Real Estate Weekly
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Marketing and Public RelationsViews

The power of public relations to shape geography

By Sarah Berman
President and Founder, The Berman Group

The fluid nature of New York City’s neighborhoods presents endless opportunities for real estate professionals.

The never-ending process of building and renovation can transform a familiar street, while tenant trends altar the business profiles of districts.

New names for areas appear constantly on Google Maps, while in places like Williamsburg and Park Slope, Realtors seem to expand the neighborhood borders every year to attract buyers and renters.

Constant change and reinvention have been a signature of the city since it was New Amsterdam. It’s why O. Henry famously remarked about New York, “It’d be a fine place if they ever finish it.”

Real estate business strategy often reacts to these trends, playing catchup with the vagaries of the economy and the built environment.

Or CRE firms try to predict where the money will go next, either through experience and observation or through big data and number crunching.

And then there’s another innovative path: proactively redefining a neighborhood to foster growth.

Most involve a robust, sustained public relations campaign that accounts for business goals, showcases amenities and culture and demonstrates a strong sense of where the neighborhood is going — along with an understanding of where the neighborhood has been.


Setting a New Foundation
In New York PR, it’s important to remember that the city has a deep sense of history and story, and that it takes a lot to grab people’s attention here.

For a PR campaign to transform a neighborhood’s perception requires an understanding that the new story has to resonate more than the old and that change is partly organic.

Some new developments are so all-encompassing that change is inevitable. Hudson Yards, Long Island City and Downtown Brooklyn have altered the skyline and created new urban landscapes. People now associate these areas with glass high rises and luxury amenities, starkly different than a decade ago.

More often, the neighborhood shift is more nuanced and requires a delicate PR touch. One such area is West Harlem.

On a several block stretch of former vacated lots and empty industrial buildings, one developer is gradually transforming the neighborhood into a bridge between Columbia University and CCNY, attracting life science, arts and TAMI tenants to new, technologically enabled spaces that retain the look and spirit of the original structures.

From a PR perspective, the success in repositioning the neighborhood is that it embraces the new without erasing the past. Stories about the district note how the developer and architects have painstakingly worked to retain the area’s industrial and cultural history while driving economic development.

This campaign builds awareness for an area that the larger community might not know about, much less that they can work and play in this unique corner of the city.

The continued success of the district is a product of listening to the community, understanding how to make the story stand out and delivering on a wider business need for life science and TAMI space.

Pivoting for the Next Generation
On a different track, Midtown, an established, global hub, is trying to promote itself as a dynamic space for young people and innovative businesses as new CBDs rise up in Hudson Yards and Battery Park City — and as the Financial District sheds its Wall Street perception.

To compete, buildings from Central Park South to Madison Square Park are undergoing technological upgrades and embracing sustainability and modern workplace trends to attract more diverse and dynamic businesses.

The Avenue of the Americas Association is a successful example of a PR initiative breathing life into a neighborhood.

Created by Sixth Avenue businesses to promote exciting opportunities along the corridor, the Association embraces the neighborhood’s historical standing as a center for work and play. Instead of radically rebranding the neighborhood, it refreshes the district for a new generation.

A proactive PR strategy has been integral to the successful Avenue rebrand. Business leaders are consistently engaged to create buy-in, while prominent cultural events are promoted enthusiastically, such as the recent, Instagram-friendly FANTASY LANDSCAPES installation that went up at various locations along Sixth Avenue.

In a city where landmarks in every direction vie for social media attention, bold cultural displays like this remind visitors, residents and commuters that this is where you want to be.

And this is the goal of a successful neighborhood reimagining — finding an honest, resonant way to make it stand out in a city with millions of great stories and where everything is calling for your attention.

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