Home builders are constantly striving to find unique and creative ways to grow their relationships with local real estate agents, and a South Carolina builder recently came up with an unusual promotion to do just that.

Essex Homes recently launched a creative campaign called Essex Expedition to strengthen relationships with local agents while introducing them to its communities in Columbia, S.C. This year-long promotion and collateral materials were designed by Atlanta-based marketing firm mRELEVANCE based on the concept of a passport.

When agents visit an Essex community during an Essex Expedition event, they get a stamp in their passport, says mRELEVANCE managing partner Carol Morgan. Essex Homes offers events the first and third Wednesday of each month at a featured community. Agents are invited to have lunch, visit and tour the model home, and socialize and network with other Realtors. Agents can earn a stamp on their Essex Expedition passport at each Essex Homes community they visit. Attendees are encouraged to attend several events throughout the year to be entered into the Essex Expedition grand prize drawing for a surprise getaway.

The Essex Expedition is promoted to agents in a variety of ways: email, news releases, a series of blog posts, Facebook advertising and social media updates. All of this content promotes agent interaction and encourages participation in the events, says Morgan. A private Essex Homes Key Club group on Facebook keeps agents updated with the firm, including all future dates and locations for Essex Expedition events.

“People love travel and they love exotic destinations," says Morgan. "Incorporating the passport ties everything together – the surprise grand prize trip, the events and the stamps.”

Having a positive relationship with local real estate agents is important, she says, because in many markets, co-op agents account for anywhere between 50 to 80 percent of new home sales. Cultivating these relationships boosts sales and enhances brand.