Co-founder and Principal
Rebecca Devine comes from a strong strategic communications background with experience in political, corporate, non-profit and crisis communications. As co-founder and principal of Maven, Rebecca brings a long-term approach to critical client issues.
During her career, Rebecca has helped launch technology and venture capital start-ups, handled crisis communications for the Dixie Chicks, positioned CEOs as industry thought leaders, and successfully developed communications strategies for a number of residential and commercial real estate companies, both in boom times and in bust.
Rebecca is also experienced in crisis/issues management response in areas including criminal investigations, food contamination, corporate mergers and acquisitions and real estate development.
Prior to launching Maven, Rebecca spearheaded numerous crisis, corporate communications and media relations efforts for local and national clients at Tierney Communications, the Mid-Atlantic region’s largest communications agency. She began her career at Penn Schoen and Berland, a political consulting and market research firm in New York.
Rebecca received a B.A. in Political Science from Brown University. She is actively involved in the Public Relations Society of America, the Philadelphia Public Relations Association and the Urban Land Institute.
Q: What led you to work with so many major real estate clients?
I’ve always had a fascination with real estate. It serves as the focal point for every great society, hometown, urban center and great cultural achievement you can think of since the time of the pyramids. My first client was a real estate developer who needed public funds for a shopping center in an urban neighborhood. That was when I caught the bug, and we have been helping real estate companies develop successful communications strategies ever since.
Q: What is your favorite part of your job? What do you find most challenging?
Finding the right message for each client is both the best part of the job and the biggest challenge. What audience do we need to target, what issues do we need to be aware of, and how can the message resonate? Part of that process is learning to engage and communicate with (rather than avoid) opponents. Particularly on the development side, there will always be people that are opposed to your project, no matter what the community benefit. Anticipating those issues and being able to plan accordingly is always a challenge, but it’s also what makes the job exciting.
Q: Tell us about your experience as a co-founder of Maven Communications. What challenges did you face in starting this firm? How did you determine your strategies and client base?
Like most companies, we started Maven to fill a need in the market place. When we analyzed the regional landscape in late 2006, we realized there was a real dearth of firms that had experience handling legal, real estate and technology companies. Both my partner and I had specialized experience in these areas, and decided the time was right to parlay that experience into our own business. The timing was also critical: we launched in 2006, so there was still plenty of financing and a lot of activity in the real estate market.
Q: What online platforms and social media do you feel are underutilized by the real estate industry? What advantages do they offer?
YouTube is probably the most underutilized platform, and it offers the most significant benefit to real estate companies from an ROI perspective. Because YouTube is owned by Google, videos get higher search engine preference than most other forms of content. YouTube offers a way for real estate companies to showcase their properties, communities and residences to a broader audience than was ever possible before.
Pinterest, a virtual scrapbooking site, is an interesting platform that has a lot of potential, particularly for residential, retail and hospitality properties. Users of Pinterest are predominantly women, so if your ultimate decision maker is female, this is a good place to be. The most important thing with Pinterest is to link your images back to your website, blog or other online assets. Linking allows you to track web traffic back to your brand, so you can see if your efforts there are working.
Q: Some people claim the commercial real estate industry has been exceptionally slow to embrace social media. Do you think this is true? If so, why do you think this is?
Historically, commercial real estate is not the first to adopt new technology trends, and social media has been no exception. CRE companies can be laser focused on the bottom line, and the benefits of social media aren’t always strictly financial. However, the commercial real estate industry is becoming more social as consumers demand online, 24/7 access to brands and services. CRE is getting on board as they realize there is real financial value behind building an engaged community online.
Q: Have economic conditions affected your work? Have you widened or narrowed your focus (in terms of market, client base, etc.) as a result?
The market collapse in 2007 certainly affected us, as it did everyone. We were lucky in that we had a diverse client portfolio but new business slowed to a halt as marketing budgets were slashed. We spent the year hanging onto our retainer clients and were able to ride through the storm, but it was definitely a lean period. It was during this time that we really started to build our social media practice. Companies needed to do more with less, and online and social media marketing enabled real estate companies to continue to market without the huge costs associated with traditional print advertising and PR.
Q: You have experience representing both large national corporations and smaller start-ups. What are the different challenges that come with large versus small firms?
Both can be exciting to work with and present different challenges. Big companies have more resources, but sometimes the corporate bureaucracy can hamstring innovation. Start-ups tend to be very nimble and fast-paced, but they have fewer resources with which to execute their vision. Not surprisingly, the biggest challenge with start-ups can be convincing the CEO to entrust their marketing strategy to a third party. They’ve had to wear so many hats when it comes to running their business that it is sometimes hard for them to trust someone else to get the job done.
Q: Many real estate developers and investors focus on specific markets and regions, such as the Philadelphia area. Since social media and other online platforms are rarely tailored to geography, how does Maven target local markets and submarkets?
Like real estate, social media can also be local. As community papers continue to phase out, consumers are turning to their local community – whether it’s their friends on Facebook or specific locations they are interested in – for information. To engage this community, we often recommend that real estate developers set up project-specific pages and accounts in addition to their corporate accounts. First, we look at the target audience and determine which platforms make the most sense, if any. If you’re a multifamily developer and your tenants are mostly under 35, having a Facebook for your property is essential. Conversely, if your target audience is the brokerage community, it might make more sense to establish thought leadership with a strong LinkedIn presence and a corporate blog. Paid opportunities – like Google Ad Words and ‘promoted’ Facebook posts – can also be very specifically targeted in a way that was never possible with traditional print advertising.
Q: If you didn’t work in your present field, what do you think you would be doing instead?
Travel writer. I’d love for someone to pay me to write about exotic locations for a living.