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Marketing Forum Attendee Looks 'to Create the Next National Real Estate Brand'

OFF THE COAST OF THE HAMPTONS, NY — Don't underestimate Kaira Sturdivant Rouda.

Behind the dazzling smile, sparkling eyes and vivacious manner is a serious decision maker. As a clients-side executive on board last year's Marketing Forum cruise, Rouda was pitched relentlessly by marketing services suppliers. Few would guess what happened afterward.

“I used five from last year,” she said. “It really helped our company a lot to have access to a whole caliber of suppliers.”

Rouda was among those aboard the Norwegian Dawn luxury liner for this year's Marketing Forum taking place May 9 to today.

Real Living, her family-run company based in Columbus, OH, is the nation's fifth-largest independent real estate brokerage. At last count it had 741 employees, 3,500 independent agents and 84 company-owned and 48 franchised locations. It recorded $7 billion in home sales last year.

“Now we're trying to grow through franchising and through acquisitions,” Rouda said. “We're trying to create the next national [real estate] brand.”

And yet there were some suppliers who should have been more serious when pitching to Rouda this year on board the Norwegian Dawn.

Maybe it was the mostly Midwestern name recognition. Maybe it was not enough homework. Maybe it was because Rouda's company targets women, the key decision makers for home and related purchases. One forum supplier even bailed out at the last minute with a two-line note. If only he had known.

Those who paid attention last year won major work from her. Interactive agency AKQA was asked to create an interactive Web site for Real Living at www.realliving.com. Brand Wizard Technologies was hired to develop a franchisee extranet. And Right Minds worked on the CRM strategy.

They recognized that Rouda was not the garden-variety chief marketing officer. She agreed to participate on two successive Marketing Forums because she was not just shopping marketing services, but buying.

The Marketing Forum's format — supplier-side firms pitching executives in prearranged, 25-minute meetings over three days — works to Rouda's advantage. She would like again to work with firms onboard the ship.

“I'm looking to set up an affiliate program for customer loyalty and retention, so that's what I've been talking about,” Rouda said.

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