Commercial real estate developers early in the process (e.g. they are still trying to get zoning approval) often pose these kinds of questions: Is it too early for PR? Should we wait on social media, since we don’t have anything “real” to post yet? We don’t want to overpromise and underdeliver, so maybe we wait to talk publicly?
While I understand their concerns, it really does make sense for developers to hire us years ahead of opening. We use PR and communications - traditional media relations, social media, websites, video, email newsletters - to support goals at every stage of development. We have a track record of doing so for many super-successful developments. Our work helps with entitlement, securing capital partners, building goodwill in the community, leasing office and retail and generating buzz before opening.
Let’s start with entitlement - and one of our first mixed-use clients. In 2012, developer Mark Toro was talking about Avalon in Alpharetta. He wanted a true mixed-use development with 18-hour/day energy. Hard to believe now, but the idea was not initially popular. Many in Alpharetta opposed multifamily. Toro knew the story he wanted to tell, and we helped him tell it consistently through a wide range of channels. We worked with local media, developed an email program, created digital content to explain “renters by choice,” and highlighted the voices of local advocates. The project was approved unanimously and received a standing ovation from a crowded city hall. That doesn’t happen every day.
And leasing. First of all, leasing office and retail require very different PR programs. We have success in both areas. Halcyon — a 135-acre mixed-use development in Forsyth County, Georgia — provides a good retail example. Years before opening, RocaPoint Partners enlisted the Wilbert team to build a PR and social media program, in part to support leasing efforts. One headline said “Forsyth County’s Own Utopian Mini-City Breaks Ground.” Seventy percent of the site was committed and 100 percent of the food hall was leased more than a year before opening. Several retail tenants said the social media and media placements influenced their decisions to sign; they felt the energy and excitement.
As an example on the office front, we generated media coverage (including in The New York Times) and handled social media for both T3 and Atlantic Yards at Atlantic Station. We started work during construction. Our social media program included consistent compelling video content. One year before construction was completed, Atlantic Yards was fully leased to Microsoft. Now complete, T3 has secured such household names as Meta, Haworth, Interior Architects and Hines.
Building community goodwill. When things inevitably go wrong (this is real estate development after all!), you want the community already on your side. Take Fenton, a 92-acre mixed-use development that opened this summer in Cary, N.C. to great fanfare. We started work in 2017, when the project was just an idea and a piece of property. Our long-term program has included media relations, thought leadership, social media, influencer partnerships, e-newsletters, video and collaboration on events, such as groundbreaking. The goodwill we built carried the project through unforeseen obstacles (including construction delays and changes in anchor tenancy) and positioned it as one of the most anticipated mixed-use developments in the country.
Creating excitement as grand opening nears. Going back in the archives again, I love the story of The Summit at Fritz Farm, which Bayer Properties opened in April 2017. The good news was Bayer had landed first-to-market tenants. The downside was many locals did not know the brands. In addition to securing local and national media coverage, Wilbert launched Facebook and Instagram pages and developed a 30-day countdown to build excitement. The campaign included partnerships with influencers who educated the community about tenants such as Bonobos and Marine Layer. It also included pop-ups at events like Run the Bluegrass where tenant Steel City Pops handed out free popsicles. When opening day arrived, Wilbert had secured more than two dozen media hits, reached hundreds of thousands of people online and ultimately generated enough buzz to drive better-than-expected traffic and sales.