CEOs talk marketing: An interview with Sam Foster of PRG Real Estate

May 31, 2023

Sam Foster of PRG Real Estate paired with a quote about lowering marketing costs 50%

Welcome to the first of what we hope will be an ongoing series featuring executive perspectives on marketing.

Too often in the past, working in marketing has felt somewhat separate from other revenue-generating teams, like sales or leasing. But really, we are all connected in the renter journey.

After all, you can’t get a conversion without a click, and you can’t get a click if you haven’t attracted potential renters to your website or listing.

Now — thanks to the availability of data that proves marketing effectiveness — forward-thinking CEOs, operations executives and even property owners are taking a more active role in marketing.

Sam Foster, CEO of PRG Real Estate, is one of these industry leaders. We’re excited to feature him as interviewed by Esther Bonardi, our vice president at REACH.

You may recall reading about PRG before when we shared their award-winning SEO strategy. Today, we’re taking a deeper dive into how executives can successfully collaborate with the marketing team to drive revenue and reduce expenses.

Sam Foster & Esther Bonardi interview transcript

Esther: Let me start by asking you this. How do you view the role of the marketing team in your organization?

Sam: Well, we view the marketing team perhaps a little differently than other organizations. They’re a revenue generating department for us. So it’s important for me to stay engaged with them.

I mean the marketing team is a main driver of our primary source of revenue, which is rental income. We include them on every aspect of the organization. They’re super important for us. They’re not simply just overhead.

Esther: That is an important statement. So many people do see marketing as an expense category and see marketing teams as overhead. But if you see them as revenue generators, which is what they are, it makes sense that you want to stay connected with them.

With that in mind, how often do you meet with the marketing team, for instance, to review performance data?

Sam: We meet at least on a monthly basis. Luckily for me our three marketing team members are right outside my door. I check in with them at least two to three times a week, and I think I would do that regardless of whether they sat on the same floor as me.

But we definitely meet monthly to go over performance reports. And then quarterly, there’s a lot of compensation metrics that everybody’s tied to, from our COO on down to our property managers, and a lot of these are generated from the marketing department. Ultimately, we meet to discuss robust quarterly reports and pretty formal monthly reports also.

Esther: Now when you’re looking at performance data, I know that you use data really well. You use our Marketing IQ program that delivers some really deep marketing insights. When you’re looking for data, what are you interested in? In other words, what metrics matter to you, the CEO?

Sam: I think we measure everything here. It’s tough to measure one thing in isolation. I think it’s important to take a step back and not just focus on, say, cost per lead or occupancy. We’ll look at rental rate growth and leasing agent conversion ratios. We’ll look at our SEO metrics and Google ad spend.

All those things sort of get put together in a soup and tell us tell a story, or a recipe really. It may not be marketing related; it may be personnel related at the site itself. Or it could supervision related or maybe one of our phone numbers is not tracking correctly.

We have to look at all of those things and put them together so that they tell some sort of story.

Focusing on one piece of data, you know, isn’t that helpful. But when we look at it all as an aggregate, it should tell a pretty logical story, and the marketing department produces most of the data that we’re going to see.

Esther: I’m glad you said that. I think it is important not to look at any one thing in isolation. That’s one of the things I like about the Marketing IQ dashboard. There’s so much, and you can really drill into it if you want to look at conversion ratios or leasing agent performance. You’re not just looking at a cost per lease. You’re looking at the rental income driven by each source.

As you’re looking at performance data, have you identified places where you could reduce the spend in the marketing category? In other words, have you found places where you see some marketing sources performing phenomenally, but others where maybe you’ve been able to reduce costs based on underperformance?

Sam: For sure. Over the past 24 months, we’ve reduced traditional ILS spend by at least 50%, saving us hundreds of thousands of dollars. We haven’t seen any deterioration of occupancy or rental rate growth. Everything has remained quite positive.

ILSs were just cost ineffective for us, so we decided it was unnecessary to have most of them. We were able to make this decision by looking at the data and seeing that the more traditional sources of marketing just weren’t delivering results.

Esther: That’s impressive. I think you’re leading the industry by coming in and putting some foundational marketing in place — which is search engine optimization and pay per click advertising — and then building on top of that. I feel like PRG really has been one of the leaders in that area.

Interestingly, Sam, as you know, PRG and REACH recently entered an international marketing competition together based on your SEO strategy. It’s called the Hermes Awards, and together we won a platinum award for your marketing strategy based on the last leasing season where you had your highest lease volume with SEO and your lowest cost per lease. It was something like a $29 cost per lease with SEO. See the PRG cost-per-lease story.

Sam: Thanks! We’re really proud of that. Importantly, the savings that we’ve had from the traditional ILS sources, we’ve been able to reinvest. Well, not all of them. There’s still a large net savings. But you know, we plowed a lot of those savings into the SEO and Google Ads space, as well as into additional team members for the marketing team.

Adding personnel, allocating more resources to more modern ways to market, it’s just a much better strategy.

Esther: That’s a great way to use the savings! In what other ways do you partner with the marketing team for the overall health of your company?

Sam: Well, traditionally you would think of the marketing team as who deals with our residential customers and our leases. But our team handles our two other customers, which are our team members and our investors.

They do all of our corporate branding, all of our design, and we don’t have to hire third-party designers for our marketing materials. And they have the time for this now because we were able to add additional team members thanks to our reduced marketing spend on ILSs.

Our PRG marketing team is involved in all aspects of the business, from being active on the conference committee for our annual conferences to designing all of our marketing materials. Their work directly impacts our team members, our residents and our investors.

Esther: That’s great. Marketing teams certainly have to fill a lot of roles. It sounds like you’re building that team to be able to do that effectively in house, while strategically partnering in certain places to bring technical expertise in. And it’s working really well for you.

Sam, thank you so much for sharing your experience today. I think you’ve shown us that there’s real opportunity to impact your business and your bottom line when the marketing team and the senior executives collaborate, communicate and make decisions together.

Do you have a marketing story to tell?

We’d love to hear it. Reach out through our contact us page.

Geneva Ives

Geneva Ives is the manager of marketing content at Yardi. She leads content initiatives for REACH by RentCafe. Writing may be her first love, but data is a close second. Geneva is based in Santa Barbara, California.

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