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Staying One Step Ahead

By Jorge Casuso

July 21, 2009 -- Two decades after a struggling Downtown strip was transformed into the Third Street Promenade, Bayside District officials are polishing up the streets and giving Downtown Santa Monica’s image a major makeover.

Using a $400,000 marketing budget under the new Property Based Assessment District, Bayside officials are cashing in on the latest marketing strategies and technologies to keep visitors coming and reach out to new markets, including tourists.

“We’re looking to expand our marketing presence,” said Debbie Lee, Bayside’s director of marketing. “We don’t want to get lost in the mix. Part of what keeps Santa Monica vibrant is keeping one step ahead.”

To help plot and carry out the new marketing strategy, the Bayside District has hired Ballantines PR, a boutique public relations agency based in Los Angeles whose clients include the City of Santa Fe, Revlon and 20th Century Fox.

“We’re putting a face behind the Bayside District Corporation and the area,” said Erika Maya, Ballantines’ account director. “There’s going to be a distinctive voice.

“It could be as simple as promoting a business or promoting the peaches that just hit the farmers’ market. Downtown Santa Monica has so many amazing things going on, we’re helping to get the word out.”

To generate buzz about the spruced-up Downtown, Ballantines will tap into the growing social networking community. Bayside District’s new homepage will feature buttons for Twitter and Facebook.

“We’re going to be highlighting events and giving people an opportunity to ask questions,” Maya said. “There will be a particular person responding. Some people (from the public) that know the area may jump in.

“It’s a community outlet,” she said. “It’s a great resource.”
Ballantines also will turn to more traditional marketing methods, such as staging events and press conferences that draw attention to the area and sending out press releases.

“There’s a lot of untold stories, and we really want to get them out there,” Maya said. “We’re also going to streamline the media inquiries.”

Before hammering out a marketing strategy, Bayside officials will embark on marketing research that will result in a “brand redevelopment” for the area, Lee said.

“We really want to understand what the current perception is of the Downtown and the Promenade from the public,” Lee said. “We’ll be able to base our strategy on information from people who come here and people who don’t. We need to identify the major concerns so that we can address them.”

The information will be gathered from Bayside’s regular triennial studies that will include key input from stakeholders and information gathered during an open public process.

“It’s really the foundation of everything else that has to come,” Lee said. “It’s important for us to strategize after we know where we are in the marketplace.

“It gives us direction and a root to come back to,” she said. “What do we have that makes us unique and distinct?”

That’s likely the crucial question as the Downtown and its popular Third Street Promenade face increasing competition from neighboring venues. During the past few years, Culver City has emerged as a trendy destination that offers a varied menu of restaurants and new movie theaters.

The Grove and the Westside Pavilion also offer state-of-the-art theaters and plenty of shops, while the Howard Hughes Center features plush movie houses with giant screens.

The time is ripe to revisit Downtown’s image. Lee notes that Santa Monica Place is scheduled to reopen its doors in August 2010 after a major makeover that will feature an outdoor center court and a food court on the top level facing the Pacific.

The Downtown also has upgraded three of its public parking structures and will replace the smallest three structures. One of them may include a state-of-the-art movie theater.

To keep Downtown Santa Monica top of mind, Bayside officials, with the help of Ballantines, will showcase existing offerings, such as Winterlit and the outdoor skating rink that will return this holiday season.

The Bayside also will aggressively go after the tourism market, partnering with the Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau and its Los Angeles counterpart, LA Inc., Lee said.

“One of the things the Third Street Promenade needs is a fresh angle,” Lee said. “Now is the greatest time to do it.”




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