While pandemic pressures have influenced how we live, spend our leisure time and allocate our dollars, one thing remains constant: the power of place. For all the convenience of online shopping and the welcome utility of new digital tools that help us stay connected, there is growing recognition that brick-and-mortar environments — more specifically, the experiences and engagement that takes place in and around them — are vital social and commercial engines.
Great interactive retail communities remain not just relevant, but essential. But in the evolving landscape of these environments, how do projects stand out from the competition? How do developers, owners, and operators elevate spaces and places in the public consciousness, establish destinations as valued community and/or regional resources, and build strong and sustainable consumer connections?
Consumer priorities and perspectives might shift, but creative marketing and PR continues to be an impactful way to create awareness, boost relevancy and drive traffic.
From pre-construction political and community engagement, leasing support and milestone development and grand opening moments, to visioning and implementing a regular cadence of special events and creative activations, the role of marketing and PR in project success is enormously influential. The right PR team and plan will leverage a milestone-driven approach as part of a long-term strategy to keep a retail environment relevant and successful throughout the year, not just between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
A journey, not an event
Impactful and sustainable retail PR is a journey, not an event. One shared operational ingredient for virtually all retail and mixed-use projects that enjoy sustained success is their focus on evolving their environments. This includes physical upgrades, as well as new and exciting tenants and activations. The job of the PR team is to create engaging and proactive messaging and moments — and to amplify them through multiple channels to ensure that the project remains top of mind.
A milestone-driven approach is an effective way to make that happen, generating consistent, in-market earned media visibility with creative on-the-ground activations and made-for-media moments. Those milestones extend well beyond groundbreakings, grand openings and new tenant announcements. The secret is to highlight the full lifecycle of a retail and mixed-use destination: creating your own milestones and magnets and giving people reasons to get excited about what is happening at your center.
As an example, The Avenue Peachtree City, an outdoor lifestyle shopping center managed by Poag Shopping Centers in Peachtree City, Georgia, outside Atlanta, finds unique ways to celebrate holidays with a twist: like “Galentine’s Day” and Noon-Year’s Eve, a family-friendly NYE alternative with a midday confetti cannon countdown, sparkling cider toast, live music, face painting and more. The magic and true differentiation comes from memorable moments that are timely, tailored and engaging. These take creativity, thought, brainstorming, collaboration and planning. One-off activations will get momentary awareness — creative and strategic milestones that build on each other will achieve longer-term goals.
Keep it interesting
Regardless of whether you are a top 10 nation center, a power center, a grocery-anchored community center, or a multifamily or mixed-use development, the formula and the opportunities are the same. You don’t need a top 20 national center to do interesting things — you just need to do interesting things. Green Oak Village Place, a longstanding neighborhood town center in the Detroit suburb of Brighton, Michigan, does that with a creative spin on holidays with events like annual Boo Fest, a Halloween celebration that recently celebrated a 10th anniversary, along with low-barrier-to-entry weekly social media giveaways.
Creative spaces, activities, and events generate attention in the local markets and traction in the national media. The iconic Easton Town Center in Columbus, Ohio, was featured recently in the New York Times, not for its decades of commercial success, but for the way it turned an unoccupied retail space into a flexible open-concept themed outdoor gathering place: first as Prosecco Plaza in the summer and then as an apres-ski lodge-inspired concept in the winter. The common denominator is creativity and amplification: they drive attention, attendance and accolades.
Create the narrative
Finally, remember that great PR is not just about the story you tell, but about how you tell it. The recent announcement that Target is returning to the city of Detroit after a 20-plus year absence as a 32,000-square-foot first floor anchor for the mixed-use City Club Apartments project is a great example. The rollout plan for the announcement focused more on the overall City Club Apartments mixed-use community instead of providing specific details about the retailer. The announcement, which garnered national attention, accomplished the goals of all parties involved.
This formula for PR success isn’t specific to any one project type. Because ultimately, great retail and mixed-use PR is less about amenities than about communities, and less about the project and more about the people that visit and the experiences that resonate long after those visits have ended. SCB
—Mark Winter is the president and founding partner of Identity, a Detroit-based, full-service public relations, marketing and creative agency that has specialized in the commercial real estate industry for more than 20 years.