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Next week marketing professionals in the shopping center industry will flock to Chicago for the International Council of Shopping Centers’ Fall Conference to discuss trends impacting their sector of the industry. With a theme this year of “Impact,” sessions at the show will touch on topics from fixed operating costs to the changing holiday season to store design. Also given out at the show are ICSC’s Maxi awards, which recognize companies for innovations different aspects of marketing. Cheryl Dougherty, vice president of marketing at Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust is one of the co-chairs of the event this year. Last week she gave GSR Ticket some first looks into the conference.

GSR: What makes the Fall Conference unique compared to the other large ICSC shows?

Dougherty: This is the only show that’s directly targeted to the mall management. It’s really the onsite teams that are responsible for managing, marketing and leasing shopping centers. I think over the years there has been a strong level of consistency that we want to bring to people who are directly responsible for the operations of the shopping centers, that there would be a conference specifically tailored to their needs. As the industry has evolved, so has ICSC, being responsive to the community of shopping centers, whether they’re mixed-use, open-air, hybrids or enclosed malls. Whatever they are I think the program is being geared to what’s topical.

GSR: What will be different about the conference this year?

Dougherty: Every year a theme is developed based upon what the program planning committee and ICSC feel are issues out in the industry. This year specifically it’s about “Impact.” The bottom line continues to drive us all. I think that it will really look at how to have an impact as an individual and what’s topical in the industry. There is a big session this year on residential and retail together, and I think that’s very new. We’re also talking about the 25- to 39-year-old customer, which I think is wonderful because they have the most disposable income, yet our leasing is generally targeted to teens and tweens. This segment is becoming very important to retailers. Shopping centers need to follow trends. It’s just a very tight program this year. We came up with so many ideas that we couldn’t fit them all in, and when that happens, you get the best of the best.

GSR: Should people involved in other areas of the industry participate?

Dougherty: I would love that. The reality is that it’s a slow change. This will be the second year that I have asked the president of our retail division to come to the session, and our asset management is coming to the program. I think that it’s important that they form a connection between the home office and the senior management and the teams that are attending to understand what’s topical. Keeping abreast of what our peers in the industry are doing at an organizational level is important as well.

GSR: Do you think that marketing gets overlooked in the industry?

Dougherty: I don’t think it’s overlooked, I think that marketing is more important in some ways than it’s ever been, and there’s an understanding of that at the highest levels in the industry. Models are changing all across our business on how best to recognize how to use marketing, but I don’t think it gets overlooked. I think it’s still dynamic and changing, but everyone recognizes that we’re not ready to give it up entirely.

GSR: What are the advantages to having the Fall Conference in a different city every year?

Dougherty: The fact is that most of us work where we work. We may not get across the country to see what’s happening. I think ICSC is trying to pick locales that will be of retail interest so that there’s something for us to look at. I think Chicago is one of the best venues for retail in the United States and perhaps in the world. Next year is in New Orleans, and even if we’re not looking at retail, we’ll be looking at what survived and why and what’s the role of the shopping center in that. I think it gives us the opportunity to look at a market, look at the retail in that market and understand that we’re seeing this in our market too.

GSR: What is the significance of the Maxi awards?

Dougherty: This is the 35th year, and I think this is a wonderful legacy. Maxi, at its highest level, is edutainment because you’re educating people on what are the highest standards of marketing excellence. On the other hand, we’re watching creativity just come to the fore. It’s really the intersection of creative, strategic marketing and bottom-line results. I think we need to educate people in the industry and salute good marketing. We need to inspire. I think that’s what an industry association should do.

GSR: What are some challenges you’re facing in the marketing arena right now?

Dougherty: I think that we all tend to have common issues, whether its five years ago or today, that’s the business we’re in. I think our markets are much more competitive. You don’t compete against the one or two other malls in your market area, you compete for the consumer’s dollar. With rapidly evolving retail formats and the rise of the Internet, we are a channel of retail distribution. I think that’s a big challenge in the face of marketing budgets that continue to shrink. We’re also facing that malls have grown up, in many cases, as the town center, and we’re seeing a little bit of an erosion of that in some markets. Now you’ve got a dozen malls in the primary area. You have a different place and a different position in the mind of the consumer, and I think our challenge is to understand how it evolves and what we can do to continue to drive traffic to our stores and our centers.

GSR: What are some new trends in shopping center marketing?

Dougherty: The role of the marketing director is influx, and in some cases marketing directors are very responsible for income, in others they’re very responsible for supporting the leasing efforts, in others it’s all about doing things that benefit the community. I think that what we see is there are a lot of innovative and different things depending on what your corporate initiatives are. In terms of innovation, marketing is being seen as being able to be resilient. We are taking people, who, 10 years ago, were able to do a different job than they do today. We are able to zig and zag and really go with the flow of a very dynamic and changing industry.

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