INSIDE THE MIX: Home Depot built momentum in Manhattan with a PR program crafted for the audience

The Home Depot, on average, opens a new store every 48 hours, according to PR director David Sandor.

The Home Depot, on average, opens a new store every 48 hours, according to PR director David Sandor.

The home-improvement retail giant consults its own toolbox of marketing disciplines to design the right opening strategy for each location. Who leads - PR, advertising, or niche marketing - depends, in part, on the character of the location.

The launch of a new storefront is a serious venture. "A new location is a [chance] to express innovation and community connections to a local customer segment," says Ketchum partner and associate director Jerry Thompson, who serves as account director on the Home Depot business. "Doing that right from the start makes grand openings a critical opportunity."

The need to get it right was one reason PR led the retailer's integrated program in September, launching its first-ever Manhattan location. Sandor and his colleagues brought together a multi-disciplinary agency team - including Ketchum, The Richards Group, DDB, and The Vidal Partnership - to offer ideas for conquering this island of sophisticated and jaded consumers.

"We examine the market opportunity, challenge the firms to bring communication strategies for robust discussion, and then agree as a company on the proportional investment to make in a particular discipline," Sandor says. "In the case of our [Manhattan] store, the PR team took the lead."

The strategy involved holding store previews for opinion leaders, and focused on community outreach and media relations to showcase that the company is "innovative in the way it locates, operates, and merchandises its stores," Sandor says.

Not only were there lines waiting to enter the Manhattan location during its grand opening, but the "local" media - The New York Times - picked up the messaging rather well. "The new store won't be simply a tweaking of the standard Home Depot formula, the company insists, but rather a radical rethinking reflecting months of consumer research, including focus groups," the paper read. Innovations such as a very New York doorman, concierge, and elevator, as well as a higher-end selection of goods than its suburban brethren, were also noted in the article.

That PR was chosen to lead this effort was no doubt a function of many different factors. Sandor notes that PR is often the most cost-effective and credible tool for urban and dense rural markets. The point is that The Home Depot's marketing mix is flexible to the particular needs of the community it is entering, not hemmed in by traditional approaches.

PR was well suited to lead this task. At a time when Wal-Mart faces fierce opposition from some local communities over new store plans, and New Yorkers grouse about neighborhoods with multiple Starbucks within walking distance, the need has never been greater for marketers to "get" their audience.

On the day the new location opened, a PRWeek editor rushed out to take a look at the new store.

He was asked why he bothered to fight the crowd. "Because when my friends tell me they're going," he explained, "I can say, 'Dude, I was there opening day.'"

It just doesn't get more New York than that.

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