One of the first things I did when I got into real estate that really helped me was studying the advertising other agents were doing. After scanning through the real estate section of the local paper it quickly became apparent that most of those agents were getting lost in a sea of sameness. That’s because they were all selling houses, not themselves.

Seventeen years later, little has changed on that front. Open up any of those pages and what you mainly see is a mug shot next to a house with way too many words crowding the space. Who knows, maybe the ads reflect the busy, crowded lives those agents lead. I knew right away that my advertising would be different and that I would be selling me instead of just a house.

Now, luckily for any agent willing to make the effort, standing out from the blur of real estate advertising isn’t that hard. However, you have to be careful how you do it. I remember coaching one agent on his advertising and telling him how he had to get himself noticed. So one day he comes into my office all excited. He had a new ad running in the paper he wanted to show me. With no small amount of pride and flourish he whipped open the paper and laid it on my desk.

I actually started to laugh, which was terrible but I couldn’t help it. There in that sea of sameness on the page was his ad with a picture of himself turned upside down. I assured him that it would get him noticed, but cautioned him that so would going to a wedding without wearing trousers.

The main thing with any advertising is consistency. The look and feel of each ad has to be tied to that overall look and feel. That, quite simply, is how you build the brand that is you. The first thing you have to do is ask yourself what is it that you think you can do better than any other agent. That’s your USP, your unique selling point. Maybe it’s your experience; maybe it’s your energy, your level of service, commitment or whatever. Once you decide on it, the same message should be in all the advertising you do.

When it comes to the look of your ad, a simple rule of thumb is “less is more”. Whenever I did an ad, I’d write down everything I wanted to say and then cut 50 per cent of the words. Doing that creates white space and it’s white space that will draw the viewer’s eye. Plus, if your ad is clean and uncluttered, it will literally jump off the page when it’s surrounded by ads that are not.

For the look of the ad, which you’ll always use, you can easily incorporate a simple graphic element to help set it apart. If everyone else is using straight lines, why not try adding a swirl? That little visual touch becomes your signature after a while and people will recognize that it’s your ad. Now they’re starting to see you along with the house you’re selling. It’s called brand building and it takes time but the eventual payoff is more than worth it.

So you’ve got your USP figured out, you’ve cut copy to create more white space and you have a simple design element in place. That may not sound like much, and it isn’t really, but you’ll be amazed at how good your ad looks next to the sea of sameness you’re competing with. Remember, before you can have an outstanding career, you have to stand out and these simple tricks will help you do just that.

Debbie Hanlon is the founder of Hanlon Realty and CEO of All Knight Inc. She is a three-time top 50 CEO winner and was named one of the top 100 female entrepreneurs in Canada. She is currently an elected city official in St. John’s, Nfld. and is available for motivational and training seminars. Email [email protected].

Debbie Hanlon is the owner broker and Realtor at Debbie Hanlon Real Estate, a new boutique brokerage in St. John’s, Nfld. She is also a motivational speaker, real estate coach, author, former city councillor and children’s entertainer. She lives in St. John’s with her husband, Oral Mews and her dog Fisher.


  1. Debbie you have changed my life deeply, i am a young man from South Africa. I am interested in openning a real estate business, with your articles you make things to be simple for me. In other words you inspire to be focus and know stuff. I hope things will work out for me. Good luck with everything.

    • Masande
      Thank you ever so much fro your kindhearted words. I wish you much success. Please stay in touch , I am sure all of us would love to be kept up to date on your accomplishments. Do not hesitate to contact me if ever you need an ear!
      Best of luck

  2. Great article Debbie!

    There's no point in spending money in advertising to blend in with the rest. Who wants to advertise and their message say 'Hey, I'm pretty much like the rest here. So go ahead and choose one." The goal is to stand out amongst the others.

    Most pages of real estate listings are just too much trouble to read they way it is now…

    • Thanks Leslie I agree with you, standing out is far better than blending in! Thanks for taking the time to read my article and also a big thank you for the comment

  3. Hey Deb.. great article with so much truth.The print media that we use to market ourselves and homes right now is becoming overwhelming.You see so many ads with such heavy content..people just pass them over, as too much to read. Just put yourselves in the readers shoes..every email that you read(and especially reading it on your blackberry)..dont you just want to get the focus point of the email.? The public is so on the same page . As usual Deb you have totally zoned in on the truths of some of this marketing. Great article..when you were actively were some of my toughtest competition!

    • Anne
      You never cease to amaze me! Being the broker of your very successful Exit Franchise, a top producing agent, a leader in our community, a unrivaled community volunteer, championing countless charitable events, helping our seniors and also helping women to success in business just to list a few of your amazing contributions to society. You still take time for any who need your help. You are an inspiration to me and in some of my darkest moments you were there shining a bright light! Thank you for taking the time to read my article , I am honored you took time out of your busy schedule for me! Thank you also for your comments they so ring true! On another note EXIT realty had one of the very best floats in the ST.Johns Christmas Parade with some of the Exit realtors dressing in costume as jolly elves and even You yourself was an ELF , the children got a grand hoot otta your float and your staff! Thanks again for your continued support

  4. Your column is right on. Over the years I've spent next to nothing on newspaper advertizing. However, in the community where my real estate office was located I was well known, as such, I frequently sent out flyers and they worked out very well as they generated a good deal of business
    for me. But most of my business was repeat or referral..

  5. Hi Marte
    Thank you ever so much for reading my column and even more thanks for taking the time to comment. I share your opinion on paper advertising and agree with you with your guidance on the use of newspaper advertising . My listing systems is designed to put more emphasis on customer loyalty building and less on print. When I actively sold I was simply amazed at how many realtors would waste money on print…I do believe it can act as a compliment to your over all marketing plan but should be utilized wisely and again as a part of a plan rather than the plan itself.

  6. Debbie – I can speak to Marte's popularity (altho' she is a NetFriend of mine); she is well-respected in the real estate community and has many happy clients. She shares valuable and thought-provoking ideas on the forums also.

    Carolyne L

  7. Debbie – You are so right. Even those ads that are attempting to sell the agent's services are all alike – equally ineffective. Consumers have heard "Here I am. I'm the best. Hire me" way too many times to pay any attention to it.

    Most of my real estate copywriting clients don't use print ads any more, but they come to me having made the same mistake on their websites. Then I get the pleasure of showing their visitors why they're the agents to choose in their communities.

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