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Wednesday, Oct 4, 2023

Not Losing Energy: PR Maven Marty Cooper Joins Real Estate Tech Co.

Marty Cooper has been a huge figure in the communications business for his entire career. Not only has he directly overseen public relations for Walt Disney and Hugh Hefner, but he was in charge of PR and communications for the Oscar awards and for the Pasadena Tournament of Roses.

But now – at the age of 81 – he is moving into a completely new area, at least for him: he’s become a partner in a real estate technology startup. 

The name of his new project is Edifice Rex. It is the exclusive U.S. representative of a Canadian firm that developed a system which uses drones to fly all around a commercial building and, thanks to its proprietary software, detects where heat and air conditioning is leaking so the building owners can take steps, if they want, to correct it.

So why would a PR guy put his money and time into a startup company that is so foreign to his expertise? 

“It is a business that is addressing the energy problem, and we all need to find a way to address that issue,” Cooper said. 

Climate change is real, he added. It will only get worse unless people address it.

“That is why I am doing this,” Cooper said. “It has nothing to do with my age; it has to do with having a responsibility to address this issue and this is how I am addressing it.”

The PR veteran said he has reduced his roster at Cooper Communications to only a handful of clients, which has given him more time. On the other hand, he is keeping busy doing research for two books – one about the movie industry in the San Fernando Valley, and the other a history of Jews in the Valley. (Cooper has written four books.) Still, the business is getting most of his attention these days.

“I am putting the bulk of my time into Edifice Rex,” Cooper said.

Leaky roofs

The company that developed software used in the drone-based energy audits is named Qea Tech, based in suburban Toronto, Canada.

“What the patented software does is it takes the information from the drone, runs it through the program and tells the client, who owns a building or several buildings, not only exactly where the energy is leaking but what it will cost to fix each element,” Cooper explained.

Cooper founded Edifice Rex with three partners – Michael Rhein, Mike Thomas and Lance Gilden. The startup money has not been great; they have put about $50,000 into their company, Cooper said. 

“We are not manufacturing any equipment or anything like that,” he added. “The Canadians do all of that.” 

Instead, Cooper and his partners – he met Rhein on a cruise some four years ago and was introduced to the other two through Rhein about a year ago – focus on marketing, sales and business development. 

They go to trade shows across the country attended by real estate professionals, vendors to building owners and the building owners and their senior management themselves. Most recently they attended BuildingsNY, an annual event in New York City that is held in mid-September.

“We attend a number of shows like that,” Cooper said. “That is where we meet people and educate them on what we are doing.”

Edifice Rex has yet to bring a local client on board, but Cooper said they are close to signing a contract with a large public entity in the New York area.

Thomas, who lives in Massachusetts, said, “Marty’s impact and contributions to the company are key.”

Cooper has lots of years of experience, and not only as a marketing professional but as a businessperson as well. Thomas specifically mentioned Cooper’s time working for The Walt Disney Co. in the 1960s, where he reported directly to Walt Disney himself. 

“He and I are the only two on the (Edifice Rex) team that have big corporate experience,” Thomas said. 

In addition to working at Disney, during which time he was advertising and promotion manager for Disneyland, Cooper was employed at Playboy Enterprises, where he reported directly to Hugh Hefner and handled his PR after the Dorothy Stratten murder in 1980. He also worked at Universal Studios and for three years served as chair of the UCLA Film and Television Archive Board. He was in charge of PR and communications for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and its Oscars award show for 10 years in the 1970s. He handled public relations for the Pasadena Tournament of Roses for 7 years. 

Cooper also has been feted for his civic work. In 2014 he won the Fernando Award, the highest award for volunteerism in the Valley.

Making it understandable

A thermal image taken by a Qea Tech drone showing heat loss.

Prior to joining Edifice Rex, Thomas was chief operating officer of Skybeam Productions, where he was responsible for the development and executive production of live event satellite broadcasts to movie theaters. 

At the startup, Thomas’ position is business development officer, a role that finds him taking the marketing tools and pieces that Cooper creates and using them to approach potential clients.

Those tools answer the question of what the best way is to present a technologically involved product and how to convey it an easy, understandable manner, Thomas said.

“That’s pretty hard, and it takes a professional to do that,” he added. 

After all, there are still many people in the U.S. who are intimidated by technology, for whom talking about drones and photographic imagery just makes their eyes glaze over, he said. 

“Marty has a way of making that understandable,” Thomas continued. 

“The beauty of what we have is it gives you an in-depth analysis of what is going on with your building’s exterior, where you are actually losing gases, and probably the most impactful is how do you translate that into dollars and cents,” Thomas added.

With a 3D report as generated by the technology, he can show that and get to the “a-ha” moment where building owners want to learn more.

“I don’t get to that point without Marty,” Thomas said. “There is a close symbiotic relationship between marketing and business development.”

The biggest surprise Cooper said he’s seen in the business is how many real estate people do not know much about energy use. 

“The biggest challenge is the amount of education that has to be given to building owners and managers about the issue of leaking energy,” he added. 

But his service is not cheap. The cost for a complete building audit is based on the external square footage of the structure, or the four external walls and the roof. Prices range from $10,000 to $55,000, depending on the size of the building. 

But the most interesting aspect of working in such an endeavor, Cooper said, is the chance to learn something new. He said there is nothing he enjoys more than learning. 

“That is the most enjoyable part of this for me,” he said. “That I am learning a whole world of environmentalism and ecology and the issues presented by the structures that our species has erected across the globe. It’s really interesting stuff.”

Hannah Madans Welk
Hannah Madans Welk
Hannah Madans Welk is a managing editor at the Los Angeles Business Journal and the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. She previously covered real estate for the Los Angeles Business Journal. She has done work with publications including The Orange County Register, The Real Deal and doityourself.com.

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