We all know that imitation is the penultimate form of flattery, yet when does imitation cross the line to outright thievery? I have spent a fair amount of energy in the past defending our industry and the agents who populate it. Today will be different.
I periodically devote some time to familiarizing myself with the goings-on of my compadres in the local real estate market or, more specifically, their marketing efforts and online presence. This is not an exercise in paranoia, but rather one way of keeping in touch with marketing in general. I am continually on a one-girl crusade to ensure that in our business Steve and I are taking advantage of all of the best tools available. It is my attempt to constantly stay informed, to stay innovative and to always be improving the services we offer our clients: To stay on top of our game. Recently I happened upon another local agent’s marketing presentation which sent me reeling in a double-take moment of deja vu. You see, his presentation was my presentation, or at least the one I was using months ago before I put it through an improvement overhaul.
By way of background, I have never been a secret agent. At my former company, I was happy to give the Marketing presentation to my office at my Broker’s request, complete with samples of every piece I have ever published, now or in my early days. I would have given them my business plan if they had asked, for I have never been one to believe that another’s success diminishes my own.
Steve and I were arguably the first in our local market to embrace image branding, and our efforts were in large part responsible for the agent branding revolution we have seen in our area over the past six years. This is not boastful, the idea would have caught on eventually as it has everywhere, but we just happened to be the rainmakers. Now there is nothing wrong with emulating another’s model or work; this has, in fact, always been the best advice I could give any aspiring rock star. It has all been done before, so learn what has been done, and do it better. Pure and blatant thievery is something different entirely, however. And for the record, plagiarism is just bad form. Let me add that I do not know how or even if this material is being used; I suspect it is, but I hope it’s not.
As it turns out, the marketing materials in question are my words and, in some cases my, graphics. My favorite is the “visual tour” page which shows my listing. The agent knew what they were doing, and do it they did. Whether or not this “borrowed” material ever saw public circulation is unknown, but having been produced and paid for, the intent was clearly there. There is no need to name names. It is a small real estate world we live in, and word will get out.
So, back to Elvis. He revolutionized a music industry, and many followed, many who adapted his style. Some had little success while some went on to make names for themselves, yet I, for one, never saw the Beatles perform Blue Suede Shoes. That would have simply been a rip off. Then you have the Elvis impersonators who took on his likeness and mimicked his characteristics and his music. The big difference between my agent and these other “Elvi” is that they never tried to conceal the fact that their act was a copy-cat gig, they never professed to have been the original recording artist, they never claimed to be the real Elvis. I suspect there were even some serious royalties involved. To my agent, I believe you have crossed ethical boundaries, and it is time to sing a different song.
Author’s footnote: I would like to close this subject with a challenge, or a plea if you will, to the real estate industry on the over-arching message, lest it get lost. Ours is an industry of independent contractors who must simultaneously work together and compete. For those of us who take our work seriously, it is our obligation to self-police to maintain the integrity of our profession, and it is imperitive that we maintain the highest ethical standards. Enough said. Elvis has left the building.