Our collaborative effort on behalf of Microsoft’s online real estate and mortgage service, MSN HomeAdvisor deserves recognition because it is unique and is accomplishing marketing and sales objectives. Since the launch in July 1998 the integrated marketing approach we conceived around the site is consistently generating exposure on a national level while increasing traffic to the site. HomeAdvisor is currently recognized as one of the top real estate Web sites within its category.
Touted as the most comprehensive guide to finding homes and loans on the Internet, HomeAdvisor has continued to expand its offerings with new content and multi-million dollar partnership agreements with leaders in their respective industries. Also since the site’s launch, HomeAdvisor has grown its home listings to over 850,000, representing agreements with thousands of real estate agents and brokers across the country.
In August 1999, just over a year since its launch, HomeAdvisor signed further strategic partnerships with the leading virtual tour providers in the real estate industry. HomeAdvisor was to feature tours of homes for sale nationwide via this 360-degree technology.
To kick off the availability of the virtual tour technology on the HomeAdvisor site, Rogers & Cowan/Weber Shandwick devised an ongoing celebrity virtual tours program. The program was to feature a tour of a new celebrity home each month as well as a behind-the-scenes look at some of the most interesting home listings for sale, thus showcasing high-quality listings to prospective homebuyers.
The challenge we continually face is securing well-known celebrities that are demographically appropriate and whose homes happen to be for sale around the world. We must consistently offer the personality, their real estate agent and in some cases their publicist compelling reasons to feature their private home and open their lifestyle to more than 51 million people a month. Once we secure a celebrity home for a virtual tour we must then create angles that are news worthy to a variety of media.
The Rogers & Cowan/Weber Shandwick team determined which celebrities to target each month by focusing on their current and upcoming projects. The team also considers the following factors:
- Selling of the celebrity home – Contacting celebrity real estate agents, reading profiles in the entertainment magazines, or word of mouth
- Creating a network – Making connections with publications that feature celebrity real estate.
- Where the home is located – Different environments each month
- Timing – Current projects, Awards, Charity tie-ins
STRATEGIC APPROACH & PLANNING
Rogers & Cowan/Weber Shandwick saw amazing potential in the virtual tour technology and a way to meet two key areas of focus for the client:
- Drive traffic to HomeAdvisor by reaching a broad consumer audience
- Demonstrate and reinforce the message that HomeAdvisor provides the highest quality listings for real estate agents, brokers, home buyers and potential home sellers alike, all for free, thus encouraging more listings sign-ups.
Rogers & Cowan/Weber Shandwick devised the following strategies for HomeAdvisor’s Celebrity Virtual Tour Program to reach a broad consumer audience to drive traffic to HomeAdvisor:
- Promote virtual tour capabilities on HomeAdvisor and promote celebrity’s affiliation through a multi-media PR campaign, including print, radio and television outreach efforts.
- Specifically target niche media outlets tailored to the individual celebrity. e.g. Latin media for Julio Iglesias tour; NBC affiliates for Will & Grace tour, sports media for Wilt Chamberlain tour, a country & music media for Randy Travis tour.
- Concurrent promotions as appropriate with widespread promotion through the popular MSN network, where possible. e.g. consumers entered to win back stage passes to meet Randy Travis in concert.
Rogers & Cowan/Weber Shandwick created compelling reasons for celebrities to showcase their homes, such as:
- Approaching television, print and online partners who have programming focused around celebrity homes.
- Developing an online marketing program in which celebrities would have the opportunity to link their tour to additional sites that could sell their CD, promote their TV show or generate awareness/donations for a cause-related organization.
- Leveraging HomeAdvisor’s broker and agent partners to identify celebrity homes for sale for potential tours.
Promotion: To extend the reach of specific celebrity tours we executed a sweepstakes overlay. To reinforce the impact of country star Randy Travis’ $2 million dollar home that was for sale in Tennessee, Rogers & Cowan/Weber Shandwick created a “Meet and Greet Sweepstakes” awarding one lucky winner two tickets to a Randy Travis concert, backstage passes, roundtrip airfare and hotel for two to Hollywood.
HomeAdvisor’s Celebrity Virtual Tour Program has been deemed a success by Microsoft and continues to be a key part of the overall HomeAdvisor public relations effort.
Traffic: The celebrity virtual tour program launched on August 23, 1999 with the virtual tour of Julio Iglesias’ “home away from home”, his $25 million luxury Gulfstream jet. HomeAdvisor began receiving 65,000 hits an hour – it was so successful at driving traffic that the program actually crashed the servers the day it launched. HomeAdvisor was so “concerned” with the success we generated for the first celebrity tour that they had additional servers installed to handle the volume of traffic expected for the next in the series. The tour was also supported by links to Amazon.com, enabling Julio to sell CDs, and to his official fan club site.
When the celebrity virtual tour program continued with the tour of the stylish home set of NBC’s hot sitcom Will & Grace, HomeAdvisor’s unique visitors increased from just over 750,000 in September to nearly 900,000 the following month, reaching 1.4% of the Internet’s total users. The third HomeAdvisor virtual tour, Whoopi Goldberg’s 1861 Connecticut colonial farmhouse was on the market for two years and sold in two weeks after being featured on HomeAdvisor. The following media coverage was generated from the virtual home tours:
Broadcast Coverage: Proactive media outreach was extremely successful and resulted in both national coverage on program’s like ZDTV’s “Internet Tonight” and local news programs on English and Spanish speaking stations in markets all across the country including Seattle; Las Vegas; Los Angeles, Fresno, Chula Vista in Calif.; Houston, Irving and Corpus Christi, Texas; and Florida.
The Randy Travis virtual tour, netted 22.3 million impressions alone including television coverage on three national shows, Entertainment Tonight, Extra, and CNNdotCom. In addition, the tour was covered on local TV in Seattle and markets Tennessee.
Print Coverage: Trade press coverage couldn’t have been better, garnering coverage in all the real estate industry’s key news outlets. Considerable interest is generated each month within the business dailies including Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Chicago Tribune, Tampa Tribune, Miami Herald, St. Petersburg Times, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
The tour of Whoopi Goldberg’s Connecticut farmhouse has generated nearly 5.5 million print impressions alone including coverage in People Weekly, New York Daily News, Washington Post and the Hartford Courant. Whoopi’s virtual tour has also garnered tremendous broadcast results with national television coverage on Good Morning America, Extra! and Access Hollywood. Trade industry coverage, another very important audience for HomeAdvisor, has been tremendous with hits in key print and radio real estate news outlets including Inman News Features, Realty Times, RISMEDIA, REAL Trends and Real Estate with Tom Kelly.