Inside Westfield’s mission to ‘redefine the mall as a media owner’

Owner of Westfield Shopping Centres, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW), currently has 1,700 digital billboards and 230 branded experience locations – it now has a two-year transformation plan to become a media powerhouse.

The firm hired Caroline Puechoultres to lead the project. She joined as Chief Customer Officer and member of the Executive Board in July 2021 after a two-year stint as Executive Director of Sales and Strategy for Carrefour Market, with big ambitions to double brand partnership revenue in ‘URW by 2024.

Lady Gaga launches Love for Sale at Westfield Netherlands

Puechoultres spoke to The Drum a year into the role to outline her transformation strategy.

Become a “powerful media owner”

“We want to position ourselves not just as a shopping and entertainment destination, but to be a powerful active media owner, redefining the mall as a media owner,” says Puechoultres. “We want to move from an opportunistic business to a strategic business and to make our commercial partnerships in a more professional way.”

The URW group was formed in 2018 after the Westfield outlets were contributed by a French real estate company. URW is the largest commercial real estate company in Europe and has 87 shopping centers worldwide.

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To execute its plans, URW set up a European business unit called Westfield Rise, which stands for “reinventing the immersive shopping experience”. The unit will house more than 100 employees who will be responsible for selling media, activations and experiences to brands.

The change in strategy follows in the footsteps of retailers such as Amazon, Walmart and Tesco, which have already made the transition to media owners. Speaking of these retailers, Puechoultres says “this is exactly where we want to be”. She believes the changes URW is making will inspire other shopping center chains to adopt her approach to help grow their businesses.

Go big on experience

URW built its media strategy around a monstrous study polling 15,000 customers in eight markets. Puechoultres had two key learnings; the first is that people are hungry for sustainable consumption, waiting for commercial brands to help them change their behavior; and the second is that Covid-19 has made people hungry for human connections – and that means experiential services.

According to Puechoultres, retailers are reducing the number of physical stores but increasing their footprint in URW stores. “They want fewer stores but better performing stores, bigger stores with more retail entertainment,” she says.

Leisure now accounts for approximately 25% of Westfield’s makeup and will increase each year. “We know people are looking for more experience and less consumption – they want to keep buying but buy differently and they want an experience,” says Puechoultres. “We act like an amusement park like Disney, but you don’t have to pay to enter, you don’t have to buy anything, you can just have water and watch.”

Westfield London, for example, is full of activation spaces from an AstroTurf terrace currently hosting a Wimbledon Experience, entrance takeovers occupied by Minions: The Rise of Gru promotions, and pop-up store spaces in which the Williams F1 team settled.

Vodafone Wimbledon

Peroni Nastro Azzuro 0% had the most striking takeover at Westfield London to promote its sponsorship of the Aston Martin Cognizant F1 team. Peroni implemented an F1 garage that customers could play in, distributed Peroni Nastro Azzuro 0% for free, and executed an out-of-home (OOH) and digital out-of-home (DOOH) takeover campaign throughout the center.

Global measurement tool

To gain credibility as a media owner, URW must prove to advertisers that its sites are generating impressions and ROI. To address this need, URW has developed a new measurement tool that provides end-to-end GDPR-compliant visibility showing each customer’s journey through its stores.

One year into a two-year build, URW plans its “one platform, one audience, one inventory” approach to bringing together both online and offline. The technology will show brands how customers respond to different types of mall advertising and shopping behavior.

“We will be able to close the loop, which means that from the advertising that we run in our mall, we will be able to get the measurement of the journey to the store,” says Puechoultres. It is also looking to shift the business from “selling panels to selling audiences”, but assures that this will come when its partners have proof that the data has been qualified.

With its own first-party data, URW hopes to meet the needs of brands in a cookie-free world. “People visit our stores with the intent to buy, so they’re at the lower end of the funnel,” she says.

From local to global

A key part of Puechoultres’ strategy is to unify URW’s 85 shopping centers in 12 countries under one Westfield brand. “It’s a big shift we’re making, going from local to international,” she says.

Westfield enjoys a strong reputation in the UK and US, where the centers have a long history, but in mainland Europe many of its sites have recently been acquired and renamed Westfield. To lay the foundation for a unified Westfield brand, URW is merging 55 local websites into one global online platform.

URW also wants to position itself as a “laboratory” allowing advertisers to test campaigns and ROI at the local level before running a global campaign. Puechoultres referenced a recent Nike campaign that tested seven advertisements on customers of a French Westfield site. When she got results on the ad that produced the highest in-store lift, she then informed her overall strategy.

“For us, this really demonstrates the power of the platform – it’s not just a local mall but it’s a mall platform that can be used to launch products, music, movies,” says Puechoultres.

Puechoultres says the crowning achievement of this strategy was a Lady Gaga concert hosted by Westfield Netherlands, which was broadcast live to all Westfield locations and watched by 1.6 million people.

Edwin S. Wolfe