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Interview: Ken Shuman, Head of Communications,Trulia.com

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What are the biggest differences between working internally and working at an agency? How did you get your relatively unknown start-up to compete for media attention against well known competitors such as Zillow.com and Realtor.com? These are some of the questions we asked Ken Shuman, Head of Communications for Trulia.com.

Ken has spent the last 15 months building the profile of “one of the top real estate search sites on the web.” Prior to joining Trulia, Ken spent 12 years on the agency side from Lois Paul and Partners to Horn Group, working with clients including IBM, Sun, Siebel, startups Genius.com and FujiFilm.

You’ve experienced PR from both the agency and client side and say the differences are “night and day.” Give us a few examples.

I think the biggest thing is understanding how you get resources within a company when you’re internal.


When you’re at an agency, you’re implementing, you’re really thinking about, “Here’s a product to announce, here’s some things we can do.”

When that happens to me, I think about what features are PR worthy, or if we can build that. I have the opportunity to shape the release in ways that are more newsworthy and interesting and effect product decisions and resources more. If you’re on the agency side, you don’t always realize you have access to those opportunities or have access to push people that way.

For example, we know that real estate data is what media love. But the National Association of Realtors already owns that data, RealtyTrac owns foreclosure data, Zillow owns homes that are under water in mortgage data. Everyone has their own data set and the media knows when it comes out and have it in their schedules to report on it. We’re trying to figure out what’s our data set, what’s unique data that no one is reporting on that media can latch on to, report in consist a fashion, put on their calendar? That process, there is so much that goes into it, it takes two to three months.

First we brainstorm on all the data we have, then we brainstorm on what data is interesting, then we do a media audit, then I do an internal presentation, it has to go to the data team, our engineers, product folks, etc. We focused on pricing data.

On the agency side, you don’t always see that hard work behind the scenes. I have to come in with a very compelling case with what this would do for our brand, awareness, interviews it might lead to, a full business model about this is what we’d get from it in return.

In terms of fully integrating a PR and marketing strategy, what has worked for you at Trulia? What doesn’t?

To continue talking about the data set we created, once we created data and put it into a press release, the question is what else do we do with it. Obviously there is a huge SEO component in releases. So you’re driving traffic, then there is the whole twitter /social media component. The first month we did the top 50 cities in America, we released it on Twitter city by city. We took custom requests through twitter.

So we evolved our integrated program, month by month, based on testing different things out in the social space. We decided every month to test different graphs. We think about a holistic approach, not just putting data out there. When we have our PR meetings, we have industry marketing, we have SEO, we have our social media guru, we have PR and then we have our VP of Marketing, and every month we get together as a group to see what people are focusing on and how we can help each other.

In terms of measurement. What are you measuring? Are you working with vendors?

We don’t work with any vendors. We don’t have Radian6 or Vocus or any of that stuff. We do look at engagement in terms of direct messages and re-tweets on Twitter. We do use bit.ly, so we can track clicks and who’s looking at content. We look at press release pick up. We look at incoming requests. we started to track broadcast pickup. In Q2 we had close to zero broadcast pickup now when we put out data we get about 60-70 news hits on local news channels, one Reuters or Bloomberg article gets us into the newscasts.

What does Trulia do to differentiate itself from competitors such as Zillow.com and Realtor.com?

Realtor.com is part of the National Association of Realtors and provide facts and data only. They can’t read into numbers or make predictions. They have to be factual because they’re part of an association. Zillow is more that you want to know if your house goes up in value every month, but it doesn’t mean your a seller, so a lot of their traffic is based off that activity.

We like to think of ourselves as the place where home buyers and home sellers go. We provide the most consumer centric site out there, we’re all about the customer, if you need advice. If you want to find an agent, we have 500,000 real estate pros that signed up, they blog on our platform. You can check out if you like their advice. We provide a lot of tools for sellers – customer comparables – you find homes you like and you compare, the same way camera reviews would work. So we’ve taken a very unique approach, we don’t give you an estimate of what your home is worth, but we give you tools to look at other homes are like yours and compare to the pulse of what is happening in your local area.

The newsroom of your website lists an PR email for press contact but no phone number or specific names of contacts. Is that a conscious decision?

It is. On all of our press releases you’ll see my name and cell phone number. I make myself available to everyone. If you do go into the press section my phone number is on every doc we put out. The PR alias goes to the whole marketing team so nothing falls through the cracks.

Was there recent of a news event – where you piggy backed on it and found success?

Yes. The first time home buyer tax credit is about to expire on November 30th. The National Association of Realtors (Realtor.com), is lobbying very hard to extend the tax credit. As a new company in the space, we believe tax credit should be extended as well, but we don’t believe going to congress with money in our back pockets is way to do it. We’ve started a petition to extend the deadline. I went to the team and proposed it to get power of people online to support movement, and when we get 1500 signatures, we can turn it into an op ed: “Consumers Want Credit Extended.” I worked very closely with our social media guy as to what’s right way to do this, how do we spread it. It’s been a steady groundswell. It’s a big news item that we’re trying to stay ahead of, before congress turns to this, after healthcare. We can then use that when people call us and say, “what do you think of this” we can then say “This is what the people think, not what we think.”

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