CAMPAIGNS: Community Relations - Westcor shops for publicsupporters

Client: Westcor (Phoenix)
PR Team: Westcor's in-house PR team and CKPR (Phoenix)
Campaign: Building Support for La Encantada Village Center
Time Frame: June-August 2001
Budget: About $25,000

When Westcor announced plans in 1999 to build La Encantada, an open-air shopping center in the upscale Tucson area, the Arizona commercial real-estate company said it would create jobs and revenue at a pleasant public space. But the public objected to the project, or so said the Skyline Campbell Community Coalition, a vocal group of neighbors that questioned whether Westcor didn't plan to build just another shopping mall.

The Coalition submitted its case to the Pima County Board of Adjustments, which rejected Westcor's plan on the grounds that it did not meet the definition of a "village center in a 1959 zoning ruling. While awaiting a decision on the subsequent appeal, Westcor saw that the Coalition's influence on the public and the media was quickly growing. "They used our silence as a strategy to get their message out, says Tracey Gotsis, marketing VP at Westcor. "Our biggest mistake was not doing anything public about it."

Westcor enlisted CKPR to handle publicity for the project until a decision on La Encantada was announced.

Strategy

In only three months, CKPR had to secure public endorsement of the project from at least 200 visible supporters. As part of achieving that goal, it also had to secure balanced media coverage of La Encantada by generating positive press. That would help Westcor gain a favorable ruling on the zoning issue, and hopefully win the approval of Pima County - and the community - for the center's construction.

Tactics

Once the campaign began, a seemingly complex task turned out to be easier than anticipated. "We started by trying to understand the mindset of the Coalition and community, says Lisa Noble, PR director of CKPR.

The firm conducted a phone survey of the people in the primary retail area, and attended the Coalition's monthly meetings to find out "where they were coming from, and how they presented the facts. What they found out was interesting, Noble says. "Though (the Coalition) had 600 members, only a fraction were active, so they were really a vocal minority within the community. In addition, 60% of the phone-survey participants said they looked forward to the building of the center.

CKPR and Westcor then communicated their findings to the media. Since the issue was local, they worked with the editorial boards of the two biggest local papers, The Tucson Citizen and The Arizona Daily Star, by pitching commentaries about the center's economic impact and community benefits. "We worked closely with reporters to ensure they'd get both sides of the story, Noble says.

They scheduled visits for Westcor execs to speak with the editors about the project, which Noble says were also very effective. In addition, CKPR encouraged Westcor to buy radio time to publicize the project's website, which contained extensive information about the center.

Results

The media push, combined with grassroots efforts to build a network of supporters in the community, exceeded expectations. CKPR attracted 600 supporters, instead of the planned 200, and media coverage became balanced, even positive. "Two editorial boards came out in Westcor's favor, papers published positive letters to the editor, and TV stations broadcast three positive segments, Noble says.

Westcor's appeal was successful, and La Encantada broke ground in March 2002.

Future

Westcor and CKPR are writing a media action plan to keep neighbors up to date on the construction process, retail announcements, and community partnership.

The two will work together to publicize La Encantada's grand opening in 2003.

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