Destination marketing attracts 20+ new instructions in 2021

Despite lockdown and the intermittent opening and closing of retail, 2021 has seen our Activate Destination Marketing team grow rapidly.
As this infographic shows, the team is now engaging with local communities and driving footfall at more than 20 retail and leisure schemes across the country, while also taking their skills into other commercial locations.

Growing Destination Marketing in 2021
4 million sq.ft managed retail and leisure space
Managing over half a million pound marketing spend
20+ new instructions in 2021
Average organic social media growth at 44% per scheem so far in 2021
Website traffic generated in excess of 2 million visitors
3000+ pieces of digital content created and published every month
Our destination marketing services
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If you have a retail scheme, office campus or business park where the marketing needs to work harder, contact either Michelle Atack or Andrew Sparrow.

Having worked in the property sector for more than 15 years, Jennifer Hazlehurst, Marketing and Events Coordinator within the Activate Destination Marketing team, explains how she applies creative thinking to get the best results from clients’ destination marketing campaigns.

Q: What three words describe Activate?

A: Refreshing, energetic, collaborative.

Q: What has been your standout moment at Activate so far?

A: Activate has allowed me to develop and utilise my creative skills, finally using that A-Level in Art & Design. One of my standout moments was first seeing my creative designs come to life on both social media and websites, and following the social media engagement they allowed us to generate for our clients.

Q: Tell us about a time you’ve put your skills to their best use on an Activate destination marketing campaign?

A: Earlier in the year, with restrictions in place, we ran a lot of online campaigns around calendar events. Producing digital designs for these allowed me to use my creative skills, with one online Valentine’s competition reaching more than 16 thousand people, generating 2300-plus engagements, and proving a great campaign highlighting the site and its offers.

Q: Tell us about a time you’ve felt most challenged while working at Activate, and how you overcame that challenge?  

A: Working on the destination marketing service from its launch has been exciting but trying to have that push in growing the business while also working from home, often alone with three children, has probably been my biggest challenge. A supportive and fantastic team, as well as seeing the great opportunity that was ahead of me, kept me focused to keep going and take one day at a time.

Q: In what ways do you think the pandemic has permanently impacted destination marketing?

A: The pandemic has focused marketers on achieving more with less. Following so many budgetary and physical restrictions, the pandemic has driven more innovation, seen in some brilliant digital campaigns over lockdown. Hopefully this will continue an increase in marketing campaigns that are unique and exciting, both in content and delivery.

Q: What change would you make to a single aspect of the property sector and why?

A: Having worked within the property sector for more than 15 years, there are various areas that could benefit from change. The business rates system is archaic and does no favours for either landlord or tenant. It is slow in revaluations, which then negate any savings, and has no accurate reflection on the current retail market.

Q: What are your spare time pursuits and how do they influence your role at Activate?

A: Three small children keep me busy with little real time for my own pursuits, but they do allow me to indulge my love of the outdoors and exercise by keeping them active. I love DIY and I am an avid reader. My children help develop my organisation skills (and help me stay calm in difficult situations) and I think my own pursuits encourage my innovative and creative side.

Q: What is your favourite building / retail experience worldwide, and why?

A: Having visited retail experiences as different as the mall in Dubai and the old markets in Budapest, I find it fascinating looking at how different and yet successful retail experiences can be. Whether it be an expansive, gleaming mall like Dubai’s or a crowded market steeped in history like Budapest, they can be equally emotive for such different reasons.

Q: What book or podcast do you recommend, and why?

A: As part of my degree, I studied a book called True Tales of American Life, which is a collection of stories written by people throughout America and edited by Paul Auster. It was one of the most moving books I’ve ever read. It made me laugh and cry, and showed a true insight into all aspects of human experience in an honest and refreshingly written text by everyday people.

Here we meet Leonie Kirkham, Digital Marketing and Events Executive within the Activate Destination Marketing team, as she answers questions about her career and approach to destination marketing…

Q: What three words describe Activate?

A: Pioneering, bold, innovative.

Q: What has been your standout moment at Activate so far?

A: Working with new accounts to support local activity and tap into key events to help boost footfall and attendance to events. It has been great to work with local social accounts to coordinate marketing online.

Q: Tell us about a time you’ve put your skills to their best use on an Activate destination marketing campaign?

A: Assisting with building copy for online marketing campaigns such as our “Be Half Term Happy” campaign. Ensuring a variety of approaches are taken to tap into key and relevant audiences to create optimum impact for our clients.

Q: Tell us about a time you’ve felt most challenged while working at Activate, and how you overcame that challenge?

A: Co-ordinating deliveries for events onsite where there were difficulties with the delivery company locating the recipient. We overcame this by working with local tenants to find a place for the product to be delivered in time for the event to go ahead.

Q: In what ways do you think the pandemic has permanently impacted destination marketing?

A: I think it has made people more cautious and led to uncertainty in the marketing sector, with some reluctant to launch back into the same kind of activity used pre-pandemic, as they are unsure of what restrictions may arise in the future.

Q: What are your spare time pursuits and how do they influence your role at Activate?

A: Exploring the outdoors and attending family events! Keeps me up to date with popular themes and allows me to experience things that work well.

Q: What is your favourite retail experience worldwide, and why?

A: The First Mall inside the Four Seasons Hotel in Cairo. It’s a beautiful timeless building with indulgent brands. Having the hotel attached brings with it added benefits and creates a full experience.

Q: What book or podcast do you recommend, and why?

A: The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. These were responsible for getting me into reading, so always worth a reference. Also Selling War and Peace by Jack Holland keeps me rooted in my love for political science.

Introducing Megan Bywater, Digital Marketing and Events Executive within the Activate Destination Marketing team. Here, Megan shares her perspective on changing consumer behaviour, and the value of new technology to create post-pandemic retail experiences…

What three words describe your approach to delivering client projects?

Communication, problem-solving, and teamwork.

What has been your standout career moment so far?

Overcoming the challenges of the pandemic in my previous role. The crisis allowed us to reassess ways of working, streamline communication and become more flexible internally. Like most, we did this completely remotely and with limited resources due to redundancies. Through all the issues faced, we managed to almost double the previous year’s revenue and output in terms of project delivery, and form an even deeper relationships with our clients. 

Tell us about a time you’ve felt most challenged, and how you overcame that challenge? 

2020 was a challenging year for everyone, in lots of different ways. Personally, my biggest challenge was the transition to working from home indefinitely. We had a really close-knit team that valued collaboration, and I was an active member of the social committee, so ensuring everyone still felt as part of the team was a top priority. We overcame the challenge by ensuring we had regular catch ups and team meetings, and focused on communication, integrity and honesty. We came out of the pandemic with even closer relationships. 

In what ways do you think the pandemic has permanently impacted destination marketing?

The shift in consumer behaviour towards purchasing goods online has been accelerated. In order to get consumers engaged and encouraged to get back on the high street, marketers must focus on seamless shopper journeys by creating an experience that goes above and beyond. 

What are your spare time pursuits and how will they influence your role at Activate?

I like to go for walks and get out to the countryside. This helps my role at Activate as it allows me to visit new towns and villages that I can take inspiration from. 

What is your favourite retail experience worldwide, and why?

It’s the make-up brand Charlotte Tilbury, which has “magic mirrors” in their flagship store that allow you digitally try on the brand’s signature looks. This is a great way to enhance store experiences and use technology to progress from the usual tester pots. Zara have recently worked with a digital artist to create a digital art installation for their window displays: a great example of creating more of a destination.  

What book or podcast do you recommend, and why?

My favourite podcast is ‘Today in Focus’ by The Guardian. It gives insights and analysis of the current news headlines, in a really clear and concise way that’s easy to understand. 

Darlish is the latest occupier to maximise Activate’s ability to match occupiers with short-term void spaces at Workman-managed shopping centres.

The luxury ice cream maker has set up at the beautiful Christopher Place, St Albans, where they have taken a four-month summer lease of an otherwise void space.

With access to a large pedestrianised area outside the shop, customers can linger outside, creating a lively energy and buzz around the shop and in the centre, even with Covid restrictions in place.

Being a seasonal business, Darlish has a few key months in which to showcase its products. The store Christopher Place gives the brand an amazing amount of frontage, allowing an opportunity to play with interior design.

“Having a calm space to move around in has been fantastic,” Darlish reported. “Even with queues, which can get very long in summer, serving hundreds of ice creams is a breeze! Customers have even commented on how much they love the shop, thanks to Activate for making it possible.”

Darlish Ice Cream, served in two cups
Darlish: the latest occupier to maximise Activate’s ability to match occupiers with short-term void spaces at Workman-managed shopping centres

With footfall expected to rise, the need to regenerate, repurpose and enliven town centres is keenly felt by Local Authorities, commercial property owners and retailers, looking to capitalise on the projected resurgence, writes Esther Worboys, Activate Placemaking Manager and High Streets Task Force Expert.

Retail sales enjoyed a springtime resurgence, with growth in high street sales from April to June making it the best three months on record. Sales were up 28.4% from a year earlier and were 10.4% higher than in 2019, according to the British Retail Consortium, buoyed by June’s sunny weather, the Euro 2020 tournament and the vaccination programme.

PM Boris Johnson’s removal of restrictions on 19 July delivered a further boost to retail. And the latest forecast shows footfall in non-food retail stores will continue to strengthen over summer in the UK, reaching almost three quarters (74.5%) of its 2019 level in Q3 2021. The figures, from Ipsos Retail Traffic Index, show that recovery was strong over Q2.

The rapid rollout of vaccinations, steps that property managers and retailers have put in place to safeguard their customers and colleagues, a release of pent-up demand, and consumers spending household savings from the past year, have all contributed to retail rallying during April, May and into June, say Ipsos retail analysts.

Acknowledging that shoppers will continue to use both online and physical shopping channels, analysts highlighted the return of consumer appetite for shopping as a leisure activity. Dr Tim Denison, head of retail analytics and insight at Ipsos, said: “Consumer confidence continues to re-build, now standing at its highest level since the first lockdown, employment levels remain buoyant, and Britain is rediscovering its fondness for one of its most popular social pastimes.”

Now more than ever, the need to regenerate, repurpose and enliven town centres is keenly felt by Local Authorities, commercial property owners and retailers, as they look to capitalise on the projected resurgence towards in-person experiences including recreational shopping.

Local authorities are taking an active role in the repositioning of town centre environments, with collaboration between the public and private sector increasingly proving a force for positive change. The ultimate needs of town centre and high street users should inform thinking at the centre of planning, design, and management, and build positive relationships with local stakeholders. This creates a sense of belonging and establishes the location’s role in the community.

Activate expertise to rejuvenate public spaces and deliver footfall boost

Activate works closely with local authorities and public-private partnerships to provide placemaking consultancy advice as part of a variety of town regeneration projects. By researching the demographics of an area, engaging with stakeholders such as local businesses, residents’ groups, and with market traders, their evaluations form the basis of a target retail mix. The Activate team collaborates to provide potential layout and design of any future schemes, supported by financial projections.

Based on local research and insight, the Activate placemaking team provides concepts, feasibility advice, and detailed business planning for local authorities for their regeneration options. Typical projects include master-planning of town centre mixed-use schemes, the feasibility analysis of town centre market re-locations and concepts for the re-purposing of vacant commercial space.

The High Street Task Force expert view

Where there is scope for achieving unfulfilled potential in town centres and high streets, Activate is well-placed to offer key advice, drawing from the team’s broad experience, which includes insight gained through my role as a High Street Task Force expert.

In this role, High Street Task Force experts visit targeted town centres and high streets, where they work with community leaders to identify key issues hampering successful transformation, and ways to address these. Experts also consult with local authorities and stakeholders to help solve complex challenges, which may also include running workshops and brokering relationships within the local community.

The idea is to unlock the resource that already exists in the town, using a fresh perspective to break down barriers in order to implement the project, while also leveraging a wider base of skills and understanding garnered from experience on projects rolled out in towns across the country. It’s about facilitating efforts between stakeholders such as business leaders, the local authority and community groups; so they can overcome past hurdles to move forward and deliver their own local solutions that are right for their town.

Carefully created and managed partnerships, where lessons learned are used to create added value for town centres and high streets, can deliver social and economic outcomes, not just real estate development. As the Activate team demonstrates, when local government and the private sector work in collaboration, with guidance from placemaking experts, the results lead to places that people can be proud of.

Levelling-up towns across the regions

This contemporary approach to partnering is good for the economic and social vibrancy of towns, and plays into the government’s levelling-up agenda, which seeks to improve skills, create jobs, enhance townscapes, improve access to public services, and increase local decision-making responsibilities.

The Activate team is also collaborating with Scotland’s Towns Partnership, enabling Local Authorities to work in partnership with town centre property owners to access available funding, of which they may previously have been unaware. Making progress towards levelling up is about removing regional inequities and finding suitable pathways for everybody.

High street shoppers on a busy street in Glasgow summer 2018
High street shoppers on a busy street in Glasgow, summer 2018

Of course, simply agreeing a public-private partnership doesn’t guarantee a successful outcome. For these collaborations to work, they rely on strong leadership, a clear vision, quality and continuity of teams. There is a clear requirement for a bedrock of thorough research and preparation, and trust between partners.

It seems that significant challenges including the pandemic, Brexit and climate change have not stifled enthusiasm for town centre regeneration. The rise of localism proves that people want to feel safe in – and proud of – the places where they live, work, play, study, do business, and shop.

In fact, there is a growing appetite to bolster local infrastructure so that towns are resilient enough to withstand further economic, environmental, and social challenges that may be just over the horizon.

By Esther Worboys, Activate Placemaking Manager and High Streets Task Force Expert.

Activate has been appointed by Build & Thrive, a partnership between Cheshire West & Chester Council and Public Sector Plc, to provide placemaking consultancy advice on  Weaver Square Shopping Centre in Northwich. 

Plans for redeveloping this prominent town centre site are currently being developed as part of the town’s wider regeneration, including the integration of a new market based offer. As part of plans to repurpose the overall scheme, Activate will evaluate the feasibility of a new market. This will be through; extensive local stakeholder engagement, assessment of the market provision in the local area, development of a target retail mix and collaboration with the project team on potential layout and design of any future market, supported by financial projections.

Having launched in July 2019, this latest instruction means Activate has now been appointed to advise on over 5m sq ft of mixed workspace and retail destinations across the UK over the last 12 months, having also last year been appointed to a series of new instructions on projects across the UK for clients including Aztec West Business Park in Bristol, the Lower Precinct Shopping Centre in Coventry, and Liverpool Shopping Park.

Andrew Sparrow, Director of Placemaking at Activate, commented:

A new market offer is a highly desirable element of any future redevelopment of Weaver Square as part of the town’s wider regeneration. This feasibility study will thoroughly identify how the market offer can be a viable and thriving part of the town centre.”

Cheshire West and Chester Council’s Cabinet Member for Inclusive Growth, Economy and Regeneration, Councillor Richard Beecham commented:

“Northwich has always been the jewel in mid-Cheshire’s crown. The Weaver Square regeneration project provides an exciting opportunity to consider how a beautiful market town like Northwich can have a modern new market, whilst remaining respectful of the history and traditions of market trading in the town. This piece of work with Activate will carefully consider the views of local businesses and communities to help us understand the role that a new market can play in attracting visitors and residents into town, all as part of the wider transformation of an important area of Northwich.”

Kate Howe, Development Manager –Build & Thrive Partnership, commented:

“The Build and Thrive Partnership understand the importance of supporting local businesses as we bring forward the Weaver Square development. Build and Thrive must ensure that we deliver a scheme that reflects the needs of local people and supports the existing retail and leisure offer within the Town. Activate will help us engage will local businesses and residents and shape an offer that is based upon their aspirations.”

Activate is led by industry experts Andrew Sparrow (Director of Placemaking) and Esther Worboys (Placemaking Manager) and offers, specialist placemaking and destination marketing services to regenerate, repurpose and enliven assets.  

Associated British Foods (ABF) have appointed Activate on The Quadrangle, a mixed-use development boasting four floors of office space and two floors of retail and restaurants in Cheltenham. 

Following practical completion, Activate will create and deliver a comprehensive occupier engagement programme to the 70,000 sq ft scheme. The programme will promote collaboration, wellbeing, and enrichment among the business space’s occupiers, with the ultimate goal of improving employee satisfaction and productivity.

Having launched in July 2019, this latest instruction means Activate has now been appointed to advise on over 5m sq ft of mixed workspace and retail destinations across the UK over the last 12 months. Other new instructions on projects across the UK include; Aztec West Business Park in Bristol, the Lower Precinct Shopping Centre in Coventry, and Liverpool Shopping Park.

Andrew Sparrow, Director of Placemaking at Activate, commented: 

The first phase of the community and occupier engagement programme will consist of building relationships with local stakeholders, including the Council, BID, Cheltenham Festival Organisers and the Friends of Imperial Gardens. The remit will also be to identify interim pop up opportunities in any vacant ground-floor commercial units.

In the longer term, once occupiers have begun to move into the office units, Activate will also organise networking and social events, introduce Fitwel and other health and wellbeing activities, meet ESG targets through incorporating things like sustainable travel initiatives, and strengthen internal communications with and between occupiers.

Kevin Seville, Head of Property – Pensions at ABF, commented;

The sensitive redevelopment of the Quadrangle is creating a fantastic mixed-use destination in the heart of Cheltenham, providing attractive workspace, retail & leisure and amenities for occupiers and visitors. An essential part of making the building the primary destination to work and relax in the town, is to have a creative community engagement strategy that brings the building to life and creates a thriving community amongst its occupiers. The experience and creativity of the Activate team will help us deliver that.

A quick blink into the sunlight after more than three months of lockdown shows that predictions abound for a rush back to shops and restaurants.

As consumers shake off lockdown fatigue and prepare for a summer of social activity, pent-up demand for a return to normality is set to spark a retail footfall rise of 48% when non-essential retail reopens in England from April 12, according to Springboard. The forecast increase means footfall will be 128% higher than the same week in 2020, although it will still remain 62% below 2019 levels.

In shopping centres and retail parks, which have maintained a steady flow of footfall during lockdowns due to their higher proportion of essential retail offerings, footfall is predicted to  rise by 46% and 26% respectively in the first week of reopening, says Springboard.

At the end of the first two lockdowns, footfall rose by more than 40%, yet greater increases are expected this time due to the success of the vaccination programme and the concurrent opening of retail and hospitality.

As shopping centre and retail park managers looked to keep their brands alive, they turned to destination marketing as an essential tool. And in the absence of live events, they have pivoted towards digital marketing and social media. Even in the case of significantly reduced marketing budgets, centre managers have been able to grab a bigger bang for their buck by leveraging the expertise of Activate’s Destination Marketing team.

How destination marketing will boost retail rebound for 2021

Many centre managers and retail real estate owners have reapportioned budgets to focus on digital engagement through social media. Their properties have benefited accordingly by remaining front of mind, and front of wallet, for consumers. Our Destination Marketing team works to research and present a menu of covid-secure promotional options, from which individual centres and retailers can select.

Campaigns around Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Easter have kept customers interested, with online gift guides and creative video content designed to drive visitors to shopping centres and retail parks. A mix of content has been developed for a range of platforms, including animation and video for Instagram Reels, in partnership with individual retailers and sponsors, for promotions which are activated on site. These have included competitions to win an M&S Easter hamper, handouts of single red roses, chocolates, branded face coverings or hand sanitiser giveaways.

In one cost-effective campaign, designed to appeal to a regional audience for Vangarde Shopping Park, York, the marketing team achieved more than 17,000 engagements and 1700 comments from one single, simple post. ‘What do you call this?’ with the hashtags #Yorkshire and #Vangarde showed images of simple items such as a bread roll and a bath robe, and invited comments on their different regional names. This kind of engaging content, which has encouraged communities to use destination social media platforms, has kept the brand and its retailers alive and top of mind during challenging times, when many stores have had to remain closed. The key is to get online communities talking and create the intent of physically visiting the properties at the heart of any creative material or activation at some point in the future. Onsite teams across a range of properties have also been encouraged to create their own ‘welcome back’ video content, showing they are ready for customers to return.

Campaigns to suit properties large and small

Our Destination Marketing team is equipped to deliver projects to suit the needs and budgets of a variety of schemes, and work is designed to fit the demographic of shoppers and retailers within each property. While some schemes have benefitted from multi-channel marketing, incorporating radio and print campaigns, others have maximised a retailer-sponsorship approach. For example, when delivering messages around the covid-secure aspects of each site, the team has built in short, sharp, sponsorship tags for affiliate retail brands to ensure that they are driving the impact for those retailers that are open and ready for custom.

Many properties that feature restaurants with al fresco dining areas have been revamping these to be covid-secure. Here, we’ve worked directly with the restaurants to promote their rejuvenated outdoor space and used the content to include instructions about making reservations in the new seating areas, in order to drive bookings.

Looking ahead, the team is optimistic about real-life events at shopping centres and retail parks returning later in the year. In the meantime, it is also delivering marketing activations that provide social value, such as the #nochildgoeswithout campaign being run at The Core in support of a Leeds charity that aims to give every child in need an Easter egg.

As the big reopening on April 12th approaches, and customers become keen to visit bricks-and-mortar destinations as a leisure activity once more, it’s time to make sure all that footfall is heading in the right direction: towards your property.

By Michelle Atack, Digital Marketing and Events Associate, Activate

Repurposing of real estate is taking on many different forms. From regenerating whole town centres to suit local communities, to reimagining vacant spaces for more commercially viable uses; huge swathes of real estate are being made fit-for-purpose for the future economy.

Truly researching and understanding what occupiers, customers and communities want from these assets is crucial to all forms of repurposing. Whether big or small, not having a predetermined view of what will work best in the future is essential. Localism is one of the driving forces behind this, as customers increasingly seek out retailers and operators on their doorstep. Not just as a short-term response to the pandemic, but as part of a longer term trend.

Having worked together on a project at Liverpool Shopping Park, we recently asked Peter Gilliland, Head of Property Management at Derwent Estates and Esther Worboys , Placemaking Manager at Activate and an Expert member of The High Streets Task Force, to talk about the value of understanding the local community when looking to repurpose assets or reimagine vacant spaces. Chaired by Jennifer Small on our Marketing team, they share a number of the practical considerations to make the best of a challenging space.

Understanding of local demographics, community research and creative design all combined to develop ideas for an unloved area of public realm. The vision is to transform this part of a thriving retail destination into a valuable community amenity. Although the project is still in progress, a lot of work has been done by the Activate team to research what the local community need, supported by our CAD team to visualise the possibilities. As we prepare for retail reopening in April 2021, we look forward to these ideas becoming a reality and the community offer being enhanced.

Watch: A discussion on repurposing for the community