Crisscrossing the grid, she connects Chicago.
Emily Johnson is passionate about real estate. As president of Taylor Johnson, a public relations firm, Emily and her talented team serve the real estate industry exclusively. Among an inspiring cityscape of people and properties, they have a wellspring of real estate and related trades with which to work.
Her award-winning agency has a refreshing corporate culture that starts at the top. Characteristically aware of the inclusive circuitry required to bring stories of a dynamic metropolis to life, Emily blogged her gratitude on the company’s 40th anniversary to “our dedicated staff, our respected clients, the hard-working media and our industry colleagues.”
Authentic appreciation is vital. With it, after four decades in business, Taylor Johnson traces routes across Chicagoland, and beyond, to new relationships and cherished ones.
It was my privilege to catch up with Emily for a look back, her thoughts on branding and her firm being a value-added resource.
Tom Pfister: Taylor Johnson has been in business for more than 40 years. What’s it like to look back on your agency’s recent milestone?
Emily Johnson: This milestone was a special one for me since so much has changed over the past decade. My mother, the founder of Taylor Johnson, retired in January of 2008. Then, of course, there was the ensuing recession, which hit the real estate industry especially hard. But like any business, we weathered the storm and got hyper-focused on efficiencies, profitability and operations. We made sure our clients understood the value of what we do, reminding them that even in down markets, you need to promote your company, your properties and your services – maybe even more so. Fortunately, we had clients who shared this view, and although they may have reduced their PR budgets, they didn’t eliminate them, so we kept those relationships and that cash flow – and learned a lot through the process.
Over the past decade, in addition to media relations and event management, we’ve added social media and online content development to our service offerings while substantially diversifying our client base. Whereas before we worked primarily with private homebuilders, our clients today span both residential and commercial real estate, and various disciplines within each, including architecture, interior design, development, construction, law and finance. So, we’re working across a wider range of property types – luxury residential, student housing, senior housing, industrial, retail, office, hospitality and mixed-use – and also doing much more work nationally and even internationally. We’re fortunate to have some large, high-profile clients that are expanding, and in promoting that growth, we also benefit from it.
But I think the biggest key to our success is the way we approach business in general. Although we are hired to do PR for real estate companies, we’ve positioned ourselves as a resource to the industry. An example of this is our daily e-blast, TJ TALK, in which we compile the most important real estate news of the day, along with a calendar of real estate events and job postings – and share that with our national database of real estate professionals and media. Additionally, we share a piece of “Featured News” we were able to secure for a client, which helps boost their exposure, but also serves as a daily mini-case study for Taylor Johnson. Industry colleagues have come to rely on TJ TALK for information and insights, and Taylor Johnson is perceived as a connecter, which thrills me since that’s my favorite part of the job – connecting clients, the media and real estate colleagues for the benefit of all.
Pfister: To a casual observer, public relations in regards to real estate conjures up ribbon-cutting ceremonies. In reality, the nature of public relations is vast and varied. What’s involved in the world of Taylor Johnson?
Johnson: We are a public relations firm with 20 people that services about 40 real estate clients – a number that continues to grow. Those companies benefit from our expertise in media relations, online content, social media and event planning, so anytime you see, hear or read about them, it’s usually from our efforts.
In many respects, our work is more dynamic than it’s ever been because it involves both new and traditional media. There’s an immediacy that influences everything from strategy to execution. We’re getting involved with projects at a very early stage – long before the ribbon-cutting – to develop messaging and help shape public perception, which is especially important in the age of social media. We work with the media, as we’ve always done, but we also engage community stakeholders and influencers as part of our efforts. And that work goes beyond the physical real estate – we’re constantly looking for ways to position our clients as thought leaders and innovators within their respective fields.
Pfister: From a study conducted exclusively for Forbes at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show: among CMOs, the second-most talked about theme was brand fundamentals. If high-level marketers are dialoguing brand basics, it wouldn’t be surprising if executives in the real estate space might be confounded about having their story told well and delivered. Yet, that’s where Taylor Johnson comes in, right?
Johnson: Yes, “giving voice to your brand” is where we come in, and is even our company’s tagline. There are many real estate companies that can design a pretty house or build an efficient building, but it’s the way people connect with the brand that makes all the difference. And in order to make that connection, the brands need to tell their stories. Through storytelling, a brand can differentiate, educate, resonate – it becomes more human, more relatable, more memorable. PR is what builds a brand’s personality, credibility and reputation.
Pfister: When approaching a public relations firm for the first time, what can new clients do to prepare for that introductory process?
Johnson: When we engage with a new client, we have a “launch meeting” where the Taylor Johnson team gathers around a table or visits a project with the client’s team in order to ask questions and glean information. From this meeting, we develop our strategic plans, corporate messaging and timelines for moving forward. The more prepared a client is with information, the better the onboarding.
It’s good for a client to put some forethought into who will be involved with the PR process. Who will be the day-to-day contact? What collateral (photos, video, bios, etc.) can be provided? Who will be the spokesperson for the company? How much experience does that person have with the press? Do they need media training, help with talking points and company messaging? If so, be sure to convey that to your PR firm. Also think about how you want to be communicated with – email, phone, text – and how often you want formal updates. Ask for reports on accountability and results, and make sure you are comfortable with the team that’s assigned to your account.
And be a good client. Be engaged. Be honest. Be responsive. Let the experts do their jobs, and pay your bills on time. Keep in mind that publicists are innate people-pleasers, so a little appreciation goes a long way.
Pfister: Can you help to dispel the notion held by some executives who conclude, since they’re fortunate to have a marketing specialist on staff, there’s no reason other than crisis management for their company to engage an outside public relations agency?
Johnson: We’ve found that most marketing specialists don’t have an expertise in public relations, which takes a specific skill set. Publicists are excellent writers and communicators who know how to identify, craft and deliver a good story – no matter the medium. They are relationship-driven and rely on their contacts to help get the word out. This is why most of our clients have a marketing specialist on staff, or partner with a marketing agency, while engaging Taylor Johnson to manage their public relations. Marketing and PR overlap but are two different disciplines.
While crisis management is an integral component of PR, it’s not the only time a company should be communicating with its audiences. It should be the opposite approach, actually. It’s the day-to-day sharing of information, expertise and insights that builds a strong foundation for a brand. By being consistent with positive messaging, a company builds goodwill and credibility and becomes a trusted expert in its space, which is the best defense for when a crisis occurs. And then, if a crisis does occur, you have a PR partner at the ready who can help navigate the situation.
Most PR agencies encourage clients to be proactive and have a “crisis plan” in place so there’s a game plan to follow should the need arise. Crisis plans help immensely in those challenging situations when time is of the essence. And who better to develop and execute that plan than a trusted partner who truly understands your business? For these reasons, we view PR as a long-term partnership with our clients. In fact, we still represent our very first client, a more than 40-year relationship.