On paper, Stéphanie Herrmann has been Director of Editorial Communication at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield since June 2018, but in practice, this smiling and spontaneous 38-year-old woman is responsible for corporate communication at Unibail-Rodamco. -Westfield, the world's leading brand of shopping centers. This polyglot (4 languages) builds the editorial strategy of a group present in 12 countries and 2 continents, creates and manages all communication tools and channels, and ensures visual identity. She also manages crisis communication and the network of around twenty correspondents abroad. Graduated from a master's degree in Business School from Lyon, Stéphanie spent part of her career in consulting: Havas Paris, in 2009, on employer brand issues, then the management consulting firm Bain & Company as head of communication and marketing in 2013. Before that, her first position was in London, at TUI Group, world number 1 in the tourism sector, where she was responsible for internal and external communication.
The crisis has made utility and raison d'être a priority for businesses. What's yours? And why does her expression make sense today more than yesterday?
The crisis has changed the consumer who no longer wants bullshit but it is also changing the business, which can no longer sell useless things and must go back to basics. Rethink its fundamentals, be more authentic and transparent, remain credible ... The company can no longer communicate without proof when the company as a whole needs its contribution. “Reinvent being together” or “reinventing living together”; our raison d'être was there long before this crisis, which gave it a special resonance. Safety, hygiene, signage, flow… everything had to continue to function in the best conditions so that essential businesses remain open. In addition to the continuity of service, there is this role of a social link that never ceases to amaze me. We do not know enough, but our shopping centers are meeting places, places integrated into the living areas as we say today. In the midst of the crisis, they created new services and implemented initiatives to maintain ties with consumer-citizens and make their contribution. Online cooking classes in Austria, gardening competition, musical performance in the heart of Berlin for confined residents, common click and collect in shopping centers in the United States...
Your CSR dates from 2007. How do you judge the communication of companies and its evolution on these subjects?
The crisis has exposed priorities and shed light on corporate cultures. Some have focused internally such as Accor, others on societal contribution and finally others, have positioned themselves on value sharing. With us, it is the social bond that has prevailed ... with the branches of associations for victims of domestic violence, the delivery of meals to children or the provision of parking spaces for covid tests and caregivers; decisions that were often taken at the local level and sometimes by the centers themselves.
Will the blow-up of online shopping and virtual experiences change the economic model of commercial property companies like yours? Do physical stores still have a future?
E-commerce made great progress during the crisis, but as soon as stores reopened, customers returned. Man is a social animal, we must not forget that. At URW, we are convinced that the crisis is acting as an accelerator of transformation. That of commerce began a long time ago, to become omnichannel combining click and collect and the in-store experience. The Halo Effect, for example, finds that when a store opens, the brand's online sales increase in the same catchment area. Brands have also understood that consumers come looking for an experience that does not exist online so that historically digital brands are opening physical stores in our centers such as the Snapchat pop-up store, Amazon Books, the eyewear Warby Parker or Kylie Cosmetics.
The shopping center has become a symbol of overconsumption. How do you plan to adapt to more frugal aspirations?
People don't necessarily come to us to consume, they also come to spend time together. This is a long-standing observation that is transforming our sites. Our shopping centers host, for example, coworking spaces, fitness centers, spas, concerts, nurseries, gastronomy ... Look at the Montparnasse shopping center, Les Ateliers Gaïté, under renovation, it will host a library, a nursery and the largest food hall in Europe, a 4,000 m2 space to discover 30 French chefs. 70% of the space will be devoted to living together and to anything other than shopping as it is understood.
Falling attendance, store closings, unpaid or renegotiated rents, questioned office property, reduction in expenses… Unibail is probably experiencing the worst crisis in its history. What can communication do in this context?
I would say that communication accompanies the transition. Internal communication has become more intense and transparent, less formal and more direct. Communication with brands, themselves undergoing transformation - has taken on more space and importance. No more standardization, we adapt to the local craftsman and the international brand, whether to help them rethink the point of sale, the offers or post-crisis communication. External communication aims to reassure customers. Of course, not everyone has returned to stores, our traffic is 80% compared to what we saw last year at the same time, but the average basket is higher in France in particular.
How is the crisis transforming your communication strategy and actions?
Communication required more speed, responsiveness and a greater connection with the field. We put aside long-term projects such as brand architecture and changed the focus of the website, which from the general public becomes BtoB in the service of business. Budgets have been put on hold while waiting to see more clearly, such as conventions or trade shows. This crisis is a hangover for everyone. The communicators were all taken aback and did the best they could to get by. I don't think we've returned to normalcy anyway, because the post-crisis is still the crisis. Now, no one knows what will happen tomorrow and this is where the purpose of the company really comes into being. This is the only landmark we have left in a world where we live day to day.
Your 1st shopping center celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. TV advertising, billboards, flyers, are they not from another time?
Well no ! Because the local presence of our shopping centers requires us to be present in the urban landscape, we still use the metro, lollipops, 4X3s, the free press, the local press, all enhanced with digital advertising. From this point of view, the promotion, which has to reach out to people, has not changed much.
A new headquarters for summer 2021 at La Défense. Is it good or bad idea?
This is a timely project as we rethink the way we work. We can apply our raison d'être and adopt for ourselves our philosophy of "new art working" based on chance encounters between employees to encourage creativity. This is a huge and very stimulating communication project, which has already started with internal surveys of employee expectations. We are not only going to move into a tower that we have designed and imagined, but to get closer to our other assets at La Défense, les quatre-temps, the CNIT, the other towers ... It is an engaging and positive project that will allow us to radiate and develop the pride of belonging of the employees who will live there and of all the others.
The acquisition of Westfield gave birth to a new group. I was asked to establish benchmarks for a new corporate brand. How to present the group, how to talk about us, with what tone, what tools, how to express our values, lay the foundations for a CSR strategy ... It was an electric shock for a group that was only aimed at investors. I was won over by this blank page because you rarely have the opportunity to start from scratch. I was not disappointed, it is a demanding company, which imposes rigor and excellence but in return gives the means to make and fulfill its desires. Over time, the comm has matured, it has become BtoBtoC, better structured, centralized, harmonized and more important in the eyes of managers. The crisis is again folding the cards as we need to embark on a new normal. Not to mention that I still have a lot of battles to fight, like the name change, for which I do not despair of convincing the president.
You are a product of meritocracy and integration. France, how do you live it?
I was born in Ecuador where I lived for 18 years. I was fortunate enough to be able to study in France thanks to the obtaining of an excellence scholarship. I chose to do a preparatory class in Limoges because it was central and Paris was too big. I was the first stranger there and far from being a fracture for me, it was a dream come true. I have always been a Francophile, for the culture, the social model, the gastronomy… and then Paris, what a city! So yes, the French are complainers but it is also thanks to this character trait that they have made their beautiful country what it is. Here I live a dream every day. I know my enthusiasm can make you smile ... but I am a born optimist. In Latin America, we always think that tomorrow will be better than today.
The leading designer and global operator of shopping centers, the Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield group owns, develops, and operates a retail portfolio in European and American metropolises, including some of the largest shopping centers in the world and shopping centers located at the busiest airports in the United States (LA, Miami, NY, Chicago, etc.). The activities of the Group, lessor of commercial real estate, also include prestigious office buildings and major convention & exhibition centers in Paris and its region. Its 90 shopping centers present on 2 continents and in 12 countries (France, UK, Spain, Germany, Austria, Poland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Austria, USA) welcome some 1.2 billion visitors per year. The Group's portfolio, listed on the CAC40 in France, on AEX 25 in the Netherlands and ASX 100 in Australia, is valued at € 65.3 billion as of December 31, 2019. Chaired since 2013 by Christophe Cuvillier, Chairman of the Management Board, the Group has 3,600 employees.