Block Thirty Seven Turns a Corner


The building at the corner of State and Washington in Chicago is cursed. Or so the media and Windy City residents have long thought until in 2014, the shopping center, named Block 37, “turned a corner.” The past paints a tumultuous picture. Owners have come and gone to reinvent the space and turn this “doomed location” into something Chicagoans, tourists, downtown workers and residents, alike, could enjoy. With developers settling on a retail property, development began in 2005 on the space, but the curse proved hard to overcome. Not only was Block 37 in a competitive landscape with other high-profile centers a short trip away, but it faced low occupancy rates, management issues and the increasing influence of online shopping.   Block 37 has been one of the most notorious developments in Chicago. It has been called “cursed” and “a boondoggle,” After years of negative press, Block 37’s team engaged Zapwater Communications in late 2013 to help garner positive press, develop engaging community events, build a reliable social media base, and create a new brand image, so that ultimately the team would help increase occupancy and foot traffic.


In order to promote a cohesive message about Block 37 and support the overarching theme, Zapwater employed a surround sound approach including: Media Relations: The main media objective for 2014 was to create and support a positive reputation around Block 37. The team got to work focusing on positive press announcements for the center – new lease signings, engaging events/promotions, local partnerships and more – that allowed Zapwater to highlight key messages. To date, there have been 71 media placements as a direct result of Zapwater’s pitching and traditional media relations efforts from January 2014 to December 2014. Search for the Next Great Pop-Up: To make a huge splash on the local media scene, Zapwater launched a contest – Search for the Next Great Pop-Up – a call-to-action for local designers to submit an application to win two months free rent and a pop-up space at Block 37 for peak shopping season – the holidays. The local community and media outlets immediately gravitated toward the contest, promoting Block 37’s commitment to the local business and arts community. As part of the announcement, Zapwater secured a two-page exclusive with the Chicago Tribune on the winning company, Milk Handmade. This placement alone generated about 1 million media impressions for the print piece and 5.2 million media impressions online. Social Media: Prior to being engaged, Block 37’s social channels were stark in terms of content giving Zapwater an opportunity to build an identity from the ground up across the three primary channels – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Zapwater immediately put together a plan allowing engagement with fans and an opportunity to share timely updates, using daily posts, contests, and promotional content to support the overall brand campaign. As a result, Zapwater increased Block 37’s social channels by almost 100 percent within the past year. Social listening reports also indicate that for the majority of 2014, Block 37 held the top spot for social conversations among competitors, only falling to the second place spot but never lower out of four shopping centers.


Through traditional media efforts, Zapwater secured a total of 71 media placements that resulted in about 17.1 million media impressions equaling an advertising value of about $4 million. The CPM for the year is $4.89 (the estimated total cost per each 1,000 impressions with the industry average ranging between $8 to $10). This campaign proved to be a turning point for the center with the Chicago Tribune reporting that, “Long-beleaguered Block 37, which since its opening five years ago has had high vacancy rates on its upper floors, has turned a corner recently.”