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Getting into the Spirit

Published:  01 May, 2007

Marketing man Enda McShane, managing director of Spirit Marketing Group, has enjoyed a phenomenal start to his year, having secured a million euros of new business in the first two weeks of 2007.

Having won new contracts for the new schemes Adamstown shopping centre and Beacon South Quarter in Dublin, Athlone Town Centre and McDonagh Junction in Kilkenny, unsurprisingly McShane is not currently touting for any new business at the moment.

Along with his team of 10 account directors and account managers, McShane is now focusing his attention on his current projects, which include the ongoing marketing of well over a dozen existing shopping centres in the UK and Ireland, including Croydon Centrale, Whitewater in Newbridge and the Jetland Centre in Limerick. In addition, Spirit is working on the launch of various new Irish centres, which include Victoria Square in Belfast and Charlesland in Dublin.

With so much business generated since the start of the millennium, McShane is quick to admit that his spare time is predominantly spent working. In fact in 2005, his PA calculated that during the course of the year he made 128 individual domestic flights between the UK and Ireland. But he doesn't seem to mind at all, and still manages to find some free time to play a few rounds of golf - he confesses it is a personal challenge of his to become a good golfer.

With a sports studies degree and a background in sports marketing, McShane always thought he would remain in the sports field, but it was while working for the London Events Agency that he realised there was an opportunity within the shopping centre industry. At the time he was involved in managing events at Bluewater.

"It was the end of the old way of developing and at that point I felt there was a real gap in the market for someone to come in and work with developers to help launch their schemes," he explains. "Turning to town and city regeneration it was apparent to me that there needed to be a longer-term marketing strategy to bring the message up to the launch day. By the time the scheme opens everyone should know about it."

McShane founded Spirit Communications in 1999 and established its first office in Wimbledon a year later. In 2001 he started embarking solely on retail consultancy.

Festival Place was the first contract, followed by the launch event of the Bullring, but Spirit's big break came with the launch of two major centres. First came the phased launch of the Manchester Arndale, where pop stars Girls Aloud, Lemar and G4 starred in an in-centre concert in a bid to showcase the newly-extended mall and to launch the digital platform. Since the launch, PruPim has taken Spirit on as the outsourced marketing agency for the centre - contributing to a major change in operations.

Second was the launch of Mahon Point in Cork, which acted as the launch pad into Ireland with McShane setting up Spirit Retail Marketing in March 2005, which took him back to his home town of Belfast.

"It was the same as Spirit Communications but we were delivering through the Irish market," says McShane. "There was a real gap in the market as there were only PR companies and advertising agencies in Ireland and no one offering what we were. The centre management teams are very small so for us to come along and handle the marketing operations was a real benefit to them."

Meanwhile in the UK, where many centres have their own in-house marketing teams, McShane has stuck predominantly to a campaign-led business with centre launch events as well as creative strategies for the portfolios of small centres.

"We have developed a small centre strategy," says McShane. "If PruPim has 10 other shopping centres outside of Cribbs Causeway and Manchester Arndale then it helps with economies of scale.

"We have a process where across a portfolio, three or four times a year the smaller centres need to promote themselves, so we developed a range of creative services which they can buy off the shelf. The websites can also be done across the portfolio so they're buying the management and creative services in a more cost-effective way.

"This is a first for the UK. A lot of companies have looked at how best to do it and have been concerned that centres need to retain their own identity: this allows them to do that but in a controlled environment."

McShane has also brought to the retail arena a lot of knowledge from his time spent in the sports industry. "I consider it all to be a consumer environment," he says. "I have used that as a basis for how to develop our strategies.

"We have tried to turn retail marketing around from what it was. Previously, a lot was married to the retail calendar, spending on Mother's Day and Father's Day and so on, but not delivering a set of campaigns that are developed and measured to see how successful they are.

"The sports and the arts are things people enjoy and from that we have worked out what people like doing. If people stay longer, they spend more money and then the scheme is more successful.

"People want to be entertained and whether that is in a shopping centre or in a sports centre they want to see and experience things, and so that's the main basis of what we're trying to achieve."

The Girls Aloud concert at Manchester Arndale was designed to completely change people's perception of what the centre is.

"I don't think you can make people understand the change," says McShane. "You have to lead them in and get them to feel the experience for themselves, rather than just running advertising campaigns. We're very much about doing things that engage people on different levels."

McShane believes an integrated approach works best - tapping into people's emotions through advertising, but then also introducing interactional promotions on- and off-line, which will be linked to the tenants in the centre. He points to a second fashion campaign that ran at Whitewater last month, which saw footfall rise to levels not seen since the centre opened. "That was over six days. There's no doubt these events have an impact and not just on footfall - on sales as well."

However, he does point to the BCSC's report on Silver Shoppers, released last year, as a key area of interest.

"One of the key things that struck me is that someone over 50 is more likely to come when there are no events on as it's a more convenient shop for them," he says. "They can get a seat at the café, park their car and there are no crowds. That struck a chord because you must deal with different demographics in a different way.

"A family will be more encouraged to come in when something is happening but the over 50 shopper will want to be there when it is quieter. We need to ensure we're putting the right messages to the right people and we should be targeting the older generation of shopper to come mid-morning and mid-afternoon, and start pushing shoppers to visit at key times."

McShane explains that there has also been a recent increase in shopping centres working closely with their retailers on marketing campaigns.

"We work hard with them to make sure they're integrated in what we're doing, whether donating prizes or promoting launches and understanding their advertising campaigns so that we're not competing," he says. "I'm not sure that was happening five or six years ago at the launch of the centre. Retailers were doing their own thing."

He stresses that he is always striving to do things differently. "We never deliver the same launch or annual marketing campaign twice," he says. "We're always pushing the boundaries and are very focused on consumer and retailer needs. We don't work in any sector other than the retail sector. As a result, we really understand the marketplace."

This year McShane has brought his Irish and UK businesses under one banner, Spirit Marketing Group, and if the start of 2007 is anything to go by, he certainly won't have time to rest on his laurels.

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=== A digital revolution at Manchester Arndale ===

Digital marketing is an important way forward for shopping centres according to McShane, who is already seeing its success at Manchester Arndale.

Engaging with the customer and understanding more about customers' lifestyle patterns through the introduction of in-centre digital kiosks, plasma screens and websites is key to developing future marketing campaigns.

Spirit Marketing is currently planning to introduce a digital platform at Adamstown Central. "It's all about creating a central digital spine that captures and filters all this data and it's about providing continuously strong content," says McShane. "Every time someone visits the town centre they can log onto the website and see what special offers there are and what car parks are full etc., so we're delivering an information service that they will always log back into. So what they get back in return for providing their details is important to them."

At the Manchester Arndale, 15,000 shoppers use the digital platform every day to view the various offers and at Christmas customers were able to book their slot with Santa so that the time they would have spent queuing was instead spent in the shops.