How on earth are you supposed to function in the party and entertainment space when people can’t gather, let alone build engaging experiences and spread joy? That’s exactly the dilemma Julie Roehm faced in 2020 as she took on the Chief Marketing and Experience Officer role at Party City.
In a conversation with Shareablee’s CEO Tania Yuki, Roehm told us about her approach to enacting Party City’s mission: “Make Joy Easy.”
As Roehm puts it, “‘party’ and ‘pandemic’ are not synonymous.” With the decrease in options for gathering in person came a decrease in the need for party supplies and an increase in the need for Roehm and her team to get creative in their marketing efforts. Roehm explained that with all the challenges and loss that customers were facing, there was also an increase in the need for joy. “People needed it, even though they couldn't experience it in the same way that they traditionally had.”
With all of these factors at play, the Party City leadership team shifted their focus “from being just the provider of party goods to being the provider of the entire party experience.” Beyond the measures that most retail stores were taking like curbside pickup, Party City started delivering balloons, facilitating virtual parties, and selling themed celebration kits for events like graduations. They combined the kits with instructional videos, influencer campaigns, and other inspirational content to make celebrations easy for customers. “We are really proud to be part of these really memorable moments for people and that's what keeps us going,” Roehm said.
Roehm also told us that when budgets were tight in the start of the pandemic, she doubled down on affordable options like user generated content and content marketing. She focused on answering the questions so many people had with how-tos on subjects like virtual birthday parties and summer fun itineraries for parents who were not able to send their children to summer camps. As Roehm describes the inspiration behind these efforts: “we again felt that obligation as the celebration experts to lean in and help people find joy, even when they were really stressed. That's how we doubled down on our strategy, and we just tried to do it in more scrappy ways.”
Party City truly did lean into the situation instead of ignoring it, and Roehm says their goal was to do so responsibly. Focusing on smaller sets for 8-10 people rather than the traditional 50-100, focusing on kits for virtual and distanced events, and advocating for safe celebrations allowed them to avoid the backlash that could have come with being a part of super-spreader events. “We felt as long as we were being transparent and honest, and people could see our motivation for what we were doing and how we were doing it, that we would be okay, and we were,” Roehm said.
What comes now, as public health restrictions begin to ease? Roehm says her focus is still on encouraging safe gatherings while catering to the new energy for “pent-up parties” and the excitement about being able to be together with loved ones in person again. “It's a very real thing for people to know that every moment is precious and we want to be able to help people make them memorable. It doesn't have to be a milestone marker, it doesn't have to be the anniversary or birthday or the wedding or the baby shower, it can literally be just sending somebody a balloon to let them know you're thinking of them. It can be getting the girls together for drinks, and making it themed, and memorable. The everyday celebration is really where we as a company are trying to focus more of our energy.” Roehm hopes that those everyday celebrations continue even after the pandemic, and that people hold onto the appreciation for the little things “not just for the benefit of the company, but because I think it's great for the human spirit.”.
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