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Spotlight On: Norman & Claudia Fisher, The Pearl on First


We’d like to introduce Norman and Claudia Fisher, two people with a lot of imagination and even more energy. Together they have masterminded the renovation of a dilapidated Northeast St. Petersburg apartment building, transforming it into a community of luxury apartments, adding unique design elements, gorgeous amenities, and community spaces. There’s even a car share available for resident use. We are excited to see what the finished apartment building looks like.

Norman and Claudia Fisher


The Pearl On First Apartments

 St. Petersburg

Years in this industry:  20 years

What inspired you to pursue a career in real estate?

We are newlyweds, both of us over the age of 50 and wanted to do a joint project using both of our skill sets. Norman’s background is in corporate business administration and organization assessment. Claudia’s background is in Classical Architecture and interior design.

We recently moved to St. Petersburg and real estate offered us an interesting arena to combine our abilities. As St. Petersburg is truly going through an urban renaissance, we thought it would be fun to design and build something truly elegant for people who choose to rent in the area.

What is the first assignment you remember?  Why?

Norman’s first foray into real estate was the purchase of a few small houses, which were renovated and rented out in the Clearwater and St. Petersburg area. He wanted to learn about real estate with hands-on experience. Claudia became a licensed realtor in Florida but with the idea of doing research in real estate rather than working as a practicing realtor.

What do you like most about the real estate industry and community?

Working in real estate gives you a chance to dream and see those dreams take physical shape. When it doesn’t drive you batty, like waiting for building permits, it can be lots of fun!

Working on a larger scale project, in our case The Pearl On First, has also given us the opportunity to meet and work with a wonderful collection of  real estate professionals, vendors, artisans and small business owners. Without wanting to sound cloying, I often say, “It takes a village to design anything well!” Everybody’s skills and knowledge base are needed and appreciated to make The Pearl On First a success.

What challenges does your industry face? 

I think we are too new to real estate development to offer too much comment on this question but I will say that, especially in Florida which is so low-lying, we need to really focus on creative solutions with regard to the rising water levels over the next decades. I am convinced there are solutions out there if we all pull together.

How do you measure your success? 

This is an interesting question, as Norman and I were just discussing this question a week ago. As we met later in life, we are hoping to create passive income with our real estate ventures that will supplement the retirement savings we already have.

But more importantly, the major guiding purpose for our work with apartment dwellings is to offer living environments that truly delight people, by offering elegant, thoughtful design in their private apartments as well as exceptionally beautiful and welcoming communal areas to share life experiences with friends and neighbors. This is what we hope to achieve.

What has been your greatest accomplishment in your career? 

For Claudia there have been a few design milestones. Developing the classical architectural design for The Executive Administration Center for Boston University, designing a 22-foot pierced aluminum chandelier suspended in mid-air for The Royal Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission in Fairfax, VA and now working on the Art-Deco inspired apartment, The Pearl On First.

For Norman, the main one is my recent completion of my MBA from the University of Maryland. I really enjoyed its entrepreneurial learning aspects, and after a career in large corporations, look forward to a next career in a small business environment in real estate.

What do you think is the biggest mistake companies make when working in real estate? 

Not doing enough research can be a major mistake.  Research is not necessarily fun or sexy, but extremely important, as your gathered knowledge will help guide you into hopefully wise decisions. Often as a real estate investor you can get emotionally involved in a deal or property, and it is very important not to forget the results of the research you did.

Additionally, it never hurts to be as organized as possible and keep at least a weekly schedule to communicate with everyone on the project. There are so many trades working in tandem in real estate, we need to  know what’s happening on a daily basis with each other so we can work in tandem comfortably.

What is the most interesting trend you see in real estate? 

It’s been said before, but as the Baby Boomers start to retire and move South, they are looking for interesting new ways to live their next chapter which are very different from their parents. For example, scenarios that are sought after could include friends living in adjoining apartments, apartments that have new and interesting amenities like a “car share”, apartments that have built-in health care facilities… the sky’s the limit.  It’s going to be a very interesting time!

How has technology helped/hindered your work? 

From a drafting point of view, AutoCAD, Rivet and other drawing programs are can be a huge time saver. My background is Classical Architecture so I still do hand drafting but nevertheless, these programs are very useful.

What can be problematic, in my opinion, is that the computer now allows for an unbridled amount of architectural design.  This, in and of itself sounds good but there have been a fair amount of architectural messes built out there that were created with the aide of computer technology. Without wanting to sound unkind, the adage “just because you can build it doesn’t mean you should” comes to mind!

How do you stay on top of your field? 

We both read a great deal – newspapers, periodicals, professional trade magazines, although Norman is much better at being sure he is up on all the real estate news coming in the door.

What resources do you recommend?  

With regard to design, Claudia believes that any disciplines relating to Classical Architecture can provide a tremendous foundation for designing anything better – from traditional to ultra-modern. The Institute for Classical Architecture and Art, based in New York City, is a major educational institution and provider of all kinds of helpful design information. Additionally, the business of real estate is not only national but often also highly influenced by the locality. So continuing awareness of local changes and trends is key. It is as simple as subscribing to the local newspaper and volunteering on various local committees.

If you could give one piece of advice to Tampa Bay companies, what would it be?

If I were to advise Tampa Bay companies on participating in the local rental or condo real estate business, I would advise them to firstly determine specifically, what their target population is, and then be very aware of that population’s desires for a future living experience. Only with that information, would I design a apartment or condo product that serves that market. Often properties are put to market that are generic in nature rather than satisfying specific needs.

What are your hobbies?

Norman’s hobbies are tennis, soccer, reading, and adventure traveling. Claudia’s hobbies are opera singing, ballet, and reading 18th century novels.

Favorite food?

Norman – Italian.  Claudia – anything I haven’t cooked myself.

Last book you read?

Norman – Steve Jobs

Claudia – Disney War 

How to Sell a ‘White Elephant’

whiteelephant_newsFrom time to time, we’ll find it necessary to sell something that might lead one to question the sanity of anyone who buys it. This could be a product, a service, or even an investment opportunity that’s missing readily apparent value. While a challenge, successfully unloading (or rather, locating a buyer), is often just a matter of looking at the offering a bit differently ourselves, and then getting a prospective customer to see it the same way.

We aren’t talking about putting ‘lipstick on a pig’ to cover flaws, or using euphemisms that confuse or mislead a potential buyer. Instead, we want to highlight commonly perceived weaknesses and make the case for desirability based on the offering being exactly what it is. We’re not fudging the truth. But we are manipulating the customer’s emotional and intellectual make-up so he will feel good about our offering. After all, an important goal in business transactions is making the customer happy—even if he doesn’t immediately think it possible. Consider these strategies:

Match the ‘product’ to the audience. Make no attempt to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. Be aware that when you have that special, one-of-a-kind deal, not everyone is going to have the ability to properly appreciate it. Consider, for instance, sky-diving. Not everybody sees the appeal of paying a stranger for the chance to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, but the right people will enjoy the experience.

Acknowledge and then embrace the negatives. Show no doubt, show no fear, and don’t hide anything. The unattractive aspect of whatever you are selling should be front and center in your sales pitch. (“Take a look at this fabulous sinkhole – 100 feet deep! And it comes with a house at the bottom of it!”) People are wary if they think you’re trying to hide something, but if everything is out in the open, your customer will be more willing to hear you out.

Appeal to ego. Remember how we matched the product to an audience? That’s a select group, right? Exclusivity! Not everyone has the background, good taste, or financial resources to make the most of any particular opportunity. Additionally, an appeal to someone’s adventurous spirit (sky-diving again, or bungee jumping) often works with customers because they want to feel young and daring. Or you might tap into their hidden conceits by mentioning what great things a person with their home-decorating style could do with a 15 x 20 abstract painting.

Point out that you’re offering a one-of-a-kind, limited-opportunity. Have you ever seen those TV commercials selling the gold-clad (e.g. an atom’s thickness of gold covering a cheaper metal) coins? They’re always limited editions because people like owning things that other people can’t get anywhere. Uniqueness sells. Sure, the three-wheeled Robin Reliant had a tendency to tip over… but it was a British automobile with three wheels! How cool is that?

Make a joke out of it. Back in the 70s, a product came on the market that will forever live in marketing fame. From a practical standpoint, it was completely useless and frankly, definitively idiotic. It was the Pet Rock and it made its originator a millionaire. Face it – when you think of reasons to own a pet, choosing a rock would be terrible. Yet people went wild buying them, solely to be in on the joke.

Maintain enthusiasm for the customer’s benefit as they enjoy their purchase. Take the time to make your customer feel happy about doing business with you. Follow-up with them after they’ve made their purchase to see how things are going. (If you did a good job of matching customer to product, they shouldn’t have much regret.) If they are less than enthusiastic with the feedback, express your genuine surprise and try to find out if the product failed to perform as promised. And if their complaint is a real problem, you have another bullet-point for your brochure!

The reality is that there are no perfect products. And there is no sales pitch that’s going to work with every potential customer. But an honest representation of your offering, a positive attitude, and a sense of humor will go a long way toward helping you sell just about anything – and enable you to have fun trying.



Spotlight On: David Graham, Principal of Elite Intelligence Solutions

intelligence agency marketingNext up in our Spotlight series is David Graham, a truly fascinating person who is a wealth of information about intelligence and security. There’s something about David – you just trust him because he is so knowledgeable and he can talk for hours about things that most people couldn’t even imagine. We were lucky enough to work with David on his website, and in the process we learned a lot of cool stuff. We thought you might find him interesting as well.

David Graham


Elite Intelligence Solutions


Years in this industry: 30

What is Intelligence? How does it relate to my business?

Intelligence is a process of identifying, collecting, and analyzing information, allowing the client to make an informed decision based on accurate, unbiased information.

What inspired you to pursue a career in intelligence?

I’m naturally inquisitive and I’m always searching for answers and developing solutions to problems.

What do you like most about the intelligence industry and community?

The industry is consistently changing, whether it’s advances in technology or the motives of individuals. These changes keep the field of intelligence interesting and constantly evolving.

What challenges does your industry face?

I think the biggest challenge is keeping information secure. Whether it’s cyber-security, physical security or protecting intellectual property, each of these requires a different method of detection and prevention.

How do you measure your success?

I measure success by providing a client with the information they requested and/or providing a solution to an issue they may be dealing with.

What do you think is the biggest mistake companies make when working in intelligence?

The biggest mistake I see companies make is failing to recognize or admitting they have a problem. They should hire an outside source to come in and assist in gathering information – intelligence – and formulating a solution. Relying on internal sources to gather information can be problematic for many reasons, including lack of expertise, lack of experience, or company or personal loyalties.

What is the most interesting trend you see in intelligence?

The most interesting trend I see is the speed at which technology is advancing. These advances create challenges for the security expert and require him or her to stay up to date on current threats, methods, and techniques to combat these threats.

How has technology helped/hindered your work?

Technology has hindered this field because:  Hidden audio and video recorders can be purchased on the internet for less than $20.00. The proliferation of these inexpensive, readily accessible devices has made it difficult to protect the information of individuals and companies.

Helped: From camera systems to cyber-security protocols to technical surveillance counter-measures, technology has helped the industry with the advanced equipment development designed to combat intrusions and information leakage.

How do you stay on top of your field?

The only way to stay on top of this field is through continuing education and networking with other subject matter experts.

If you could give one piece of advice to Tampa Bay companies, what would it be?

Prevention and protection. Do not wait to call on an expert to assist in preventing the loss of information and develop a solid plan to protect you, your employees, your facilities, and your information.

What are your hobbies?

Having grown up on Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, I love to fish and go boating with my family. I’m an avid hunter and outdoorsman. I also enjoy training dogs for obedience and bird hunting.

Favorite food?

Anything Italian

Last book you read?

The Wizards of Langley” Inside the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology by Jeffrey T.  Richelson.

I’ve been asked why I read non-fiction technical “espionage” books. Prior to retiring from a major law enforcement agency, I was assigned as a technical surveillance detective, responsible for all aspects of technical and physical surveillance and tasked with developing surveillance techniques and procedures to detect and record criminal activity. I am a firm believer of “not reinventing the wheel,” so I became a student of the methodologies and techniques of the CIA and KGB on how to gather intelligence and then apply them to modern law enforcement. Along with learning “how” to gather intelligence, I learned how to protect and prevent the loss of intelligence. Even though I’m no longer in law enforcement, I am still a student of legally obtaining and preventing the loss of intelligence and applying these principles in the private sector.

Presenting Your Expertise to the Media

public relations pr expertPublic relations and publicity aren’t the same thing, but they are definitely intertwined. The public must first know you exist before it can have an opinion about you. One of the best ways that professionals can be introduced to a large audience is as an expert in their industry. And for credibility’s sake, it’s best if that introduction comes from an unbiased source … a news media outlet, for example.

If you’ve hired a good PR agency—or a marketing firm that also provides well-coordinated PR services in addition to other promotional strategies—they should discuss setting you up with their media contacts as a resource for news stories covering your industry. But absent professional marketing assistance, there are a three things you can do on your own to position yourself as an expert in your field.

Be visibly active in your community. This boils down to the dreaded ‘networking.’ Join your local Chamber of Commerce or other business organizations and take an active role. Offer thoughtful, well-expressed opinions in friendly discussions when it comes to topics related to your business. Even more importantly, if your industry has a professional organization with a chapter in your area, be sure to join and work to take a leadership role. Then, if a journalist begins asking around for an expert to quote, your name may come up. And certainly, anytime you meet members of the media, give them your card and let them know you are happy to help answer questions relating to your field.

Utilize social media to establish a public presence. Blog, tweet, or have a Facebook page that speaks to issues in your industry (without an overt sales pitch). In addition to being a resource for your customers, delivering information in this way will help set you up as a public expert. First, if a reporter googles an expert to contact, your name may show up in the search results. Secondly, doing these things on a regular basis will force you to pay attention to the latest developments in your industry, so you can speak knowledgeably if an opportunity presents itself. And finally, expressing yourself through social media provides practice organizing your thoughts and speaking on the record.

Share story ideas with the media. Don’t confuse this with a press release for your business. Instead, if you see something happening in your line of work that strikes you as unusual and may be a cause of interest (or alarm) for the general public, contact the news editor of your local paper or TV station and let them know what you’re observing. (For example: You’re a CPA and you see a lot of your clients having trouble with tax information related to Obamacare.) Be concise, to the point and clearly explain why the phenomenon might be worthy of news coverage. Even if you don’t get a bite on that particularly story, there’s a chance your name could be remembered for some other article in the future.

The most important thing in becoming a resource for professional expertise is to be available. When a reporter calls you will need to answer, or if you are just too busy to break away at that moment you must return his call within a few hours at the most. Chances are that journalists will be facing a tight deadline, and they aren’t going to wait around long before moving on to someone else. And if you aren’t there for them when they need you, they’ll be less likely to come back again.

Also, if you are quoted in a story, don’t nitpick over trivial matters regarding your exact words. Yes, if you’re misquoted in a way that makes your published statement substantively incorrect, bring it to the reporter’s attention. However, if her transgression is that you said “fast” and she wrote “quickly,” let it go. And anytime you’re reasonably pleased with a story in which your expert comments appear, send the reporter a note congratulating her on her fine work and letting her know how much you enjoyed participating in their work. This way, reporters will remember you as someone they enjoyed working with.

Keep in mind that you won’t become a media-recognized expert overnight. As you may have noticed, there is a lot of groundwork to lay, and frankly, a good bit of hard work. But the good news is that once you’ve reached “expert” status, opportunities to increase your professional profile will increase exponentially with every public appearance.