Prettypersuasion: Mail Champlain’s Julie Gélinas

Julie Gélinas knows how to catch more flies with honey. The charming marketing and communications director for Brossard, Que.'s Mail Champlain doesn't have a big budget, but she more than makes up for it by tapping into her impressive network of industry contacts.

Julie Gélinas knows how to catch more flies with honey. The charming marketing and communications director for Brossard, Que.’s Mail Champlain doesn’t have a big budget, but she more than makes up for it by tapping into her impressive network of industry contacts.

‘I’ve learned not to be afraid to ask favours. And to return them, of course,’ Gélinas says. ‘[The marketing industry] is a small village. I’ve learned that if you’re nice, it’s worth it.’

Being nice (and persuasive) has helped Gélinas score impressive coups over the seven years she’s been at the 150-merchant suburban shopping mall. Most recently, she talked H&M not only into setting up shop there, despite the area not meeting the chain’s typical market demo specs, but also to let her use its logo in a co-branding campaign – something the retailer has a policy against. Even when H&M first said no, Gélinas wasn’t deterred. ‘I convinced my superiors to work on a [co-branding] project anyway,’ she recalls. ‘We presented it, and the woman from H&M Canada said ‘Sweden will say no.’ I kept pushing.’ Her tenacity paid off, because the head office okayed the simple billboard that melded H&M’s logo into Mail Champlain’s.

H&M opened on Oct. 5, and Gélinas coaxed the retailer into doing a special pre-opening sale the day before for Mail Champlain clients, partners and local celebrities like the cast of the TV show Virginie to build extra buzz.

Gélinas owes her strong communications skills to her PR background – she holds a PR degree from Université de Montréal, and began her career at Cossette’s Optimum PR. Her ability to get messaging out is clear in her mall employee newsletter, which won a Summit Creative Award in 2002. Gélinas knew she’d have to do something different to get the over 2,000 mall employees excited about her promos. So she packaged the newsletter, which she writes herself, like a mini-Cosmopolitan, complete with fashion tips and contests. ‘It took me a lot of time to put it together, but it gave instant results,’ she explains. ‘After the first issue, people called me to ask when the next issue would be out.’

Last February, Gélinas launched a school break promotion to increase family traffic in the mall. She didn’t have enough money to do it alone, so she convinced Le Lait marketing director and longtime mentor Nicole Dubé to sign on as a sponsor. ‘[Gélinas] said: ‘I have the location, I have the people. You bring the money,” says Dubé. Despite her successful pitch, Gélinas was still nervous. ‘There was a lot of pressure. Nicole said: ‘I need results – I don’t want to be accused of favouritism,” recalls Gélinas. She didn’t need to worry – the promo was a big success. Mall traffic was up 18%, and over 90% of visitors surveyed said they’d return for a similar event. Retail sales were up 8%, and food court sales up 13%. Dubé wasn’t disappointed. ‘It was very, very successful,’ she says.

Gélinas first met Dubé in 1992, when she handled PR and admin at the Publicité Club de Montréal while Dubé was president. ‘I recognized her talent right away,’ recalls Dubé. ‘After just a month at the club, she knew everything. She was always suggesting new things, and saying: ‘Why aren’t we doing this?” Gélinas jumped at the opportunity to learn from the seasoned marketer. ‘I really learn by surrounding myself with mentors – I truly want to learn as much as I can.’

Gélinas is currently gearing up for the busy Christmas season. For the fourth year now, entertainers from the children’s TV program Cornemuse will perform an exclusive show in conjunction with Santa’s big entrance. Landing Cornemuse in 2003 was another big score for the mall, engineered by Gélinas. ‘I was tired of the same [Christmas promos]. I wanted them in. Everybody said: ‘You’ll never get them,” she says. But get them she did. The show lures an average of 5,000 people to the mall, and consistently makes Journal de Montreal’s list of best Santa entrances. ‘I’m always trying to do things to differentiate,’ she explains.

Dubé predicts that Gélinas’ strong leadership and diplomatic skills will take her far. ‘She’s a key player for any organization.’

FIVE QUESTIONS

Favourite book

Corps et âmes – Le prodige (Body and Soul) by Frank Conroy

Favourite TV commercial of all time

Mastercard : the whole ‘Priceless’ series

Last ad that inspired you to make a purchase

Elizabeth Arden Idealist beauty cream

Most useful business book, and why

Le protocole d’Yves Dussault. Because good business manners make the difference

Favourite way to unwind

Combining the pleasure of shopping and eating chocolate!