“My main responsibilities are all about advertising and promotion– getting our name out there. The other thing is coordinating with tenants, and really supporting them so that they can reach their goals, increase sales, increase traffic. BUT I’m also heavily drawn towards community involvement. Everyone at Pen Centre really believes in giving back to the community that has supported us so much over the years.” says Helen.
Her typical day is not typical at all. Helen manages a great team. She has her hands in a lot of different things, but credits her colleagues with helping her to make the shopping centre shine. “We work as a team. We win as a team. Our success doesn’t come down to one individual or department”, she smiles. With social media so prominent in our lives, Helen and her Marketing Coordinator, Tina, regularly go through theirs to make sure they are hitting all of the right notes on the right platforms. Then it’s about event planning – The Pen Centre is involved in so many events, on-site and off-site.
That’s a huge part of Helen’s job, along with coordinating advertising, and sourcing initiatives to help showcase both Pen Centre and its retailers. Helen laughingly adds, “We often have opportunities that just present themselves and sometimes we need to act fast and make quick decisions. It’s sometimes fly by the seat of your pants.”
Helen is also charged with something that can be very challenging — dealing with customer comments and complaints. “Most are very positive”, she says, “but sometimes, there are some that are awkward and difficult. Ultimately, the customer is the reason we’re all here, and our team makes every effort to turn even a negative situation into a mutual success.” One might think that getting to a position like Director of Marketing would require extensive education, focusing on business. Well, for Helen Edwards, the right attitude, the right opportunities and the right timing all combined to put her exactly where she feels she was meant to be all along.
As a trained Early Childhood Educator, Helen graduated at a time where jobs in her chosen field were few. She found herself with a degree and no job. Luckily, her best friend’s father was a doctor who was looking for an office manager. She spent 6 years in this capacity, but also began juggling some medical procedures. After getting the necessary certifications, “I was taking blood, doing vaccinations, ECG’s… The next step was nursing, but I am terrified of hospitals, so that just wasn’t for me.””
Still going in a direction which was a far-cry from her ECE and now medical training, Helen came upon an ad for a Marketing Secretary at her local mall. “I spent a lot of my childhood at The Pickering Town Centre. I was very familiar with it!” With only office management qualifications, Helen was blessed to have a “lovely GM who hired me for my personality and took a chance on me,” she says. It’s obvious after just a few minutes of talking with Helen that she would be destined for much bigger things. Through much hard work and dedication, she went on to become Marketing Coordinator, then Marketing Assistant, then Marketing Director, holding her current position with the Pen Centre since 2016. Helen humbly says, “My experience has been on-the-job training. We also have a great resource called ICSC, the International Council of Shopping Centres and they offer courses that are the driving force behind educating people in this industry. I research the trends and learn everything I can to keep me growing professionally. I have also benefitted greatly from the experience of working with a wonderfully diverse team over the years. I firmly believe that you can learn something from everyone you meet.”
Helen is a true testament to what can happen when you are open to taking chances. “I’ve always been a person who says yes to the opportunity. You just never know where it’s going to take you.”
But this is definitely not a 9 to 5 job. Helen is a regular speaker at Brock University in their marketing classes. In essence, she is getting her chance in the classroom. “I gave up the teacher dream, but I feel like I still get to do what great teachers do, which is helping people, empowering them and expanding their lives. I’m still effecting change, just in a different capacity.”
A career in marketing is ideal for anyone who is a social butterfly as there is a huge social component to the field. In the world of social butterflies, Helen exemplifies the strongest and most confident butterfly ever – the Monarch. She is very determined to use her position as a platform for giving back to the community of Niagara. “Working at Pen Centre, and with this amazing group of individuals, has allowed us to help countless charitable organizations and participate in numerous charitable events.”
Helen is inspired by interaction with the Pen Centre team, the tenants, and the amazing Cushman & Wakefield network across Canada. “I get my energy from human contact”, she says. But what really inspires this energetic lady is giving back to the Niagara community. “If I leave this planet tomorrow, I want to know that I helped just a little, to make it a better place. I’m driven by that need,” she thoughtfully shares.
“We like to focus on empowering women. I ask myself, ‘How can we do more?’ We are privileged to be part of International Women’s Day, Wise Girls Golf Tournament, Women in Business…we do a lot with Gillian’s Place (a shelter for abused women.) Our primary customer is female, so we look for sponsorships and opportunities that can help her live her best life.”
One of her favourite events that Pen Centre, and Cushman & Wakefield Asset Services Shopping Centres across Canada organizes and hosts is the annual Cop Shop which involves what Helen refers to as “our future” – children. Pen Centre partners with the Niagara Regional Police, and with local school boards. One student is nominated per school, who despite certain economic or social challenges, has risen above and made a positive mark in their classroom and school. Forty-seven children in total arrive to the mall by limousine. Once at the Pen, they each receive a $200 shopping gift card and are partnered with ninety-six volunteer police officers who become their personal shoppers for the day. “This event empowers these kids and creates a positive foundation between the police and the child. This event inspires everyone involved.”
One common word that comes up in conversations with Helen Edwards is “empowerment.” For her, that word means different things, applies to many situations, and to all people of all ages. Helen’s mantra is all about getting to a place where you feel good in your own skin and not letting society dictate to you what you should be. In her position, Helen has the ability to help make a difference in how we perceive ourselves. She has the capacity to use her job and help us have positive and happy shopping experiences. Helen is the first to acknowledge that shopping is supposed to be fun. She loves shopping herself, but mostly for, “Shoes! It has to be shoes! No matter what size you are, shoes always fit!” she laughs.
Helen is able to reach out to individuals who might need that extra little bit of help. She is currently in the midst of working with Pen Centre Security, management and community partners to launch an anti-bullying program at Pen Centre this spring, geared towards showing shoppers of all ages and backgrounds that no matter who you are, what you look like, or what you wear, there is no place for bullying.
When asked, what was the best advice she could give to young women getting into the field of marketing, Helen didn’t hesitate at all.
“Never forget the power of a smile. Connect with people. Never let policy overpower human decency.” TM