At Home with Kelly Kreth, Real Estate's Branding Babe: 'I Can Publicize Anything'

Kelly Kreth’s dog Mini, a 3-year-old Daschund, was acting “a little bit weird and needy.”

Ms. Kreth had answered the door to her home and real estate PR office on the Upper East Side dressed in flip-flops and a tight, knee-length, patterned dress, which at certain angles offered a nearly scandalous view of her cleavage. A couple of kinks protruded from her nearly stick-straight hair, betraying what looked like a day-old blowout.

“I just got back from a three-week vacation in India, so he’s afraid I’m going to leave again,” Ms. Kreth explained, as Mini hopped madly around the red, black, and white living room of her railroad apartment on the fourth floor of a townhouse. (The bedroom is painted in the same palette, she volunteered, “because I’m OCD.”)

After a surprisingly long and futile struggle to wrest Mini and position him in her lap, Ms. Kreth finally gave up, tossed a treat nearly as big as the dog into the open kitchen, and closed the gate.

Rarely does an interaction with Ms. Kreth go by without a mention of Mini. Over Instant Messenger, she suggested posing with the Daschund for a photo for this story, because “he really calls the shots anyway,” and she jumped at the suggestion to interview her at home. “Great, you get to meet my Daschund, Mini!”

It’s not exactly what one would expect from a former sex columnist who has written about her sexual fantasies in graphic detail for the past eight years in an on-line diary-cum-blog, The Unbearable Heaviness of Being, and briefly this past fall and winter for the New York Press.

One of Ms. Kreth’s final and most graphic columns for the Press was an open-letter to Paul Janka, the author of How to Get Laid in New York—what is characterized as “a get-them-drunk-and-hungry approach to dating” in the editor’s note above the column—that landed him on the morning and afternoon talk show circuits as the target of shrill, yet instrumental, feminist derision. In the letter, Ms. Kreth woos the Internet Casanova with promises of anal sex and lines like, “You have a face made for riding. Call me.”

She insists that she never had any intention of sleeping with Paul Janka, and the letter was meant to be “tongue-and-cheek… a joke.” After spending as little as five minutes with the petite, moxie-flaunting 37-year-old, it’s obvious she probably wants to have sex with Paul Janka about as much as she buys into the misogynistic schtick he peddles. But the admiration for Mr. Janka’s unabashed pursuit of fame expressed in Ms. Kreth’s letter appears to be genuine:

But [her letter reads] clearly you understand that better than anyone. You know the true meaning of public relations. Give them something to talk about, right? You know exactly what to say to get a rise out of people so they will talk about you, put you on television and keep you there. I write about my tight starfish because I know, even while disgusted, people will be compelled to read. It doesn’t matter if it is out of titillation or horror, want or need, we just want their eyes on the page and on us. You and I are of the same mindset when it comes to self-promotion. Another thing we share is our uncanny use of the same type of ‘tongue-in-[ass]cheek’ tone in our writing that non-savvy readers miss….I’d tip my hat to you, but instead, I think next time I get my anus bleached, I will think of you. I tip my ass to you, Paul Janka.

Since rebounding from what could have been a spectacular professional derailment over two years ago, Ms. Kreth has set out to brand herself with a “no publicity is bad publicity” approach to life.

In the fall of 2005, Daren Hornig, one of the developers of Meatpacking District condo The Prime and back then the CEO of brokerage Dwelling Quest, fired Ms. Kreth, his in-house publicist, for keeping an on-line diary. The firing came barely two weeks after Mr. Hornig had lured Ms. Kreth back to his firm from her perch at the Shvo Group.

She blames her “evil assistant”—who had been briefly promoted during Ms. Kreth’s three-week stint at Shvo and who was promptly demoted upon her return—for playing up a diary entry in which she calls the behavior of a superior “shrill, loud, and classless.”

Dwelling Quest threatened to sue, and police investigated death and harassment threats Ms. Kreth allegedly lobbed at company employees.

The saga caught the attention of The New York Times, Crain’s, and the Internet’s gossiping classes when The New York Post published an article on Sept. 28, 2005, portraying Ms. Kreth as the victim of Mr. Hornig’s unethical treatment. Bloggers rushed to her defense, turning Ms, Kreth, briefly, into an Internet poster girl for the First Amendment.

Property Grunt
, an anonymous New York real estate blogger, wroteon the day The Post article came out that he was “proud” to assist “Kelly in publicizing her story… And with exposure from The Post, I am positive her story will go national. Stay strong Kelly! We got your back!”

Mr. Hornig told The Post that Dwelling Quest had tried to settle the dispute in an amicable manner by offering her a severance package and all the necessary things to get another job in the industry. “And she chose not to accept that because she thought this publicity could better suit her,” Mr. Hornig told the paper.

At the time, the incident seemed like the “biggest real estate disaster” in Ms. Kreth’s short career in the industry. “If you had asked me then, I would have been crying, threatening to jump out the window,” Ms. Kreth said during the interview at her apartment and office earlier this month.

But she was able, instead, to launch Kreth Communications, her own firm, with a stable of new real estate clients gleaned partly from the publicity.

Kreth Communications now represents eight clients in real estate, including Darren Sukenik, the leading downtown broker for Douglas Elliman; the mortgage company Gotham Capital; and Oro, a new development in Downtown Brooklyn. Century 21 acquired Dwelling Quest eight months after Ms. Kreth was fired, and hired her to do its marketing. (As for her brief stint under Mr. Shvo, she says she has only good things to say about the often controversial marketer.)

In early January, less than two weeks after being fired (again) from a three-month stint as sex columnist at the New York Press, Ms. Kreth was back on her feet with no apologies—and some surprisingly good things to say about characters from her former life—vowing once more to spin a potential setback to raise her public profile.

“Other real estate firms pitch number stories, but I pitch stories about the human branch of real estate, so what better way to brand me for the firm than with publicity?,” she asked over the phone, the day after she lost her job.

Ms. Kreth lists Mr. Shvo, along with Corcoran Group founder Barbara Corcoran, top Douglas Elliman broker Dolly Lenz, and developer Donald Trump, as the great personalities in New York real estate.

“These people are real estate barracudas; they are so tunnel-visioned when it comes to real estate. I mean they eat it, they drink it, they don’t sleep… I’m so interested in people who have an obsession like that,” she trails off respectfully. “But I’m not necessarily obsessed with real estate, I’m more obsessed with myself. I don’t just want to brand my company, I want to brand myself… Whenever I have a creative idea I use my PR skills to get it into the public eye. I can publicize anything.”

Ryan Slack, CEO of research firm Property Shark and a client of Ms. Kreth’s until 2007, said her handling of the Dwelling Quest scandal was what prompted him to contact her.

“The whole thing that went down with The New York Post, she took what could have been a bad situation and spun it in her favor,” Mr. Slack said. “That was the kind of publicity we were looking for, in good times and bad.”

Ms. Kreth said none of her current clients have reacted negatively to the blog or to the sex column—Mr. Slack was not even aware she had written for the New York Press. Even if they did, she would no sooner stop writing about sex than stop blogging.

“Because I was fired for having a blog two or three years ago, I realized that you can’t let people keep you down and keep you in boxes. I am really a successful publicist, and I’m also a sex columnist,” she said, notably eschewing the past tense.

“You have to keep in mind how I’ve set up my life at this point … After you get fired and you go out on your own, I don’t want to say it’s as easy as picking and choosing who you want to work with, but it’s almost like a symbiotic thing. The people who want to work with me want to work with me because of that. It’s not like I’m going to take on a client who’s ultra-conservative or right wing. It just wouldn’t be a good match.”

Mr. Sukenik, who has worked with Ms. Kreth for two years, mentioned twice over a short conversation that he and she think alike. “Kelly is a marketer and a publicist,” Mr. Sukenik said, “so as a client I would expect her to market herself, because that’s what she does and I respect her a lot for that.”

In keeping with what her clients, and even Mr. Hornig, have come to expect, Ms. Kreth was already plotting how to generate publicity from her most recent firing to promote her writing career, an interest that predates her preoccupation with real estate by a couple of decades. Ms. Kreth, who grew up in North Bergen, N.J., planned to get an MFA in writing after she graduated from St. Peter’s College in Jersey City, but due to “personal family issues” she was forced to get a steady job instead. She worked in various marketing and PR jobs until Dwelling Quest hired her in 2003, in her first foray into real estate.

“When I plugged into real estate I fell in love with it, it’s like the entertainment industry in New York,” she said. “When I take the dog for a walk, I love looking in peoples’ windows to see, ‘Do they have more space than me? Do they have an exposed brick wall?’ I guess it’s the voyeur in me.”

Her own home does not offer many clues into her personal or professional life—few pictures of friends and family and none of her high-rolling clients in New York real estate are on display. A beaten-up book, Points of Life and Love for Teenagers, sits next to a VHS of The Little Princess and a Magic Eight Ball on a vintage coffee table.

Outside of work, Ms. Kreth leads what she characterizes as “a low-key life” that revolves around her dog and her blog. She “never wants to go out,” sleeps 13 hours a day, reads an average of one book daily, sees a lot of movies, and likes to cook.

“I only have a mother and she doesn’t know what the Internet is,” Ms. Kreth said of how loved-ones have reacted to her writing.

“The only family I have is right here,” she pointed to Mini curled on her lap. “And he can’t read.”

She was married briefly in what she calls “a post-it marriage because it didn’t really stick,” and is casually dating two men, neither of whom are “boyfriends.”

HHer blog has seeped into Ms. Kreth’s social life. She meets with most of the blog readers that contact her—some of whom live as far away as Australia and Japan. Her one-time neighbor and closest girlfriend was a fan of Ms. Kreth’s on-line diary in Los Angeles and arranged a meeting when she moved to New York.

But her experience with the Press column readers who have contacted her has been mixed. Most have been educated men who wanted to date, including a psychologist and a Fox News anchor. She has refused other advances (and would not name names).

“There was this one guy who offered to pay me to play with my feet,” she said. “And this principal of a really reputable boys’ school kept calling me, and asking me to come speak to his class – about what I don’t know because I’m a sex columnist.”

If taken as a unified narrative, all the Unbearable Heaviness of Being entries illustrate what she calls “the theory of the big three.”

“Women in New York can’t have and keep the big three things at the same time: a job, an apartment, and a relationship,” she explained. “The day I started the blog was the day I moved to Manhattan; and the day I moved to Manhattan I lost my job and my boyfriend… Over the past eight years you could almost chart my life: Kelly gets a new job and meets a great guy. Kelly loses her apartment,” she said, making a wave motion with her hand.

She wanted to continue to write about the difficulties of having relationships—“stories that you can commiserate with”—in her sex column, but claimed that New York Press editor David Blum told her to change the tone and content after the third column.

Another source of conflict was Mr. Blum’s insistence that the columns be upbeat and end on a happy note, which Ms. Kreth says does not reflect the average woman her age’s dating experience in the city. “I never once considered giving up my blog because it’s the truth, you can ask anyone who’s single in the city and old like me,” she said. “Even if there is sadness to the truth it’s still beautiful.

“I think what he wanted was Girls Gone Wild, and I tried to give him that with my swan song to Paul Janka but…” She trailed off.

Two days after Ms. Kreth’s most recent firing, New York Press editor David Blum told The Observer he had no plans to hire a new sex columnist. But on Jan. 24, the Press unveiled a new columnist, Claudia Lonow, who resigned within a day, following allegations of plagiarism.

Even in her raciest articles for the Press, Ms. Kreth talks about the desire for companionship. Her first article—that turned out to be a precursor to her column—was about dating her long-time crush, and flash-in-the-pan Indie-film actor, Eric Shaeffer. It was headlined, “Meet Eric Schaeffer, New York’s worst boyfriend. Kelly Kreth, his publicist, dated him just long enough to stick her toe up his ass.”

The article talks about “face-fucking,” “toe-sucking,” and a host of other activities that fall into the too-much-information category. But on the first page Ms. Kreth writes, “I imagined Eric and I someday falling in love, showing each other our bowel movements—the most intimate acts of my estimation.”

At Home with Kelly Kreth, Real Estate's Branding Babe: 'I Can Publicize Anything'