Oilheat-Realty Partnership Programs: Telling the Oilheat Story at Point of Impact
By Rich Rutigliano, PriMedia Inc.
As many of you already know, I've worked in the Oilheat industry for a very long time. For many years, before I founded PriMedia, I was the General Manager of a diversified Oilheat company in New York City.
One thing I learned as I worked to grow my customer base and strengthen customer retention: local real estate professionals were key to my success. By cultivating relationships with real estate pro's I was able to retain a higher percentage of my move-outs. I also was able to grow my customer base by getting referrals on other homes - homes in my area that were being serviced by competing Oilheat companies.
Building Relationships that Work
One of the essential things I learned early on is that real estate professionals are extremely goal-oriented. Those who deal with selling residential properties are focused on effecting as many home transfers as they can as quickly as possible. Each deal can be complex, and the real estate professional usually must deal with many personal, emotional, and technical issues to complete just one sale. Also, there are many adjunct professions that have a direct impact on the process and outcome of the transaction, such as mortgage bankers and closing attorneys.
With so much at stake, and with so many things to deal with, it's easy to understand why real estate pro's were — and still are — so receptive to a home comfort company that positions itself as a total resource for "helping them sell more homes."
"We'll Help You Sell More Homes"
Everything from tank readings to system start-ups, transferring of service agreements to emergency oil deliveries - you name it, we did it to keep our realty colleagues free of headaches and full of successful closings. We built relationships of trust: realty pro's knew who to turn to in order to keep a deal moving forward. We knew that by taking care of them, and helping them when they needed us, that we'd have a good shot at sewing up homebuyers after closings. We also achieved a "preferred vendor" status and received hundreds of referrals each and every year just from our realty network.
Applying Ideas That Work for Associations
As said, early on I learned some important lessons about how valuable realty professionals were to my Oilheat company's success. And those lessons stayed with me. That's why, many years ago, when PriMedia first developed its Oilheat-Realty Partnership Program, I felt that it was absolutely essential to build a program that helped Oilheat marketers to kindle and forge just these types of core relationships with realty pro's. Rather than "shouting from the mountaintop" about Oilheat's many benefits, we structured a program where we could control the amount and quality of the information being disseminated, but with the added impact of immediacy, the immediacy that could be accomplished by getting realty pro's and Oilheat marketers to meet face-to-face.
Early research done on behalf of NORA had shown that most homebuyers naturally show a strong bias toward the home heating fuel with which they're most familiar before buying a home. Moreover, Oilheated homes are particularly vulnerable to conversion to another fuel type at point of sale if the homebuyer has had a history with a different home heating option.
Real estate pro's can be critical influencers at this key time. Properly informed and armed with useful information, they can play a significant role in preserving Oilheat's market share. If the contrary, they can severely negatively impact our product's future. And the same holds true with respect to other important industries such as Home Inspectors.
Of course, effecting positive change in perceptions and awareness throughout an entire industry or set of industries is a daunting task, to say the least. It requires much research, and clear strategy formation and execution. It must at all times be tailored to the specific business environment in which it is being implemented. And it is a task which must be engaged, as much of Oilheat's fate hangs in the balance.
Branding & Research
All of PriMedia's Oilheat-Realty Partnership Programs, whether statewide or regional in nature, require much upfront research and planning. In most areas we focus our efforts on Realtors®, those real estate professionals who belong to the National Board of Realtors® and subscribe to its strict Code of Ethics. By and large, Realtors® are the most active realty professionals in a given area, and therefore affect the most home sales and influence the most homebuyers. Notwithstanding this, we also employ cost-effective, more broad-based tactics to saturate the realty industry in our prescribed marketing areas to promote a pro-Oilheat image to as many realty professionals as possible.
For each Oilheat-Realty Partnership Program, PriMedia develops a unique brand. This brand gives the Oilheat-Realty Partnership a distinguishing identity in each marketplace, and comprises its unique name, logo, and positioning statement. The brand of the Oilheat-Realty Partnership is then incorporated into all electronic and printed media used to promote the program.
Educating Realtors® about Oilheat's many benefits is a key ingredient of the Partnership Program, and it does this in many ways. Regular realty/home inspector-specific content is developed and disseminated in many formats: newsletters direct-mailed to Realtors® and certified Home Inspectors; a unique program website which is continually updated with new pro-Oilheat and event information; ads and features in realty publications; and special brochures dealing with local issues of importance, to name a few.
We develop a comprehensive database for each program and perform detailed and targeted Realtor® research, along with gathering demographic and organizational data that is the basis for all future marketing communications. To help the communications effort, we've developed a proprietary backend management system which fuses internet marketing processes, telemarketing campaigning, and direct marketing efforts to reach as many Realtors® as possible within each region. Since information is constantly changing, the databases are continually updated to reflect the most current statistics.
Oilheat-Realty Breakfast Events: Networking for Success
The information-sharing is often capped by our Oilheat-Realty Breakfast Seminars. At carefully chosen venues we orchestrate a complete event, one which brings together representatives of all of the related industries — Realtors®, Home Inspectors, Oilheat marketers, bankers, and attorneys. They are our guests for the morning and are treated to a deluxe networking event with all the amenities at a first-class area hotel or other appropriate venue. Realtors® and other industry pro's enjoy the chance to get out of their offices to network with their peers. They can relax and enjoy breakfast, and then engage in our informational seminar.
The presentation covers many critical topics - heating oil storage tanks, supply and pricing dynamics, energy-saving equipment, safety, and more. Although it's slated for approximately 1 hour, the presentation often runs well beyond that, all because of the robust Question and Answer sessions that have developed whenever we've given these seminars.
The presentations are highly interactive as well as informative. At the outset we routinely ask Realtors® to share their views about Oilheat and record them. Then we take them through the presentation and re-visit their initial responses.
Regrettably, realty professionals have very many misconceptions about Oilheat prior to attending the networking Breakfasts. As a result, they are able to do little to answer consumers' questions about our product, and can often have a big negative impact for our industry. Consumers with a predisposition to a different fuel type can often receive negative reinforcement from the realty and home inspector industries, driving conversions away from Oilheat at this critical point of impact.
That is, until the Oilheat-Realty Partnership Program comes to their area. Once it does, Realtors® have access to a host of benefits, absolutely free. The program serves as a complete resource to help them sell more Oilheated homes. They have unlimited access to timely information on everything from storage tank regulations to market trends. They receive free promotion via our "participating realty professionals" listings on the special website created for each program. They receive free informational brochures, and have ready access to more at any time they need them. They are set up with a help desk hot-line for information and special requests to facilitate closings.
My longtime colleague and veteran presenter, David Heiser, puts it this way: "To meet and host a group of professionals who have misconceptions about Oilheat, and to see those attitudes change by morning's end is personally rewarding. As an industry, we can change the negative perceptions people have about Oilheat to positive, and we can undoubtedly help the industry grow.
Why is a high-impact presentation so effective? To fully understand Oilheat, you have to understand its properties. You need to dispel myths of Oilheat through interaction. It's not enough to just present the properties and benefits of Oilheat, you need to show them. Showing Realtors® the properties of Oilheat allows them to come to their own conclusions, which is much more powerful and has longer lasting effect. Invariably, by the conclusion of each Breakfast event, we've turned the tide. When we revisit the Realtors®' initial responses about Oilheat, and ask for a second wave of feedback, we've usually cleared each and every prior misconception they'd had."
In fact, many Realtors® leave having become ambassadors for our product. And that's a powerful idea.
One of the key reasons for the program's success is the commitment shown by the Oilheat industry at these Breakfast Events. Although our program is completely turn-key, and requires no dealer involvement or work before, during, or after the event - PriMedia does everything from advertising and recruitment for each event to hosting and post-event follow-up - the Realtors® really enjoy networking with Oilheat pro's who know their stuff and can help them on a one-to-one level going forward from the event. To have questions answered, and then have a local dealer as a resource for help with everything from a tank reading to a walk-through heating system start-up, is invaluable to them. We think we've created a scenario that brings together all of the essential elements for success. Realtors® are more receptive to our pro-Oilheat message because they're away from their own ringing phones and the dynamics of an internal sales meeting. They also are attracted to the networking opportunities the Breakfast Events afford them with professionals from other realty firms and related industries. They're able to get many different levels of information and a higher degree of interaction. The program's no-pressure, high-caliber environment lends more credibility to our pro-Oilheat message and creates a forum wherein realty pro's are more receptive to our product.
The program works great for Oilheat professionals, too. Oilheat marketers get all the benefits without having to do the heavy lifting by making presentations themselves or doing any public speaking. They start up real-world, working relationships with realty pro's who can help their bottom line right away. And we give Oilheat marketers all the follow-up materials they need to cultivate the relationships they've begun.
Our clients, Oilheat associations throughout the country from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania, New York to Michigan and beyond, rely on the turn-key nature of our program. Whether it's recruitment, Breakfast Events and Trade Shows, newsletters, surveys, pre- and post-event marketing communications, or managing enrollment in realty associations and creation and placement of special feature articles and advertisements in realty publications, PriMedia manages the entire process and tracks all of the results.
At every Breakfast event we see plenty of great networking between the real estate and Oilheat industries, and we know that we are building lasting, mutually beneficial business relationships that will help strengthen Oilheat's presence in the marketplace. In fact, some Realtors® like it so much that they attend more than once, and they often refer colleagues or bring them with them the second time. Some large Realtor® offices ask us to do private events for their agents after they've seen the presentation.
Here's a brief sampling of just some of the Realtor® feedback we've received.
"Extremely informative about underground oil tanks!"
Patrick Dalton, Black Horse Realty Group
"This is the best selling tool available for agents."
Amalia Brandt, Black Horse Realty Group
"This information was very informative. Nice presentation!"
Peggy Van Gorden, Carol Bohn Realty
"I have attended twice. I have oil now. I appraise real estate for a living, and I find the information useful."
Jean Pedersen, Bellairs Real Estate
"A worthwhile presentation for Realtors® of all range and experience levels."
Ron Bunch, Ron Bunch & Sons Realty Corp.
"Great training/Educational program. 'Knowledge is Power.' The information will be very useful in the field. Thank you."
Clair Leface, McKnight Realtors
"I'm working more and more with homes over 50 years old that have Oilheat. I feel more comfortable with that choice, and also in answering the questions of clients."
Debra Britt-Busler, RE/MAX Premier
"The presentation was very informative, and I will use your site as a reference. Thanks for breakfast and the opportunity to NETWORK!"
Karen Wojcik-Hess, Veronica W. Lynch R.E.
"My generally favorable previous opinion of Oilheat got a great boost after this very informative presentation."
Alexander Krym, Bais Seller R.E.
"Before attending this seminar, I had no concrete understanding of the usefulness and accessibility of heating oil. As a Realtor, I feel much more confident providing feedback to my customers, knowing that I can provide them with comprehensive, factual information."
Peter Beck, Think Associates
"Very informative and interesting presentation. I knew nothing about Oilheat before, but now I am interested in converting from natural gas myself, and recommending it to my customers."
Beverly Beckles, Fillmore R.E.
"As a Realtor for many years, I know that knowledge is power. When the client is informed, it leads to more referrals, and more referrals means more money."
E.V. Fearon, Fearon Realty Corp.
All in all, the Oilheat-Realty Partnership Program is helping to "move the needle" with respect to strengthening Oilheat's position with real estate professionals and the homebuyers they influence every day. In New York, we have programs under way in the upstate region through the Oil Heat Institute of Eastern New York, in New York City and Westchester via the New York Oil Heating Association, and on Long Island through the Oil Heat Institute of Long Island. If you'd like to know how PriMedia can help you and your association to start making an important difference in this key area, please give me a call at (800) 796-3342 or contact me. I'll be glad to help in any way possible.
Richard Rutigliano is President of PriMedia, Inc., a full service marketing and communications firm with offices in New York City, Long Island and Boston. The company is now offering free marketing consultations to Oilheat retailers. Phone: 800-796-3342, or visit their Web sites at www.primediany.com and www.oilheat-advertising.com.