An interview with Remington Reece - Ebby Halliday companies

Remington is the creative director of Ebby Halliday companies, a collective of real estate brokerages with a deep history in the industry. He tells us about how important it is to be consistently evolving in the industry for their sales associates and clients.

Remington Reese

The creative director

My name is Remington Reese. I'm the creative director for the Ebby Halliday companies. We have three brokerage brands, a couple of different revenue streams affiliated with that, mortgage, title, insurance, about 2000 agents on the brokerage side, give or take, and then a couple of hundred employees on the affiliated services side as well. And I'm in charge of really, I guess, the creative endeavors, the brand expression, for lack of a better way to put it. And then I run the design team that services the three broker brands - Ebby Halliday Realtors, Dave Perry-Miller Real Estate, Williams Trew, Williams Trew over in Fort Worth, and then the other two predominantly in Dallas and North Texas in general. Yeah, I do all the creative work, all the branding work, and then run the design team that services all of the companies under the Halliday umbrella.

Luke:
So, Brooke, your brand director at MAXA said that you have achieved that fine balance of maintaining a well established brand whilst also evolving it within the industry. That's obviously not an easy thing to do in any industry. So could you tell me a little bit more of how you've been able to achieve this?

Remington:

The real estate industry in general is interesting because you're dealing with independent contractors, and so in most other industries or company structures, the sales people ultimately are employees in some capacity. And so if you say, hey, the brand fonts are this, the colors are this, we're going to utilize them in this way and only this way, it's very easy to enforce that. But in the real estate industry, we're more merchants of salespeople than we are kind of merchants of homes. And so the agents are our clients. And so it's always trying to find that balance between honoring the legacy of Ebby Halliday. I mean, the company has been in business for 77 or 78 years now and really just being able to give the agents a way to live and exemplify the brand as a whole, but also put their own personal touches on it. We kind of like to look at it as to use a bowling analogy, our job is to provide the lane, provide the pins, provide the ball, and provide the sturdiest set of bumpers possible and give basically the agents the ability to step up and throw the ball as hard as they can at the pins to try to get a win.
And so MAXA has been really just invaluable in that because frankly, it's really just as a standalone product, it's become that bumper system. We're really not using anybody else in any capacity outside of Xpressdocs to fulfill the printing just because they're in Fort Worth and we're in Dallas. It's very easy to utilize there. But it's been unbelievably helpful in just controlling the brand, but also giving the agents what I like to call the illusion of control to where it's still within brand standards. It still looks like Ebby Halliday or Dave Perry-Miller, Williams Trew, but they can come in and put their own little spin on it to make it feel like they contributed to the process and they have some ownership over what they're utilizing, which has been a game changer.

Luke:
I love the bowling analogy and also what you said, the illusion. I guess it's also empowering the sales associates or agents to be able to go in and edit some of the design templates or just change some things to make it their own as well.
How important Remington, would you say it is for any company and  their sales associates to really stay on top of their marketing initiatives?

Remington:

At the end of the day, the sales associates, especially in real estate, they're the torch bearers for the brand. So it's of utmost importance. Frankly, in my mind, it's one of the few things that actually are important on a day to day basis, is giving them the tools to execute, but giving them the tools to execute the way we want them to be executing. I'm going to butcher this quote. Inevitably. And I'm not a huge personal fan of who said it. But there's a great Michael Eisner quote when he was CEO of Disney about just branding in general. Basically saying that brands are the accumulation of 1000 tiny actions. And at any given moment the brand is either growing and you're contributing to that brand or it's dying and you're actively sabotaging it. And so in our world, we want the agents to be the torch bearers for the brand. We want them to contribute to the brand because ultimately they are the brand. And no matter what we do as a marketing department, as a company, as a corporate entity, the agents at the end of the day are the ones actually moving the needle and representing the brand out in the wild.
And it's very easy for us or for people on the corporate side or on the kind of back end business side to live and breathe the brand. But the agents, they care first and foremost about their brand. And however that fits into the overall umbrella is what it is in their mind. But in our world, it's paramount. There is nothing more important than elevating and maintaining that brand, frankly, at all other costs, in my opinion.

Luke:
Tell me, you mentioned that the MAXA platform is kind of the bumper or the buffer in the bowling lane for the sales associates or the team to use. What would you say is your favorite feature on the Max platform or what do you find yourself using the most in the platform?

Remington:

That's a tough question to answer because it's very hard to pin down. One reason the top two that come to mind are the automation in general: the auto population of information, headshots, property information, all of that is very intuitive, very easy to use and then the other is the direct link to Xpressdocs, our primary print fulfillment service. And so in the past with other platforms that we've used, they might have the automation but they don't have the automatic connection to Xpressdocs and so inevitably you run into Pebkac errors, Pebkac is an old term my dad taught me back in the day. It stands for - problem exists between keyboard and chair! Basically it's a pretentious way of saying user error, right? In the past we would inevitably run into issues of people downloading a PDF to print at a local printer or even to upload in Xpressdocs system but they have some issues on their end periodically with bleeds and stuff like that where it doesn't recognize it or resolution and stuff. And so having that direct bridge within the MAXA platform has been just a huge game changer not only for the agents, but for the office staff as well. And it's just so easy for the agents to use. It really is and I can't understate that enough, all the accounts being dependent on each other and then on my end. 
The ability to log in as the agent and spoof the accounts, we've never had access to anything like that before on any of the other services and so I would love to be able to sit here and say yes. All 2000 of our agents are very tech savvy. Are very good with computers. Have no issues with cloud platforms like this. But I would be lying. And so if it's just nice for the agent that is maybe later on in their career and has a tremendous book of business and has just outrageous kind of proof of success kind of component to their world, but they may not be able to log in and execute it. So for us to say hey, no big deal, I'm now you, I'm in the system, I see all your listings, I see all your stuff, I can help you keep it organized. And then even just the hierarchy in the accounts has been a game changer. Giving office staff the ability to do the same thing, spoof their own agents' accounts, this might bite me in the but, saying this out loud so I find wood to knock on. My job from a brand police standpoint has never been easier. If it's a viable template in MAXA and we white labeled it on our end as EHC Design Studio and having the opportunity to do that has been incredible as well. It's changed my life and it's changed my team's life and it's changed our department's life for the better. And I think a week or so ago we hit over, I think it's 12 or 13,000 pieces that have been designed from all the agents. We have over 1000 templates now.
Truly every single thing in MAXA has just been such a game changer. Being able to lean on the MAXA team to assist with design and template creation and stuff like that has been incredible. And I came up through the company, through the Dave Perry-Miller real estate brand, and that for a very long time has been my baby, for lack of a better way to put it. And a lot of the times when we outsource creative work to vendors, it comes back either very stale and templated, or just so off brand, you don't even know where to begin with the critiques. But when we were working with MAXA about a year ago to launch, Meldis and her team, and just the brand folks on your end, they knocked it out of the park in a way that I've never experienced and actually elevated and contributed to our brand as a whole rather than detract from it, which we've seen in the past.

Luke:
Fantastic. I love hearing that. Remington, tell me something you do consistently in your marketing and communications that's extremely important and key to your success.

Remington:

As honest as this sounds in this day and age, it's over communication. Every Thursday we release, we call it the Thursday marketing email that just has a bunch of collateral and assets, and some of them are generic kind of brand level social media posts like for holidays or something like that. But because we have the affiliated services, there's mortgage information, insurance and title information, as well as state of the market growth, decay delta, stuff like that. And what's been a major game changer for us is in the past we used to include a PDF of the postcard as an example. If there's a direct mail piece that we're releasing, we would include kind of a mock PDF and then say, if you want this, reach out to one of our project managers and we'll get it underway. So Thursday afternoon, Friday, and then sometimes even Monday just become insane because a couple of hundred people will reach out and say, hey, we want this, we need to send it out very quickly. But now with MAXA, we have direct links to all that stuff in the email. And it basically says, hey, here's the product, here's what it is, here's what it looks like. Click this link, they go to it, their headshot auto populates, their information is already in there. Anything they want to customize, they can. And then print with Xpressdocs is right there and the card gets ordered, which used to take me maybe 30 minutes to an hour per person per project. Granted, we have a pretty substantial team handling the majority of that. But that doesn't happen anymore. So the amount of time that we've saved is incredible. It's game changing.

Luke:
Yeah, I love that. And I especially love that you couldn't be more true in talking about communication, and especially with the size and the amount of people in your teams and the companies, and being able to fluidly communicate in a way that is empowering the people that you want to, and also freeing up time to be focusing on bigger campaigns or other projects as well. I think that's super important. 
Remington, what are you working on right now that's really exciting you or something potentially in the future.

Remington:

We're having another round of what we call the ‘brand book’ redone. You can make the argument that it's kind of a high level or pretty comprehensive listing presentation piece, but it's an oversized nine by twelve, about maybe 40 pages, give or take, I guess. Marketing tool that's got a pocket folder in the back for agents to put bio proof of success pieces testimonials, or for more listing, appointment oriented stuff, CMAs, comparable properties and things like that. But one thing that we've always struggled with as a brand is keeping the brand, whether that's Ebby, DPM or Williams Trew front and center. My greatest fear, and I think the biggest threat to certainly our company, but it's probably applicable to other industries and certainly other real estate companies, is what I like to call the cycle of mediocrity, where the brand level products are not up to par. And so the agents reach out and want custom pieces, and so we execute those and they end up looking better or stronger than the generic brand pieces. Other agents see that custom stuff, they want the custom stuff, and then the brand products never get updated. And so as you kind of go through that cycle, a handful of times, what you end up with are entitled agents that are very happy with their personal brands, but ultimately a very weak parent brand or base brand for new agents or even experienced agents to build off of. That's one of the things that MAXA has been just instrumental in correcting. And so because of that, we now have the time to focus on the higher level, big picture brand initiatives. And a major part of that was really giving the agents collateral to tell the brand story. They're all very good at telling their own story and why they matter. And I've been at the company for ten years now, and I've been on dozens and dozens of listing appointments over the years. And it becomes shockingly apparent that the agents can sell themselves all day long. But as soon as it gets to what does the brand contribute? Why does the brand matter? They don't necessarily know, outside of what the marketing department does to support them at a kind of micro level.
And so I'm excited to return to a mindset of the brands being sacred. Again. I think the sacredness of the brands is, again, just of utmost importance, and MAXA has certainly allowed us to do that, but more importantly, it's given us the time to do that on our end. And so we've got this oversized thing coming out here in a couple of months. We're shooting that at the start of the new year, but it's very comprehensive and it's a listing appointment piece, it's a recruiting piece, it's a leave behind, it's a drop off on the doorstep the day before the appointment kind of piece. It's been a game changer. And with the level of service that we offer the agents, a lot of the times agents would come to us looking for custom listing presentations that were very property specific. And it's kind of the nature of the beast with the real estate industry. An agent would call me at 10:00 and say, hey, a client just texted me and wants to meet for lunch. I don't really have anything to show them. Can you scramble and get something together? And so the goal is we'll have something that lives in every office. And if that happens, the agents run to the back, grab one, print out their Bio, print out a CMA, slip it in the pocket folder, and they're out the door. I don't need to be involved. Nobody on my team needs to be involved, and it's not a crazy fire drill at the last minute.

Luke:
Yeah, well, Remington, you've got me excited about that, so please share that when it's ready. I'd love to see what that looks like.
Where do you see the future of marketing and communications going in your industry? And I know the industry changes so quickly all the time, but I'd love to hear your thoughts and perspectives on that.

Remington:

There's a running joke about the real estate industry that we basically lag about ten years behind every other major industry from a design and brand standpoint. And so with the onset of competition like Compass. Where they're very brand oriented and it's Compass first and foremost. Black and white. Very kind of rigid. And what they'll allow and not allow. I think there's going to be a return to having the brands across the board be front and center. But more importantly. Affording the agents the opportunity to be their own brand within the overarching brand. And I think the companies that are going to be successful are going to figure that out first. And I don't think anybody is truly there yet. The way I think this will actually manifest or what needs to happen. But I'd like to think that we're kind of on the forefront of that and of that change because even just as simple as recognizing that it took me a long time to realize that I'm not in the real estate business, I'm in the agent business. And the amount that I care about our end client is relatively minimal at the end of the day because in my mind they're just an extension of my primary client which is the agent. 
And so I think in the future you're going to see companies return to having the broker brand be a little bit more prominent than it currently is but giving the agents the opportunity to be their own within that. If you look at a company like Ebby Halliday they've been around for 75 plus years and with that obviously comes a tremendous amount of respect, honor, success, heritage, legacy but it also comes with 75 years of baggage to some extent and especially when you have excellent years in the market there's not a lot of change that ends up happening because everything is working. And so what we found ourselves with a couple of years ago was we don't really have three brands, we have 2000 brands and it's not sustainable for us to try to provide the same level of service across all of those brands in different markets and different price points and stuff like that. But I think the idea that there needs to be a luxury brand where a brand or a twist on the brand for X market versus Y market is a fallacy. I think if you boil down really every single real estate company's mission statement or primary goal it's service at any price point.
And so trying to differentiate that or delineate that into luxury, non luxury this market is million plus, this market is 300,000 on average, something like that. It's illogical. It's truly a fallacy. It makes no sense and it compromises the overall brand promise. And so I think the future, at least from a marketing standpoint and real estate standpoint it's going to be how do you afford the agents the opportunity to represent Ebby Halliday the way they want to in their market in a way that doesn't compromise the brand's legacy or standards. That's what I think the future is. There's a lot of these companies like Keller Williams or Coldwell Banker to some extent really a lot of the big box national competitors they do almost no agent services. There's not a lot of custom stuff that goes out and one of the benefits of that is having a very strong umbrella brand in most instances. One of the downsides of that and it goes back to one of the original things I said about the agents being independent contractors and not true employees. It's very easy for them to go rogue and go immediately off brand and just because they slapped the broker's logo on there, that's largely irrelevant. If somebody produces something that is insignificant, inferior, irrelevant, that affects the brand. I think the future is going to hold. Whoever can really, truly turn the agents into torch bearers for the brand and let the brand live within them without compromising the overall umbrella, that's the company that's going to win because that's the company the agents are going to want to be with.

Luke:
Remington I love your thought process with all of that.
Is there a small piece of advice you would give to any sales associate or brokerage or marketing director that they can implement daily that's going to help them or their team.

Remington:

Believe in the brand, live the brand. 
True brands, real brands, are greater than the sum of their parts. You are not your logo, you are not your broker's logo, you're not the listings you represent. You're all of that and then some. From high level branding stuff all the way down to how you answer the phone, it's all one living entity that is deeply interconnected and so consistency is paramount. If you think you have a brand and you have a logo and that's not on your business cards or email signature, every ad on swag type stuff on everything, then you're lying to yourself and frankly, you're failing as your own personal brand manager. And the flip side of that though, is that this stuff very rarely ever works like a light switch where all of a sudden you can flip it on and say, okay, now we're doing XYZ and we're never doing ABC again. It's like moving a giant ship and every single day you should be trying to get that ship on the right course rather than letting it coast or not caring about where it's going. And if you know anything about boats, they don't turn on dimes, even the small fast ones. And with a lot of these legacy companies and large brokerages and Ebby Halliday is a great example, we're a mega tanker, we're a cruise liner. We turn and move ultimately very slowly. And so going back to that Michael Eisner quote, if every brand is kind of the culmination of 1000 small actions, you have to think consciously about that and start trying to implement that and think every day about are you on brand and are you maintaining that brand? And if you're not, you're failing. You're compromising the brand inherently. Because if you don't take it seriously and if you can't define the brand, then how can you expect your clients to? How can you expect the public to? I guess at the end of the day that's a long winded way of saying make the effort. But you'd be very surprised at how few people care about making the effort. We had an agent who has truly a tremendous personal brand that lives within the Dave Perry-Miller umbrella. But everything down to her outfits are color coordinated with her brand colors. She lives and breathes and dies by her brand, and it makes a difference in her sales and her business and with what she's able to do.
And truly, if you don't take it seriously, why should your clients? So I guess it's small steps. It's update your email signature, stay on time, post the video, record yourself, get over how your headshot looks, market and live that brand and push that brand out. Otherwise, you're irrelevant. You're spinning your wheels, and you won't be in the business in a couple of years when the market inevitably self corrects or shifts a little bit.

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