Mutually Beneficial Marketing Campaigns

Apartment companies are actively seeking out creative, symbiotic partnerships with businesses.

Forest City sponsors a local marathon and pre-race events to which local businesses are invited to display their offerings.

Linking arms with local businesses is an effective way to bring benefits—free amenities, foot traffic and publicity—to apartment communities. The number and variety of mutually beneficial marketing ventures with other companies is limited perhaps only by creativity.

“It is surprisingly easy for us to reach out to local merchants in any of our markets and tell them, ‘We have 1,000 residents. We want to introduce you to our residents.’ They will jump on board right away,” says Candace Steiner, regional marketing manager for Forest City Enterprises Inc.

Marketing partnerships with local businesses offer rich and rewarding experiences for residents, says Steiner. In fact, Forest City is emphasizing such creative thinking: The company’s communities nationwide are challenged monthly to produce ideas to engage with residents. Very often, these ideas include the participation of other businesses.

At its 161-unit Presidio Landmark & Belles Townhomes in San Francisco, for example, Forest City recently signed up to be the title sponsor of the Presidio 10, a local marathon hosted by a non-profit called the Guardsmen. The event partners with the Ashland Dyer Foundation, created in memory of a woman who was hit and killed by a car while running the marathon. Residents are invited to participate in the event.

In conjunction with the marathon are two pre-race events held at Presidio Landmark. Forest City obtained the participation of vendors such as Fleet Feet San Francisco, Athleta SF, Basic Training SF, lululemon athletica and Shoes N Feet. These vendors bring their products and staff to the property from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. “We reached out to the local companies to see if they wanted to come to the property to showcase their products and generate buzz for their providers,” says Elliot Sun, general manager of the Presidio Landmark.

Marathoners, as well as residents and prospects, will have a chance to receive special discounts, prizes and offers from the vendors. Complimentary mimosas and pastries from a local bakery will be served.

The benefits of the multi-layered marathon event are manifold. The event increases public awareness of the community by bringing participants onsite. In fact, community awareness—and word of mouth—is one of the top-three biggest sources of traffic for the property. Also, being a charity event, it delights community residents, for whom research indicated responsible stewardship is an important value, says Steiner. Third, it makes residents aware of the offerings and attractiveness of the surrounding neighborhood in which the property is situated.

“This is more of a soft-sell approach than traditional marketing,” says Steiner. “It plays to the needs and desires of the residents.” Forest City, as well as the non-profit organizer and vendor outlets, will all market the events via social media.

“The title sponsorship of the event comprises a substantial portion of the property’s marketing budget in the first quarter,” acknowledges Sun. “But the overall community involvement provides a good opportunity for us. We have been surprised by the amount of feedback.”

Eric Brown, founder of Urbane Apartments in Royal Oak, Mich., is another apartment owner that seeks out partnership opportunities with businesses, whether national corporations or local merchants. “You have to take the initiative to approach companies about opportunities,” advises Brown.

At his communities in Detroit, Brown partnered with Vitamin Water to provide free drinks for residents. The vendor installs, at its own expense, branded refrigerators in Urbane Apartments clubhouses and keeps the refrigerators stocked with free Vitamin Water beverages. As a result of the arrangement, Vitamin Water receives marketing exposure, and Brown provides another free amenity for his residents.

“They felt their demographic and ours were similar and they wanted to put their product out,” says Brown. Vitamin Water approached Urbane Apartments for this partnership, but Brown has also reached out to other brands, such as Red Bull.

In another creative venture, Urbane Apartments entered into an agreement with a marketing company that promotes movies. Urbane Apartments wrote articles on its blog, and, about the movie and premiere in exchange for 50 free tickets. The film event generated an impressive 150 comments on Urbane Apartment’s blog.

It may be hard to quantify whether the comments translated directly into leases, says Brown, but the partnership generated buzz at no cost.

As in Forest City’s experience, sponsoring events is a method of marketing that is not free to the apartment owner, but the benefits can be tangible and immediate. Urbane Apartments signed on as one of the sponsors of the local Detroit team in a Chevrolet roadtrip competition associated with the annual South by Southwest music conference in Austin. Urbane Apartments’ logo was featured on event Web sites, and the company blogged about the event.

Brown had found out about the sponsorship opportunity after chatting with some of the four members of Team Detroit. These team members were using one of Urbane Apartment’s clubhouses—which the company makes available to the general public at no charge.

Over a 10-12 day period in March 2010, Urbane Apartment’s name was tweeted 7,000 to 8,000 times, says Brown. “A lot of local people were following the hometown team.” The result of the sponsorship was that in March, a typically slow rental month, Urbane Apartments rented more apartments than during any comparable period in its history.

Developers of new properties can also partner with local businesses to create mutual opportunities for publicity. Often, these neighborhood shops are more than happy to comply. Manor Properties Group, the developer of the nine-unit luxury condominium building at 208 West 96th Street in New York, sponsored a series of ongoing free events at the property that were presented by local merchants.

In the first in the series, Gourmet Garage, a neighborhood supermarket, sent a chef to present a talk and demonstration on the subject of sustainable cuisine, and a local wine shop provided wines that pair well with the foods.

All the events were held inside model units, and each of them provided an opportunity to showcase a different aspect of the development. The first event, for example, focused on the gourmet kitchen and offered attendees the chance to witness the use of an actual kitchen in a unit. The second event was a children’s book signing and cupcake giveaway. It profiled the storage areas for strollers and family-friendliness of the building. The third event featured Kosher cuisine and wine, and focused on the Shabbat elevator in the building.

The general purpose of the events is to get people in the door to see the development first-hand, says Simon Shamilzadeh, vice president of sales and marketing at Manor Properties. “This is a marriage of the development and people in the surrounding area. The best form of advertising is the referral: ‘I saw this apartment. You have to see it.’”

Attendees are provided with an opportunity to obtain an intimate sense of how living in the property would feel. “They can see that the open living room and kitchen area can easily seat
30 people and still have room for 20 more,”
says Shamilzadeh.

The events are limited to 25 to 30 attendees but are open to absolutely everyone, says Shamilzadeh. “The attendance is unbelievable. We have waiting lists.” The events were marketed at the supermarkets  and through social media.

The presentations are also opportunities for attendees to familiarize themselves with the local businesses. The merchants are ecstatic at the opportunity, says Shamilzadeh. For the most part, there is no cost to the developer, and the most that was paid was an honorarium.

Affordable housing developers are also well-versed in working with businesses to provide services for their communities. Jamboree Housing Corp., for example, is “intentional about partnering with businesses and local merchants when opening properties,” says Mary Jo Goelzer, COO.

Like many apartment companies, Jamboree informs local employers about leasing opportunities at its properties. Additionally, the company makes it a point to promote its project successes so that “businesses want to recommend us to potential residents,” says Goelzer.

Jamboree reaches out extensively to community organizations that, in turn, contact their local networks. Businesses can participate, for example, in community opening events such as “Heartwarmings” sponsored by on-site service provider Housing with Heart. These events are held after a property is 100 percent occupied, usually about 90 days after the certificate of occupancy is received.

Residents are invited to meet their neighbors and are introduced to services and resources, such as child care, transportation and utility subsidies. Local vendors, such as Target, Jamba Juice, storage facilities or banks participate by setting up tables.

Jamboree also makes use of its relationships with businesses to obtain corporate volunteers through companies that promote community service to their employees. For example, Pacific Life has provided Jamboree with volunteers to assist house staff at events such as its 20th Anniversary Party, or Jam!boree Day, a day of sports camps, dance classes, hiking and games held at a park or at separate communities.

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