West Plano Village, an example of communication at the shopping center level from the minute someone enters the property.

CRE Opinion

How a Pandemic Challenges The Real Estate Communication Plan

Weitzman's Ian Pierce shares how his firm handles internal, external, and client communication during COVID-19

Every company worth its salt maintains a crisis communications plan, outlining best practices for responding to an internal or external crisis that affects the organization. But even the best such plan could barely touch on how to respond to a crisis like the current COVID-19 pandemic that affects not only a company, but the entire country.

Ian Pierce

While previous crisis-response plans might prove inadequate to the scope of the current pandemic, best practices in communication can offer a roadmap. For commercial real estate companies, (like my company, Weitzman), best practices mean communicating the strength, stability, integrity, knowledge, and initiative to effectively and safely respond to the crisis.

INTERNAL COMMUNICATION

Based on the understanding that many employees found themselves in a work-from-home environment for the first time, we launched a series of internal communications initiatives designed to show everyone that we were all still working together, despite the lack of face-to-face collaboration.

These initiatives included video messages from company leadership, weekly companywide Zoom meetings, bi-weekly department meetings, and more. Zoom meetings covered everything from training on tools like Jabber to sessions with leaders in the real estate, retail, and restaurant industries.

Hearing from these leaders outside our company offered insight into the challenges our industry faced as well as ideas on how to best respond. Most importantly, they showed us that everyone, no matter how successful or experienced, is learning and adapting to a new normal that is anything but normal.

We also launched a weekly internal newsletter, Weitzman Works, with photos of our co-workers at their remote workstations (often with pets and-or kids!) and brief articles about how our teammates are working successfully through the challenges of the crisis.

EXTERNAL COMMUNICATION

At the same time, we focused on all-important internal communication; we understood that external communication remained equally critical to show that we understood the challenges of the crisis and offered the experience to weather it.

Our team includes tenured professionals who’ve worked through and learned from past down cycles, including the so-called Texas Real Estate Depression of the mid-to-late-1980s.

As business reporters looked for insight into how real estate could navigate this crisis, they interviewed these experienced professionals. The resulting thought-leadership articles offered perspectives on the current crisis, as seen through the lessons learned from past cycles. After all, this is an industry with many successful professionals who entered real estate after 2008-2009, the last time Texas experienced a recession.

Other articles included our pros talking about the impact of the crisis on retail leasing, rental rates, shopping center traffic, and other areas of concern.

Additionally, we’ve communicated best practices via numerous marketwide and statewide webinars on retail real estate in the age of COVID, sponsored by publications like Shopping Center Business and organizations like the Urban Land Institute.

CLIENT COMMUNICATIONS

As a retail real estate company, we understand that our tenants – many of them small mom-and-pop retailers and restaurants – were taking the brunt of the crisis.

We supercharged our existing shopping center marketing and tenant relations to encourage people to shop safely, shop locally, and shop now.

We are working one-on-one with tenants to communicate their new hours and new offerings during this new normal, typically through social media and digital marketing.

And for those tenants with no digital presence (i.e., social media pages or websites), we offer tutorials to help them establish a digital presence. Digital offers a critical communication platform at a time when most customers are making decisions on where to buy or eat based on mobile searches.

Our consumer-focused communications currently highlight safety and community as part of a marketing campaign tagged “A New Together Again” that is running on social and community platforms in approximately 70 submarkets throughout Texas.

And at the level of the physical center, we’re installing signage that communicates the importance of social distancing.

The success of any communications program is measured by how well you reached your target audience. Thanks to digital analytics, we know that our communications on behalf of our centers and our tenants is reaching approximately 87 percent of each message’s targeted audience.

More importantly, at every level of communications, it’s important to do everything we can to let people know we’re all in this together.

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