Retail V Michigan

Media Matters: The value of press in telling your project's story

Media Matters column,ph01
Mark Winter

Planning, building and opening a successful shopping center or mixed-use project is a process, not an event. It also takes time to build and nurture the media relationships that play such a vital role in telling 
a project’s unique story. The right kind of media coverage builds excitement, establishes credibility and drives traffic.

At a time when there are more channels available to developers, owners and managers for communication, amplification, brand-building and targeted messaging than ever before (media relations, digital, social media, CRM, advertising), choosing the right tool(s) at the right time is critical. Media relations remains one of the most valuable, yet underleveraged, opportunities.

For real estate professionals, establishing strong relationships with reporters, editors and other media decision-makers–and understanding how to leverage those relationships to inform an impactful media strategy–is the key to realizing the full potential of this powerful opportunity.

The following guidelines should be top-of-mind for developers seeking to build and maintain valuable media relationships:

Media relationships are not transactional

Relationships, by definition, are two-way. You will have to give something to get something, and the best relationships are authentic. Share great, compelling and meaningful content and imagery and it will find a home. Approach the conversation with ego or pure sale speak, and you will find yourself wanting.

Stories are not written on the developer’s terms

If you want an ad, buy an ad. Publications have a defined audience, and a systematic and proven approach to sharing information with that audience. You need to adapt to them, not the other way around. When done right, the results for both the developer and the media outlet can be extraordinary.

Local and national media have very different needs

To optimize media coverage, it is important to work closely with members of both local media and national media. They can help you achieve different goals and connect with different audiences, but you must tailor your messaging to their different content needs. Do not send the same release or pitch to two very different audiences. Local media will be interested in hearing about first-to-market tenants, and will be eager to connect project details to jobs and the potential community impact of the development. Project timing, tax incentive details and potential traffic implications may also be of interest. Trade media are likely to be primarily interested in project details such as trendsetting differentiators, project location, size and impact on the industry–as well as cost, regional demographic profile and developer track record.

With those tips in mind, here is how to cultivate and build your media relationships and maximize media opportunities at every stage in the development process:

Project Announcement

The project announcement sets the stage for telling the story of the project and beginning to pull back the curtain. It introduces the project to the local community and positions you as a trusted and engaged partner. It can also ignite project interest from additional retailers to help complement your leasing discussions.

Media participation is critical if you want to deliver and disseminate an announcement in a way that achieves these goals and maximizes impact.

Tradeshow Engagement

Tradeshows and industry conferences represent an invaluable opportunity to share information about your project and connect with members of the media on a personal level. The power of the personal connections and relationship building that face-to-face sessions foster is significant. Reporters’ schedules tend to book up quickly, plan in advance!

Anchor and Tenant Announcements

Anchor and new tenant announcements provide an ideal opportunity to provide project updates and keep your project progress in the forefront of public consciousness. Remember that the release of tenant information tends to be more transactional in nature.

Because retail and restaurant tenants are much more likely to be interested (and involved) in securing local media coverage, developers often have more flexibility and ownership with national trade media, but have to be more careful and proceed more collaboratively with local media announcements. Coordinate closely with retailers/tenants to optimize timing of coverage and avoid inaccuracy or duplication.

Construction

Once a project begins going vertical, media momentum should begin shifting to local coverage. The relationships that developers have built and nurtured with reporters throughout this process take on added importance. Now is the time to leverage those connections.

As activity increases on site, so will local community conversation. Don’t lose control of the storyline. You want to create the story and not let the community create the narrative for you. Maintaining
a regular cadence of updates (stories, notable project developments, multimedia content) will create energy and ensure accuracy. It’s also important to be proactive and have prepared messaging and responses to maintain a strong, authentic (and transparent) relationship.

Grand-opening

The project’s grand-opening is a tremendous opportunity to make a big first impression: precisely
the kind of noteworthy milestone that can drive headlines and generate a significant bump in media attention.

Make it a celebration, complete with elements that add interest and activation: from games and giveaways, to performances, promotions and special events.
Visual storytelling becomes enormously important here. Leverage the energy and excitement surrounding the grand-opening, and consider investing in professional photography and video resources. Capturing those moments in real time provides you with stronger visuals to share with the media.

Going forward

Once the flurry of coverage and attention from the project’s grand-opening diminishes, the built-in opportunities for media coverage that occur naturally in the lifecycle of a new development have concluded. But just because a project is up and running does not mean the opportunity for great storytelling and strategic media engagement is over.

Developers that activate their projects and remain committed to creative storytelling will ensure ongoing media engagement. With the right media relationships and processes in place, you can drive the public narrative surrounding your project in a positive, productive and profitable way.

Mark Winter is the founder and president of Bingham Farms, Michigan-based Identity, an integrated PR firm specializing in retail, mixed-use and commercial real estate PR, social media and creative. He and his firm have been representing developers, architects, brokers, engineers and financial institutions nationwide for more nearly 30 years. He can be reached at mwinter@identitypr.com.