A small real estate firm in Washington State caught a lot of flack this week when its latest direct-mail marketing campaign went viral. The ad pitted part-time agents (a harried mother surrounded by her kids) against full-time agents (two men in suits), asked potential clients, "Who would you rather represent you?" Ordinarily, many of us rarely give a second look to the flyers stuck in our mailboxes, but it's hard to ignore such blatant sexism from Costello and Costello Real Estate Group's tone-deaf ad. There are more than two million realtors nationwide; no doubt more than a few part-timers are men wearing suits. Janice Hutchinson Hillsdon is a working mother and full-time agent at Century 21, Abrams, Hutchinson and Associates in Kendall Park, NJ. While she found the flyer insulting, she admitted that she often feels like the mom in the ad — negotiating contracts while attending her son's little league game. But, she doesn't think realty should be a part-time profession. It's good for moms because it offers a flexible schedule, but Hillsdon still puts in long hours while her kids are in school, after they go to bed, or on weekends, when her husband is home to watch them.
With 18 years in the industry — and as a second-generation agent (that's her mother's name on the shingle) — Hillsdon certainly has plenty of experience, but she also argues that being a mom is an advantage, as many of her clients either have children or are considering starting a family. "This makes me the best resource," she says. "When they're moving into the area and want to know who to contact as a pediatrician, what pre-schools are in the area, etc, I have those answers." The Costello and Costello website lists several women employees — and according to Mashable, partner Jeff Costello is a parent, too. In a Facebook apology (published in full on Mashable), Costello and Costello make a similar argument to Hillsdon's — the ad wasn't to insult working moms, but to point out the value of working with a full-time agent. Unfortunately, they picked the wrong group to offend with their muddled message. A quick way to lose customers is by underestimating mothers. After all, women control 70 to 80% of consumer spending. And if the outrage on Twitter is any indicator, the real estate agents at Costello and Costello, lost more than a few clients in the last 24 hours.