The ICSC Blog

Kerry Cavanaugh applies lessons learned in the consumer-goods marketing business to shopping centers

By Jesse Serwer

Divergent as consumer-goods and retail real estate businesses may be, Kerry Cavanaugh sees parallels between them. “Consumer products [is] focused on improving consumers’ lives. Commercial retail centers are really big consumer products,” Cavanaugh said. “For the consumer to spend money there and come out of her way to spend time at the center, there has to be something about the experience that speaks to her.”

Cavanaugh, Edens & Avant’s new vice president of marketing, once oversaw innovation strategy and product design for Procter & Gamble’s $1.2 billion cosmetics business. From the perspective of Edens & Avant, which owns 124 retail properties primarily on the East Coast, landing someone with such marketing experience at a major global firm was quite the coup.

“With Kerry’s vast experience in managing some of the world’s best-known brands, as well as his passion for innovation and new technology, he will lead our marketing efforts in a bold new direction,” said Jodie W. McLean, the firm’s president.

Cavanaugh seems to be equal parts quick study and multitasker. He has had to assume his new responsibilities even while pursuing an MBA at the Wharton School. And his very first day on the job was at this year’s RECon meeting, in May. Outside of the interview process, it was the first time Cavanaugh had even met anyone at the firm. “It was definitely baptism by fire,” Cavanaugh said. “But that was a great experience. It was amazing just to see the industry in its full, on day one.”

Cavanaugh had worked at Procter & Gamble for his entire 10-year career before joining Edens & Avant. He spent two years at Procter & Gamble’s Cincinnati headquarters straight out of Notre Dame, where he majored in chemical engineering. He says he lucked his way into that first job. “I was trying to get a job in Chicago and I needed interview practice,” Cavanaugh said. “I went down to the college career center, and Procter & Gamble was the only company accepting my major. I didn’t even look at what the job was, but I dropped off the résumé and ended up getting a job offer.”

Cavanaugh was brand manager for some of the company’s top cosmetics lines, including Max Factor and Covergirl. The switch from a global company with 100,000 employees — and glamorous spokesmodels like Rihanna and Taylor Swift — to one with fewer than 300 on staff might seem to be an unusual career move. But Cavanaugh sees it as an opportunity to confront even bigger challenges than he had faced at the larger company.
“It is an opportunity to learn and to bring the marketing information I learned at a Fortune 500 company into an organization that is on the upward trajectory,” Cavanaugh said. “There is such a range of marketing in retail properties — you have corporate, retailing, consumer, internal. It is a much broader role in scope than at Procter & Gamble, where it was more or less just focused on the consumer.”

Since joining Edens & Avant, Cavanaugh has been concentrating on Edens & Avant’s social-media presence. “We have 57 properties that have a Facebook and Twitter page, out of 125 properties total — that is up from three and zero, respectively, a little more than a year ago,” he said. But to truly engage shoppers, a social-media platform must foster a sense of community between the shopper and the shopping center, Cavanaugh says.

“The community managers we use to lead our social-media sites are based in the regions they support — we are making sure we have people who can connect with people in those communities,” he said. “That involves making phone calls, getting on properties and really talking with tenants about what are they excited about sharing and what we can do to promote their interests.”

From the November 2011 issue of Shopping Centers Today.

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