Tree huggers rejoice. MetroPartners has virtually eliminated all paper marketing materials at two of its apartment communities in Yonkers, N.Y. That means no 10-page glossy brochures filled with photos of beautiful people; no ads in print apartment guidebooks; and no fancy folders overflowing with pages and pages of floorplans. Prospects do, however, walk away with one, maybe two, sheets of paper—a customized print-out with pricing information for desired units and property highlights. But don't worry —the eco-friendly paper is made of rice, and the ink is, of course, biodegradable.

The green marketing campaign is a win/win for Mother Nature and for MetroPartners, a Teaneck, N.J.-based development and management firm with 4,500 units from Philadelphia to New York. Sure, paperless marketing helps save millions of trees, but it's also the best way to target an urban Gen Xer or Yer and even a growing number of active adults, says Alan Litt, the firm's president. To reach the younger demographic, MetroPartners advertises on hot Web sites such as Craigslist, Facebook, and MySpace. The company even used YouTube to set up a contest where prospects submit a short video explaining why they can't live in their current homes and need to move. The lucky winner gets $3,366 toward rent at 66main, a 143-unit property in Yonkers.

“Creating a YouTube video about why you need to move gets to our core audience in a much more meaningful way than a paper brochure,” says Nancy A. Shenker, principal of theONswitch, the Westchester, N.Y.-based marketing firm behind the 66main campaign.

Jaime Windon

Though few multifamily firms have boldly gone 100 percent paperless like MetroPartners, the trend toward less print and increased Internet advertising is indisputable. All stats point to the power of the Internet: 54 percent to 72 percent of renters recently surveyed started their apartment search online, according to a white paper by MyNewPlace, an online rental marketplace. At Associated Estates Realty, a Richmond Heights, Ohio-based apartment owner and operator, the number of prospects starting their apartment search at the company's Web site jumped 50 percent in the last six months. As a result, companies are reevaluating marketing budgets and searching for the ideal balance between print and electronic media to best capture prospects, almost always using print to draw prospects to their Web sites.

CUTTING BACK The paperless campaign works flawlessly at MetroPartners' urban properties, yet Litt recognizes that the strategy won't fly everywhere. “Print will never die out,” he says. “There is always going to be that need to supplement with print ads given the demographic niche you are trying to hit.”

Litt's opinion is echoed by execs across the country who agree that some prospects want brochures or materials they can touch and feel, especially the 55-plus demographic. Above all, they want to give choices to their customers.

“We want to be the easiest company to do business with: If you want to get online in your pajamas at midnight, find what's available, download a brochure, and sign a lease, great,” says Donald Davidoff, a group vice president at Englewood, Colo.-based Archstone-Smith. “If you want to show up on site, and be handed a glossy brochure that fits with the image of our A properties, that's fine, too.”

Still, the majority of apartment firms are cutting back on print marketing materials as they expand online initiatives. What's often the first to go? Print guidebooks such as For Rent and Apartment Guide, since the firms reach more renters through these guidebooks' online listing services. Last year, Camden Property Trust halted all of its print marketing, including guide book listings and newspaper ads, in the Houston market. The company did so armed with the knowledge that in the fourth quarter of 2007, more than 24 percent of its national leasing traffic came from the Internet, as opposed to 7 percent from print ads.

“It wasn't that we suddenly, consciously said, ‘Let's just drop all print,'” says John Selindh, vice president of marketing for Houston-based Camden. “We scaled back, scaled back, and were still able to hold occupancies and outperform the market, so over time, we pulled back to where we didn't have any print at all.” Just recently, due to the softening market, Camden brought back a few print ads, including one in For Rent.

In addition to purchasing fewer print ads, firms are reducing their own print materials. Most notably, companies are swapping pricey brochures for printable e-brochures and sending less direct snail mail. Trillium Residential, a Tempe, Ariz.-based luxury apartment developer, reduced its direct mailers for new lease-ups from three flyers to one. Trillium, though, doesn't plan to eliminate these flyers any time soon. “We think because people are getting less mail since they are getting more electronically, the pieces they do get in the mail, such as the direct mailers, will have more of an impact [than before],” says Lesa LaRocca, Trillium's president.