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Mid summer madness?

25/06/2014 14:12 BST | Updated 24/08/2014 10:59 BST

Twelve months ago, I read the Midsummer Retail Report issued by Colliers International with interest. Always insightful, it is a well-respected and keenly anticipated analysis of the UK retail marketplace - a good barometer of the 'here and now'.

I made contact with Colliers' Tom Cullen and we exchanged a variety of ideas around the changing face of UK retail - not least of all based on my involvement with shopping centres and, increasingly, engagement with town and city centres.

A year down the line, the 2014 Midsummer Report is being presented by Colliers on a UK roadshow - starting in London and then 'on tour' in Bristol, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.

The gist of the 2013 report highlighted that the High Street is not dead and that signs of life could be seen. That was music to my ears. As someone who has worked in and around the UK's retail industry for a quarter of a century, the doom and gloom mongers were wallowing in tales of towns and cities killed off by the internet.

And so a conversation began ...

The work I'd undertaken had already considered how an integrated communication approach could benefit shopping destinations. The trials from 2011 resulted in the launch of Mall-to-Mobile - a service dovetailing digital, social media and PR, 365 days of the year.

Shopping centres started waking up - slowly - to the fact that they could save time, money and resource - and improve their day-to-day engagement with shoppers and their own retailers. Three years down the line, M2M is now deployed in centres owned by more than 10 shopping centre portfolios - and the service is being considered by centres outside the UK for the first time.

The success of M2M led me to look at the day-to-day engagement in and around town and city centres. The Portas Pilot debacle shone a very large spotlight on the fact that - for all the window-dressing, paint jobs and undeniable goodwill - once the TV cameras left town, there really was just stony ground. The key element lacking was integrated communication - to link destinations, retailers and the end customer.

M2M was amended to be more community focused - and re-badged as SOCIALiSTREET. In 2013, shortly after Colliers' report was published, Perth became the first city to buy in to the concept.

Their pilot proved very successful against every measurable indicator - and the momentum gathered pace. The very idea that a destination can have daily digital, social and PR delivery has been groundbreaking. More towns, cities and BIDs will follow. And so did Colliers. And Park Street in Bristol was chosen. The plan was simple: to run a pilot whereby a Colliers' sponsored team would gather content from the Park Street businesses - and then disseminate through digital, social ad PR channels ... day by day.

The pilot would benefit those businesses on the street, better engage with an audience who associated themselves with the street - and also raise the profile of Colliers in a relevant retail environment.

The success is not 'over night', but after just three months, the benefits are being seen on all fronts. Social media numbers - likes and followers - now top 1,000, and the level of shared content has increased to more than 300 items in the last four week period. The audience-reach of that activity - all geared to promoting Park Street and its community - has exceeded 300,000 in the same period. Colliers are in the afterglow, and the service has been able to talk up their office's services and activities to a brand new audience.

Many high streets look for others to help them: town and city councils, town and city centre management teams as well as Business Improvement Districts. What Colliers Retail team has done is to show the industry that the services once seen solely as the domain of those 'managing' destinations can be shaken up and considered in a new way.

Whether Colliers commit to consolidating the project, time will tell. It is revolutionary, and as with all revolutions, there will be those battling for the old guard.

What is clear, on the eve of their Midsummer Report, is that in Bristol at least, businesses that have no affiliation with Colliers have benefited from the foresight of a few open-minded folk. That should be applauded - and may well change the way commercial property companies engage with their markets in the future.

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