OCTOBER 27, 2019
For those of us who work with commercial real estate companies, the name Rick Caruso has a celebrity quality. Caruso is a billionaire California-based mixed-use developer with high-profile projects ranging from The Grove to Americana at Brand to Palisades Village. I first heard his name when working with North American Properties’ Mark Toro in 2012. Toro, who was developing Avalon in Alpharetta at the time, regularly joked (at least I think he was joking) that he wanted to “out-Caruso Caruso.” When I visited Los Angeles this month for a 50th birthday party, I of course had to squeeze in visits to both Palisades Village (Caruso’s newest project that opened in 2018) and The Grove (which opened in 2002 and cemented Caruso’s place in CRE lore).
At Palisades Village, people lounged on blankets in green spaces, stunning flower walls begged for photographs and I immediately noticed a smallness, an intimacy, that set it apart. The Grove, on the other hand, has a Hollywood set-meets-Disney vibe. Forbes called it “the pinnacle of artificial grandeur” and I can’t think of a better description.
I have had the privilege to work on many super-cool mixed-use projects including Avalon, Atlantic Station, Colony Square, Halcyon, The Works and Revel in metro Atlanta, as well as The Pizitz in Birmingham, The Summit at Fritz Farm in Lexington, Fenton in Cary, N.C., OAK in Oklahoma City and Riverton in Sayreville, New Jersey.
Because our firm has developed and executed PR plans for so many mixed-use projects, we have a sense of what works. There are learnings we apply over and over. Community building is key. Telling a compelling story to both national audiences (to support leasing) and local audiences (to drive community excitement) is necessary. One of the biggest challenges is keeping the story alive, both with the media and on social media, during a long development cycle. We have cracked the code on that. I am proud Halcyon in Forsyth County had more than 25,000 followers on social media before the first tenant opened this month, and those followers were highly engaged. Five years ago, when Avalon opened, we had secured hundreds of stories. Atlanta Magazine called Avalon “something quite revolutionary for Georgia” before it opened.
But what makes our work so interesting is not the commonalities but rather the differences. Every project has its own story.
To hear a property’s story, we must pause, listen, ask questions, dive into data and synthesize a wide variety of information. We can’t try to do what Caruso did at The Grove. We can’t try to recreate our own success at Avalon or Halcyon or Atlantic Station. We must understand the community, the leasing strategy, the developer, what the property offers that is unique, how it feels (or will feel) to be there. We often work with branding firms – we have partnered on so many projects with Imbibe we are like family at this point – to write the story.
Once that story is distilled into a powerful paragraph, our job is to go out and tell it. At Wilbert, we are all about doing, about action, about making things happen. We tell every client’s story consistently and relentlessly across the most relevant channels. We are probably best known for media relations, but securing media coverage is just one part of a good PR program. Social media, events, email programs, podcasts and proprietary content including video are also important.
At The Works, we have helped with community tours with neighborhoods on the Upper Westside of Atlanta. At Halcyon, we planned opening celebration events, including a chic community festival. We also do a podcast for the property. Assembly is grittier, and we threw a community party with the mayor of Doraville, a rock band, food trucks and open bars in the middle of the construction site. At The Summit at Fritz Farm, we worked with high-end retailers to create VIP experiences for social influencers and we popped up events throughout Lexington to introduce locals to first-to-market tenants. At Colony Square, we secured a story about North American Properties’ acquisition of the property and its plans in The Wall Street Journal, CNN and other media. These are just a few examples of how we tell stories.
And it is not just about mixed-use clients. The same principles apply with office buildings, industrial parks, malls, residential communities and hotels. These are places, and places have stories. We help our clients tell their stories through every phase of development – from entitlements to construction to opening to operational and beyond.
The fun part of our business is that no two stories are the same.
The Wilbert Group
1718 Peachtree Street, Suite 1048
Atlanta, GA 30309
404 748 1250