Thursday, March 15, 2012

10 Keys to a Shopping Center Event

Our Marketing Team is coordinating a “Spring Festival” event at one of the shopping centers in our portfolio, involving the Easter Bunny, balloon twisters and face painters, a radio broadcast, a place for kids to color Easter bags with which to collect treat-filled eggs at participating tenants, police cars, fire engines, live animals, and more. We’ve executed dozens of events of various sizes for shopping centers, and we’ve learned quite a bit about how to do it (sometimes the hard way). Here are 10 simple things to remember when coordinating such events:

1. Team up with community groups:
Community groups will take often the lead in organizing, staffing, and publicizing events; many groups are thrilled just to have the space and opportunity. For our event, an animal advocacy group is providing bunnies for adoption, a great attraction for us, and a great chance for them to draw attention to their cause. The community is also a source of low-cost performing groups. One of our most successful events was a performance by a local children’s chorus. There were 30 children in the group, and nearly 200 people listened. They had a nicely-decorated indoor space in which to perform, and afterwards, several families had dinner at one of our center’s restaurants.

2. Engage town government:
Obviously you need the proper permits, notifications, and possibly police details, but beyond that you want the town on your side. Our first step for this event was to visit the town manager and ask for his input and ideas. We wanted more than just permission; we wanted to make his office an integral part of the team. Now the town is as invested as we are in the success of the event.

3. Have more than one focus or activity:
A variety of things for people to see and/or do, located at different parts of the center, helps with crowd control, and makes potential shoppers walk by, or walk into, all your stores. Our bag-coloring and adoption bunnies will be in one place, Easter Bunny photos in another, “touch-a-truck” fire engine at another, radio van somewhere else, etc. Hint: provide a printed map!

4. Use media strategically:
You don’t have to spend a fortune on media. Radio stations are often looking for places at which to set up broadcasts. You can also work a broadcast schedule for trade rather than cash: this can be as simple as enlisting merchants to provide gift cards for the station to give away. Online and email blasts, which usually include at least some on-air and/or streaming opportunity, are often less expensive, and more effective, than standard broadcast schedules. And don’t forget PR - does your town have a Patch? A story with a photo or two about your center’s event is more impactful than a print ad – and it’s free.

5. Use social media strategically:
Today your interaction with shoppers is a one-to-one conversation. We can’t emphasize enough the usefulness of Facebook in not only in personalizing a shopping center, but in communicating detailed information about events. And don’t forget to post photos of your event on Facebook as soon as possible - even as they happen!

6. Staff intelligently:
Be sure you have enough people on-site to help “guide” the event and attendees. However, you don’t need a huge staff, and as noted, merchants and community groups will often provide support staff. We have in the past engaged a dedicated Event Coordinator, paid by the property to be the point person for such events. And if you expect parking or traffic problems, don’t hesitate to arrange a police detail.

7. Properly prepare vacant space:
If you use a vacant store for display, a craft activity, or a performance, it should be clean, safe, comfortable, and well-lighted. If you’re serious about events of the type described here, invest some money in preparing vacant space (especially bathrooms – they’re often neglected in vacancies, and they’ll need to be functional, clean, and well-supplied). Of course you’d rather have your space leased, but showcasing the space as part of a vibrant community will go a lot further toward getting it leased than having it sit dark and empty.

8. Communicate with merchants, encourage participation, and coordinate with promotions:
Your tenants are your most valuable resource, and even if the activity is not one that connects directly with their line of business, be sure you inform them fully about everything that will happen at the center. Encourage participation as much as possible - national tenants often can’t take part in certain activities, but “mom-and-pops” are generally only too glad. In either case, get as much information as you can about sales or promotions that are going on anyway, and make it seem as if those promotions are part of the event.

9. Be prudent in handling vendors, performers, etc.:
Know who you’re dealing with, and state clearly, in writing, what’s expected of them. Everyone who comes onto the property has to provide proof of insurance. To be honest, we marketing people have found this vexing sometimes, but we know the Property Manager’s job is to protect the asset.

10. Have reasonable expectations:
Not all events will attract multitudes of shoppers, and that’s fine, as long as your expectations are realistic. Keep in mind that any one event is part of a long-term strategy to build your center’s community profile. A blood drive won’t spike big sales, but the good will is priceless. A trick-or-treat event might not bring huge throngs, but it will bring entire families, and they’ll visit every store in the center. Our outdoor concerts were covered by local cable and print outlets, and heavily “liked” on Facebook, so they impacted more potential shoppers than just those who attended. We don’t know for sure how many people our Spring Event will draw, but we’ve tapped into many resources for bringing in families, especially the local schools, so we’ve “pre-stuffed” 1,500 plastic Easter eggs. We could potentially have that many attendees (and I hope we will), but if we give out a third of that, we’ll be quite happy. As I said, we think of this event as part of a long-term investment in the image of the center.

In these pages, I’ve written about branding a center “as not just convenient or useful, but as an essential element of the community. Our strategy is marketing these properties has been to focus on organizing events, ideally with active participation of tenants, with an emphasis on involving community groups…and other organizations” (Putting Your Center At The Center, July, 2009). Well-thought-out, carefully-executed, community-based events can enhance your property’s relationship with tenants, potential tenants, shoppers, and the surrounding community. Do you have a center you’d like to put at the center of your community? Drop me a line
Chris Cardoni, Marketing Manager

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