Thursday, July 21, 2011

July Commentary: The Boston ICSC & The Decline of the Document

Here’s a question for you: what is a document? What, in these digital days, constitutes that item we refer to as a document: a letter, a brochure, a contract, a lease exhibit, a newsletter? For example, this newsletter: you received it, and are likely reading it, online. When I started at KeyPoint Partners, this newsletter was largely faxed or mailed. It was designed and laid out according to the traditional parameters of printed pages. Now it’s entirely digital; we print a few hard copies to display in our lobby, but the printed version is modified from the digital version, not vice versa. This is an important difference: we’re no longer delivering a printed piece that has been modified so it can be read online; we’re delivering an online piece that could, if necessary, be printed.

I mention all this because The International Council of Shopping Centers New England Idea Exchange & Deal Making was held this month at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. We were of course an exhibitor at the show, one of several ICSC events in which we participate. It was a successful show. by the way. The energy was high and the mood positive. Our booth was quite active, with many solid inquiries about investment sales as well as leasing.

Our market aerial portfolio:
documents delivered digitally
As Marketing Manager, it falls to me to determine how we present ourselves at these shows, and for years this meant the coordination of a large amount of paper. Picture me, and others like me, coordinating the printing of 30 to 50 copies of each leasing brochure for a portfolio of between 80 and 90 properties, and making sure they get to New York or Las Vegas. Now picture show attendees picking up one or two copies of each brochure, and then moving on to the next booth with bulging briefcases.

Our industry has for a long time functioned largely through the exchange of a veritable stream of documents. But really what we are doing is exchanging “parcels of information”, so to speak. That’s what a document is: a parcel of information organized for clear, easy consumption. We brought no leasing brochures to the show this year, but we distributed a lot of information. With all the activity at our booth, although we communicated a great deal to a great many people, we handed out essentially no documents.

Why would we? Our leasing “brochures” are instantly accessed through a phone, our detailed market aerial portfolio can be thoroughly toured via tablet, and complete corporate information including our entire portfolio of listings can be handed to you on a USB drive. These tools have made the task of coordinating “parcels of information” for a trade show exponentially easier – and infinitely more complex.

Of course there will always be “old school”. Many exhibitors are still “paper based, and we’re all still creating documents that look like traditional documents, even if they never physically exist. And there is no digital substitute for a phone call from a broker, or a face to face meeting between a property manager and a client. But the way information is exchanged before and after that call or meeting is profoundly different. What we’re moving toward is not a different way of doing the same thing – it’s doing a different thing entirely. When a document is no longer a document, it can be anything; it can take whatever form you like, and be as long it needs to be.
Our ICSC tradeshow booth graphic: traditional tools of the trade and powerful innovations of the digital age
I was working with one of our brokers recently on a property brochure. We went back and forth about what the “cover” should look like and how much information should be on it, how the ‘center spread” should be laid out, all of the usual issues. We were beating our heads against the limitations of the 4-page, 11” x 17” layout we had used as the basis for the document - until I stopped him and asked him how he intended to distribute the piece. If the primary distribution was going to be online, then we wouldn’t be bound by the format. We could have as many pages as we needed, and they could be different sizes and shapes. We could modify the vehicle to communicate what we needed, rather than fitting what we needed to communicate into an existing vehicle. This may seem like an obvious observation, a “d’uh” moment, but at the time it felt relevatory.

This was all in my head as we updated the large pop-up graphic display we use in our tradeshow booth. The concept is an enlarged image of a busy desktop, on which a variety of elements illustrate the breadth and depth of the many services we provide, our ever-widening business territory, and the types and quality of properties and tenants we deal with. If I say so myself, it’s a fairly striking image, especially when viewed at full size, under the lights of an exhibition venue. The image is a mix of old school elements and new school technology, information organized into recognizable documents, but able to become information simply organized. That’s where we all are right now, still defined by the old, poised on the edge of the paperless new.

Where will we all be the next time we re-design our booth?

Chris Cardoni, Marketing Manager

Come see our tradeshow booth at the ICSC New York National Conference & Deal Making in December.

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