After an 18-year absence from the heart of Chicago’s Loop, Sears returns to downtown Chicago, opening a five-level, 250,000-square-foot flagship store on May 23, 2001, in the heart of its hometown market. Because Sears had closed the doors on its previous State Street location in 1983, it was under close watch from the media, shareholders and customers, all curious about its ability to succeed in an urban, emerging retail environment. Chicago’s State Street shopping district serves a diverse clientele, including commuters, tourists, downtown residents and students, a dramatically different customer universe than that of Sears suburban mall-based stores.
Due to the urban location, Sears needs to create excitement about its return to the Loop and generate awareness for its urban image, trend-right product lines and ability to serve the multicultural customer base that lives, works and plays in downtown Chicago. Public relations activities generated enthusiasm and visibility for Sears return to State Street and its results will demonstrate its worthiness for a SABRE award.
While Sears is almost universally recognized, customer preference for the Sears brand was weak. Prior to the launch, a national survey asked consumers to describe the ideal retailer; we then compared Sears and three competitors to the “ideal” in terms of specific attributes and experiences. The survey was repeated for Sears and the three competitors in the Chicago market following the opening of the State Street store to establish the baseline and the changes in brand equity were calculated. Research results are included under the “Evaluation of Success” category.
- Position Sears as the perfect retail solution for commuters, tourists, students and residents in downtown neighborhoods
- Generate immediate awareness and publicity with the media surrounding the State Street store opening (targeting retail, marketing, fashion, architectural, business, arts, multicultural, entertainment, travel and social press)
- Highlight Sears Chicago-based community relations efforts and position Sears as an important part of the Chicago community and as a good corporate citizen
- Sustain the grand opening efforts with the U.S. debut of Urban Dream Capsule and continue to drive awareness and trial of Sears on State
- Improve brand preference for Sears
Sears planned and executed five weeks of grand opening events, including in-store promotions, broadcast remotes, celebrity appearances and the U.S. debut of internationally acclaimed “window theatre,” Urban Dream Capsule (UDC). UDC is a group of four Australian performing artists who lived in public view 24 hours a day for two weeks, (June 12-25, 2001), in the Sears on State storefront windows interacting with audiences in an around-the-clock performance. The Sears PR team built a team of integrated marketing specialists consisting of Community Relations, Event Marketing/Sales Promotion, Multicultural Marketing and Media Services to leverage the store’s grand opening efforts.
Public relations activities were strategically designed to generate awareness for Sears return to State Street and to establish Sears as a major retail player in downtown Chicago. To achieve the objectives, the Sears PR team developed a myriad of integrated and stand-alone public relations activities. Strategies included:
- Nationally announced the U.S. debut of Urban Dream Capsule through aggressive media relations
- Creating unique in-store promotions and events to generate local and national awareness to highlight grand opening and to drive store traffic
- Leveraging existing relationships with city of Chicago to make press announcements with mayoral support and to maximize celebrity relationships to create buzz and drive store traffic
February, 2001: Sears announced the May 23, 2001, grand opening date for the store and began reviewing editorial calendars for national and local print opportunities. The Sears PR team began media outreach efforts with key Chicago media outlets by positioning Sears executives as spokespeople to discuss corporate strategy and the launch of the advertising campaign, to generate coverage for the new store.
March, 2001: Sears and the city of Chicago, along with Mayor Richard M. Daley, participated in a press conference to announce the U.S. debut of Urban Dream Capsule at Sears on State. The Sears PR team provided media with b-roll footage of the performers, a 3-D model of the Sears storefront living quarters, press kits, and the option to interview the Manager (in attendance from Australia) to help generate pre-event publicity. Twenty members of the media attended and generated coverage on all Chicago news stations and in approx. 20 newspapers. Upon conclusion of the press conference, we began media outreach efforts to key long-lead and national media outlets, targeting travel, entertainment and arts media.
Sears worked with Hispanic student artists from Chicago’s School of the Art Institute to unveil artistic murals, which decorated the construction site and showcased Sears broad product assortment. (Note: Sears is the only retailer offering tools, electronics and appliances within a 10-mile radius). The event was covered by FOX Chicago and local Hispanic media (print and broadcast).
April, 2001: Offered key broadcast and print media “hard hat tours” prior to the grand opening and opportunity to interview Dave Johnson, Sears store general manger and spokesperson. The hard hat tours were attended by 50 members of the media and generated coverage on all Chicago news stations and in approximately 10 print publications.
Worked with city of Chicago to announce Sears on State Downtown Neighborhood Campaign, a two-year cultural enrichment program, benefiting the newest neighborhood where Sears does business. Sears pledged a $1 million commitment to Chicago’s Loop and exceeded its goal by raising additional funds through the Gala. The campaign was covered locally in the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune and in other Chicago weeklies. Sears PR Team continues to work with the city of Chicago to stage on-going events to highlight this campaign.
May, 2001: Generated awareness amongst Chicago cab drivers for Sears new location and convenient merchandise pick-up area through “Sears on State Cabbie Day.” The event highlighted the convenient drive-through for cabbies/customers in the new urban setting. Event was attended by more than 500 Chicago cabbies and covered on two Chicago news stations and in two print publications.
Hosted an in-store fundraising Gala raising more than $2.0 million benefiting the Sears on State Downtown Neighborhood Campaign to benefit Chicago’s Loop. Singer/Songwriter Brian McKnight entertained more than 1,500 guests and was a news hook for the event. Event was attended by more than 30 members of the media, was covered on two Chicago news stations, in all major Chicago dailies, weeklies, society press and key African-American publications (JET Magazine, Ebony and The Defender).
Worked with Chicago radio stations to schedule radio remotes with top radio personalities to cover the grand opening, celebrity appearances and in-store promotions. Scheduled early morning TV remotes for opening week with Chicago news stations, focusing on different and unique aspects of the store (i.e. multicultural products, unique merchandise and services).
Staged a creative and visually entertaining grand-opening ribbon-cutting ceremony with Mayor Richard M. Daley, Sears Chairman and CEO Alan J. Lacy, former heavyweight champion George Foreman, home improvement guru Bob Vila, blues legend Buddy Guy and Sears store general manager Dave Johnson. Pitched all celebrities and spokespeople to the media to conduct TV remotes and interviews throughout the day. Event was attended by more than 50,000 customers and 50 members of the media. Local grand opening resulted in nationwide broadcast coverage in major media markets, including: Chicago, Kansas City, San Francisco, Boston, Raleigh/Durham, Orlando, Baltimore, New Orleans, Sacramento, Cincinnati and Charlotte. Key print placements included: USA Today, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, New York Times, Arizona Republic and San Francisco Chronicle.
June, 2001: Secured high-profile national broadcast outlets (The Today Show, CNN, The Early Show) to cover Urban Dream Capsule (Today Show segment was approximately seven minutes).
Staged creative entrance/exit ceremonies for members of Urban Dream Capsule and provided media with interview opportunities and advance tours of their living arrangements.
Pursued and generated daily media coverage (broadcast, print, wire) for their around-the-clock two-week performance at Sears on State.
Evaluation of Success:
The public relations activities executed to support Sears on State store grand opening exceeded all objectives and expectations.
Sears conducted measurement studies with Brand Keys and Delahaye MediaLink to measure the effects of a new Sears store opening in Chicago and its impact on brand equity and sales.
According to Brand Keys research, TV or radio news stories (45%) and newspaper articles (40%) were the leading sources of consumer awareness for the store opening. Advertising was a source of awareness for less than 10% of aware respondents.
The activities surrounding the store opening increased awareness scores for Sears by 8% among moderate customers, 9% among our best customers and an incredible 17% among non-customers.
Because awareness is only a precursor to preference and purchase, we also measured the increase in brand preference for Sears, and correlated that with sales revenue for the opening weeks. The brand multiple (defined as the increase in brand equity after the program, divided by the current brand equity) increased by nearly 12% among our best customers, nearly 8% among moderate customers and nearly 7% among non-customers. Any increase in brand multiple is considered to be successful and the 7-12% increases generated from this program are extremely high scores.
Sales revenue for the new store opening is confidential; however, the opening sales results significantly exceeded our projections.
Public Relations efforts generated more than 500 media placements (print and broadcast) and more than 115 million in circulation concentrated over a three-week period. Urban Dream Capsule created a presence for Sears with high profile media placements, including: The Today Show, CNN, The Early Show, Reuters, New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post and The Chicago Tribune
Broadcast placements accounted for approximately four hours of television airtime and Urban Dream Capsule and Sears on State were featured in seven of the top 10 newspapers and covered twice in USA Today. Media Coverage produced an estimated advertising value of more than $1.8 million.
According to the tourism office, more than 250,000 Chicagoans/tourists turned out to see the Urban Dream Capsule performers at Sears.