learn from the ground up. In that process, I would highly recommend that when you're finding that partner, you have to negotiate and you have to negotiate hard, and you need to understand what your deliverables are going to be, and what it is that’s going to be included in what you are getting with that partner. So, that would be my first one.
My second one would be, don’t be afraid of focus groups. That was how we started this process. We spoke to our customers, our top producers, our managers, our leadership, and even our competition. And that wasn’t always easy because you really have to humble yourself, and really hear people out, and understand what it is that they’re communicating.
Three, I would say, be inclusive of the process. And our focus groups really kind of led into number 3, because what we did was, by involving our team, when we were ready to do the launch, everybody felt like they had been heard. And everybody felt like they were involved—which made a huge difference when we unveiled the brand.
Number four, I would say—and this is a biggie—you have to be patient. And that, for me, was probably the hardest thing. It is not going to be an easy process. Our For Sale signage alone, I can tell you, took ten revisions before we finally got to where we thought, “This is going to be a great ‘For Sale’ sign that we can be proud of, and put in front of homes that we are selling.” So, you definitely have to be patient.
And last, but not least—I call it the “shock and awe effect”—and the shock and awe effect for us actually was a recommendation that came from our management team. And this was a tough call to make. And they said to us, “Look. Originally our idea was, we’re going to deliver this piecemeal. We’re going to change different products at a time, and it will take us 6 months to do the full conversion.” And they came to us and they said, “No, you have to change this with the flip of a switch.” And we were like, “Man, this is really going to be tough!” because it meant delaying the launch 6 months.
This was a really tough call to make. And we did! We said, “Okay, we are going to delay 6 months, so that when March 18th comes, we will flip a switch at our event and all of our tools will be transitioned.” And, honestly Eric, it was the best thing we could have done. It was such a “wow” factor, not only for our agents, but also for the community. People saw that something had happened, and something was different. And the excitement was there, which was really amazing to see.
Eric: As you look at that process, you talked about tools and how they helped you. What tools or technologies helped unify the company around the new brand and help maintain consistency at the consumer, broker, or associate level?
Paula: That’s a really tough question. And I don’t think there’s ever a perfect answer. However, in my time here at Keyes, and with everything we do, what I’ve learned is to automate and default—what we like to call “default market” for the associates. So, I’ll give you an example: partnering with QuantumDigital to do our automated just listed/just sold postcards. The brand is built-in to the the cards. And because you’re automating it for the agents, you’re one: making it easier for them to use, and two: maintaining control of what you’ve built. So, I would say definitely default marketing is the way to go, and partnering with people who can help you do that.
Eric: The real estate market landscape has certainly changed over the last few years. As you look at that, how are you managing these shifts in the Florida market and expectations of consumers and your associates?
Paula: I’d have to say, we listen. We are very much what I like to call a “bottom up” company. And so what that means for us is that, instead of us coming up with big ideas, and big things that we want to do, and then pushing it on our associates and consumers, we really try to have a pulse on the organization. And we listen to our associates—what they're needing and how they're communicating with consumers. And I think for us that has been so important in being able to go through these shifts of social media, mobile apps, web site usage, and communication via text messaging. A lot of new things are now part of our day-to-day life, you know, and are now what we have to do to do business. So, I think listening to the associates and having a good pulse on your organization makes a difference.
Eric: You have an “under 40s” group called Keyes Next-Gen. When you say “listen to the agents”, do you go out and have this particular group and others provide input for you on a formal basis?
Paula: Absolutely! So, what’s great is that Christina and Jason Pappas are actually running our current Keyes Next-Gen Group. And so, they meet with them regularly, and then they attend our leadership and our management meetings. And they’re running a lot of our events for us. They’re doing a lot of our social media training for the agents, which is fantastic to see this next generation getting involved in the business. And so, we really use them as a sounding board to make sure we’re doing the things that need to be done to bridge that gap, if you know what I mean.
Eric: You’re a busy marketer. I know you’re always thinking of creative ways to incentivize agents to use your tools. Can you tell us more about that? You seem to be very active in helping agents engage with what you’ve got for them.
Paula: Sure. You know, with all of our products, we find that we’re really in a partnership with our associates. We try to get creative during the launch to give them a better understanding of what the product is, and what it can do for them, but also make it easier for them to use. I’d love to be able to give you an example. Currently we’re running our Pappas Summer Tour, and this is something very unique to our organization, and it’s one of the things that I love that we do. Every summer, we go into all of our 37 offices, and we have a big meeting in each one of the offices, and it’s our president, myself, and our Family of Services team. We come in, we talk about the market and we talk about new products and tools that we’re rolling out… one of which, this year, is QuantumDigital’s TriggerMarketing®, and the TriggerMarketing Social product. And so we built a contest around the Pappas Summer Tour, and we did “Where in the Company is Mike Pappas?”—who is our president. It’s actually really cute. So what we do is, with each office, we take a photograph and then we post that to our Facebook and our Twitter handles. And our agents actually get to go in and guess what office they think they’re in… what office are we visiting. And with every correct guess, they’re being entered for a chance to win 50 free TriggerMarketing postcards from QuantumDigital.
It’s a fun way to get them involved, not only with the tour, but also to get them to get excited about the new product and using that product.
Eric: As you look at marketing and technology, there’s a convergence of a lot of innovation taking place in the real estate game… and even for the associates and consumers. What have been game-changers for you and your agent associates this year?
Paula: I would say we probably have 2 products that I would say are the big game-changers for us. And the first one is our Keyes Makes Me Social platform. And basically what Keyes Makes Me Social does, is we heard from a lot of our agents that—while they understand that social media is important, and they they need to be on Facebook and Twitter, and on LinkedIn—they didn’t know what to do with it. They never know “Where do I go to find articles?” because it takes too much time, “How do I promote it?”, “What do I do?” And so, it was getting very cumbersome. So, with our Keyes Makes Me Social platform, once one of our associates signs up for it, we are actually able to automatically post articles, holiday messages, their listings—a lot of information—to their Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. So, they don’t really have to do much. They just sign up, and we take care of the rest for them. So, that seems to have really made a difference for them in their businesses.
Eric: With your associates, do you feel they understand the value of the new social channels?
Paula: Yeah, absolutely. You know what I think happens a lot? I think everybody understands the importance of it, but they don’t know how to use it. And they don’t know how to make it work for them. Like, they know “I should be on Facebook. But once I’m there, what do I do?”
Eric: That is true. And, in your case, are the next-gen teaching the rest of the associates how to use these new channels? Do you see that happening?
Paula: Absolutely! Actually, I’ll tell you a cute, quick story. One of our next-geners was telling us they were teaching one of our older associates, who has been with us for a really long time, about hashtags. And they were having a really difficult time understanding what the hashtag did. And the next-gener actually decided and said to them, “You know how you have a file name? And you can search for that file name on your desktop to get anything that falls under that file?” And they were like, “Yeah, absolutely!” And they said, “Well, that’s what a hashtag is. Every time you use that hashtag, when you pull up that hashtag, you’re going to pull up any information that relates to that. Just as you would with a file on your desktop.” And I thought, “That’s a genius way to explain that!”
Eric: What about their personal lives? Have you seen technology advancements make an impact on the associate’s personal life?
Paula: Oh, absolutely! I think what it’s done is, one, we’ve been able to help them become more successful and become more productive—because, again, they’re focusing on what they know best, which is getting the deals done, meeting the people, and like what we like to say “kissing the babies.” So, that’s what they’re good at. So, by us taking over this back-office stuff, we’re giving them more time to do that. And by us doing that, they’re becoming more productive, more successful, and I hate to say it, for me being the mother of a 15-month old, they have more time to spend with their families. They have more time to have the freedom and the flexibility to do what they love. And, so I think that’s been really important.
Eric: If you look forward to the second half of the year, what excites you about the remainder of 2016?
Paula: I’d have to say for us, it’s never a dull moment here. Our company is continuing to grow, and it looks like over the summer we’re going to have a pretty large merger... that’s going to be happening, so you’ll have to keep an eye out on The Keyes Company and what’s happening. But, most importantly, I’m really excited to see the rebrand unfold throughout all of our offices, and the associates. Really, as we look forward to what’s coming for us in the next 90 years, I think there are going to be some really exciting things. And I’m excited for it.
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