Keeping the hype percolating amid COVID

In what will be a regular feature, we are talking to small-business marketing experts about the most challenging campaigns they have taken on, and how they overcame the challenges to get business rolling in for their clients. First up is Brisbane-based marketer Katie Martel, who was tasked with generating interest in a new hospitality precinct – during a global pandemic!

Craft’d Grounds is a one-of-a-kind dining and lifestyle precinct coming to life in Brisbane, celebrating some of the best Australian artisan tenants in craft brewing, coffee roasting, humble food and dining, and fitness.

Hidden discreetly within one of the city’s fastest-changing inner-northern suburbs, Albion, Craft’d Grounds aims to define a new benchmark for retail and hospitality. Co-founded by Marketplace Developments director James Rennell and designed in collaboration with Conrad Gargett, the buildings are an eclectic mix of refurbished industrial and commercial warehouses, including a 100-year-old timber mill.

Katie Martel of Croft PR was brought on board in March 2021 to work alongside fellow boutique marketing strategists Votive Brands and Full Stop Social Media, to help bring awareness and drive hype for Craft’d Grounds in the lead up to an opening that was initially slated for May 2021, and to develop and promote the brand’s positioning as “Made for Brisbane”.

“Our role was to collectively champion the precinct as a place that embraces our desire for real experiences – the honesty of meeting and being educated by the very people who produce and sell their products – and its intentional, humble approach to retail,” Katie explains.

“Don’t underestimate the power of storytelling – sharing the detail, the bigger mission and greater purpose of why you’re doing what you’re doing with your brand.”

However, like most other construction projects in 2021, the opening date became a moving timeline due to construction and licensing approval delays. This meant the precinct only opened in November. The tenants who signed up to inhabit Craft’d Grounds have also had varying opening timelines, with some pushed out until early 2022.

“We’ve also faced ongoing concerns about holding a major launch when there are so many unknowns about holding such an event during pandemic times,” Katie says. “So, while the plan was always to host a large-scale community event to celebrate the opening, this has not [yet] been able to happen, and we’ve had to seek a different approach.”

A ‘soft launch’

To keep the interest and momentum alive in the lead-up to what was an unknown and moving opening date, Katie planned a series of announcements about the project and some of the independent artisan tenants every few months.

This rolled out via PR, social, visual, and digital content to champion the “Made for Brisbane” positioning, build a social and email following, and ensure the community would be ready to walk through the doors when the precinct opened.

The first announcement, in March, involved co-ordinating a walk-through of the construction site and an embargoed media and local government stakeholder announcement. This meant a media release that included quotes from the Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Cr Adrian Schrinner, to build credibility about the importance of the precinct for tourism and community. Katie invited local state and federal MPs and councillors to attend and provide interviews for the media. The event featured across outlets like Ten News Brisbane, The Courier Mail, and street and lifestyle press.

Two months later, the first tenant, Brewtide – an independent, family-owned timber-lined 500sqm craft-beer brewery, bar, and cellar – was announced. This was followed a few months later by the announcement that Seven Miles, an artisan coffee roaster, would create its new, immersive roastery, café and flagship Queensland headquarters at Craft’d Grounds.

In November 2021, both Seven Miles and Brewtide opened.

“Our strategy was to open with a ‘soft launch’ approach,” Katie explains. “We took a quieter approach on our PR and socials to ensure we didn’t experience a flood of customers, to prevent major issues while in the opening phase, with construction ongoing.”

Social to the fore

Craft’d Grounds’ social-media channels – Facebook and Instagram – have been integral in building and connecting with the precinct’s ever-growing community. Croft PR’s social partners, Full Stop, have helped with sharing the story of the precinct and its tenants being “Made for Brisbane”, focusing on the message that “good things take time” to address the opening delays. Content has been championed via reels, posts, engaging stories, polls, and sharing media coverage.

Votive has led the brand strategy, design, and production behind the carefully curated visual assets in line with the “Made for Brisbane” concept.

“This has included a ‘coming soon’ brand video, image library, logo, fonts and colours, website, and social tiles, ensuring every social and digital touchpoint of the brand shares the inviting, humble, and artisan mood and experience,” Katie says. “Over time, we’ll work to drive even more engagement, via retailer and whole-precinct activations and competitions.”

Social followers continue to grow. Craft’d’s social channels have gained 3500+ followers via Facebook and Instagram, and total impressions of 181,000 to date.

Worth the wait

Despite the six-month delay in opening, the overall campaign has reached over 13 million across more than 34 media stories. In addition to coverage by Channel Ten News and The Courier Mail, that includes stories by Broadsheet, Queensland Homes, ABC Radio Afternoons and Delicious.

“To date, 100 per cent of our unpaid media coverage has been positive,” Katie enthuses. Reaction includes this excerpt from The Weekend Edition: “Albion’s dining and lifestyle precinct Craft’d Grounds has been touted as a year-defining arrival for Brisbane’s hospitality scene. Our excitement levels have grown with every drip-fed announcement of Craft’d Grounds’ residents.”

Locals are onboard, too. “Take your time, there’s no rush, it will all be worth it. We thank you in advance for investing and creating a space for our beautiful community,” is just one example of feedback.

The team has benefitted from the support of Lord Mayor Schrinner, Queensland Tourism Minister Stirling Hinchliffe, and the federal, state, and local members. “We managed to become the first small-scale precinct to obtain a whole-of-precinct liquor licence in Queensland since 2009, a testament to the impact this precinct will have for tourism in Queensland,” Katie says.

The marketers appreciate the community’s understanding of the disruptions to opening, and are proud that their ‘drip-feeding’ approach has gradually built hype for the precinct’s aim to deepen appreciation of handmade, boutique artisans and build a sense of community.

The key take-outs

On the subject of what Katie has learned from her experience with a campaign that has faced issues way beyond the team’s control, she says success comes from being honest with your community and embracing the gift of added time to evolve your strategy.

“Don’t underestimate the power of storytelling – sharing the detail, the bigger mission and greater purpose of why you’re doing what you’re doing with your brand,” she avers. “We connect on a much deeper level when we know the people and the ‘art’ that have gone into bringing a brand to life. So, the more you can share this, especially with media or key influencers who appreciate what you’re doing, the more you build hype and understanding when things don’t always go to plan.”

This article first appeared in issue 35 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine