• By: Julia

ICSC members are taking #backtogether2020 viral

A new initiative to help show what it’s like to be Back.Together. shopping again

By Brannon Boswell, Executive Editor/Shopping Centers Today Magazine:

ICSC – June 18, 2020: A tight-knit group of shopping center marketing professionals has launched a campaign to make ICSC’s Back. Together. marketing campaign go viral. Back. Together. is a marketing and branding initiative ICSC launched in May to help its members communicate with one voice about the economic importance of retail and retail real estate as the country recovers from COVID-19. ICSC members can customize the assets in the marketing toolkit and can leverage them in physical and digital channels. The campaign emphasizes community and togetherness.

“I was itching to reach as many of our partners as possible and to share something in a really fun way,” said Urban Edge Properties vice president of marketing Andrea Simpson. “Preparing to reopen is a serious task, but I wanted to be able to share something that was fun and had the potential to become more viral than a sign on the property. The Back. Together. campaign provided us with the umbrella and the opportunity to do that.”

On a weekly Zoom, Simpson and a dozen of her marketing peers, most of whom work at open-air REITs, were brainstorming ways to use the campaign. Simpson proposed that Urban Edge make a video, and the idea morphed into a challenge, she said, referring to the recent phenomenon of social media challenges. As for the well-known the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, one person, group or company would record themselves completing a task, post the video on social media and challenge others to do the same.

So, Urban Edge, which owns 78 properties in the New York City metro region, kicked off the #backtogether challenge. Simpson and Vanessa Martinez, director of marketing for New York and New Jersey, shot iPhone footage at New Jersey’s Bergen Town Center. “I wanted to capture in a really authentic way what was actually happening at the ground level,” she said. A video editor spliced the footage together and sourced a low-cost song to jazz things up. “It’s not a top 40 chart buster, but if you listen to the lyrics it’s a great song,” she said.

The company posted the video to LinkedIn on June 2 and challenged Peterson Cos. and CBRE.

CBRE accepted the challenge, eager to support ICSC, Urban Edge and its clients across the country. CBRE’s clients already are using Back. Together. marketing materials at their properties, said senior director of occupier marketing for the Americas Tess Peterson. Now, her team is compiling footage from a variety of the properties it manages for its own video.

Angela Sweeney, vice president and chief marketing officer for Peterson, which owns five open-air lifestyle centers in the D.C. area, was ready for the challenge, too. “We have these great outdoor spaces and plazas and seating areas and fire pits and trails and carousels. Emphasizing that was central to our strategy to welcome people back,” Sweeney said. She shot iPhone footage of the company’s properties, all of which conveniently are within driving distance of one another. Peterson was adding COVID-19 safety features at the time. “In our video, you’ll see the landscaping guy making the circles on the grassy areas to indicate how people can physically distance and still have a picnic,” she noted as an example. The firm’s in-house graphic designer set the footage to upbeat music.

“It was a fun project to work on,” Sweeney said. “After being apart for so long, it was fun to flex some creative muscle and be a part of something that is so important to our industry, which is bringing people back together.” Peterson posted its video on LinkedIn on June 12 and challenged Brixmor, which owns and operates 400 retail properties around the U.S.

Brixmor’s video emphasized its tenants and their relationships with their customers, said chief marketing officer Kristen Moore. She asked property managers around the country, already extra busy with reopening, to send in iPhone footage of tenants welcoming customers back. “I gave them some suggested shots, and they came back with so much more,” she said. “The tenants were very cooperative.” Brixmor’s in-house graphics expert had a full plate, so Moore brought in a vendor to put the final video together.

The resulting video ties in with Brixmor’s motto: “Our center is you.” Moore said: “Our tenants are the ones that create the draw for the consumer. We chose to celebrate our tenants and show how they mean something to people. What COVID has brought out is that people missed those relationships; it wasn’t just a business.” After posting Brixmor’s video on LinkedIn on June 16, the company challenged Linear Retail. Kimco Realty, InvenTrust Properties, Phillips Edison & Co. and Weingarten Realty are all expected to participate as the challenge spreads.

Sweeney is interested to see how others meet the challenge. “It’s a little different for all the developers because we all have different environments and different nuances but at the end of the day, we’re all doing the same thing, which is welcoming everyone back. It will be fun to see how each developer puts their own spin on what welcome back and Back. Together. means for them.”

Simpson, Sweeney and Moore hope the challenge goes viral with videos from all corners of the shopping center industry, including brokers, retailers, restaurants and vendors. “The hope is that while it started with this core group, it will pick up some momentum and trend,” Sweeney said. “This industry needs some love and some help. I’m excited to see how it takes off.”

—Reporting by SCT editor-in-chief Amanda Metcalf