Marketing

Party City CMO Julie Roehm on the retailer’s new and improved social media strategy

She’s helped the company break into the influencer game since joining in 2019.
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Illustration: Dianna “Mick” McDougall, Photos: Party City

· 5 min read

Party City didn’t have much of a social media strategy before the pandemic, according to its CMO Julie Roehm. When she joined the company in December 2019, she set out to change that.

“When I started, we as a company had been in social briefly with Pinterest and some of the normal Facebook ads, but it hadn’t really been a primary strategy,” Roehm told Marketing Brew. “They were just sort of dipping their toe [in].”

Only a few months after the start of her tenure, Covid swept through the country, keeping people in their homes and forcing even more eyes online.

Coincidentally, one of the first things Roehm did at Party Cityeven before the dramatic shift in consumer behaviorwas move most of the retailer’s media budget to digital platforms, including Pinterest, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, YouTube, and Google, she told us.

In the past year, the share of its budget spent on social in particular has doubled, Roehm said. This January, Party City’s paid media-buying efforts led to a nearly 10% increase in traffic compared with that month last year. From 2020 to 2021, paid social traffic improved 30%, Roehm told us, primarily driven by Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.

Gift that keeps on giving

Party City’s social strategy goes beyond paid advertising. For instance, Roehm established the company’s first internal influencer team and forged partnerships with creators like “mom influencers” Maria Bailey and Ashley Lyn.

“I’m so glad we did because…during the pandemic, we leveraged that heavily,” she explained, relying on influencers to tell the brand what they needed to pull off pandemic-era celebrations. That information inspired Party City’s party kits for events like birthdays and graduations.

With stores shut down temporarily in 2020, Party City promoted those kits on social media, sending them to influencers who could “talk about it in their own words, through their own terms,” Roehm said.

In one example, Party City mailed out a DIY balloon garland kit to test how easy it was for influencers to assemble the product on their own, and whether or not they found it worthy of the ’gram.

“Social has been a gift that keeps on giving for us,” Roehm said, explaining that Party City’s influencers not only post content for the brand, but also provide feedback about what’s working and what isn’t. “It helps us a lot to refine our go-to-market positioning and strategy.”

Pin the party

After implementing a “test and learn” approach to social commerce and marketing in 2020, by 2021, the brand was ready to hone in on specific platforms like Pinterest, where it has almost 258,000 followers and more than 10 million monthly views. It also has more than 10,000 followers on TikTok, and runs sponsored posts and influencer campaigns on Instagram.

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This Valentine’s Day, Party City partnered with 15 influencers for an Instagram campaign featuring products like its balloon backdrop, which yielded over 750,000 impressions, the company said.

Pinterest has been especially important to Roehm. The platform is “early in the cycle” of Party City’s marketing funnel, she said, primarily letting the retailer observe and shape shopping trends by seeing what users are interacting with.

The company has a partnership with Pinterest that lets it access “beta and alpha product offerings” for paid and organic advertising. Roehm told us she’s on Pinterest’s customer advisory board as well.

“One of my bucket-list items when I started was to have Pinterest as a partner,” she said. “Anybody who does any sort of celebration, the majority of them are somehow participating in the Pinterest platform. They’re getting their ideas there.”

Party City posts its own party inspo content on Pinterest, tagging featured products in its posts to make them more easily shoppable. It also uses Pinterest’s “Shop” tab to direct users to its site, and is in discussions with the platform to expand upon its existing e-commerce capabilities, Roehm told us.

For instance, Party City has been working on an AR tool that allows customers to build custom balloon packages and plan their events online. The tool, called Balloon Builder, was released in a testing phase for New Year’s Eve 2021 and Valentine’s Day 2022 in preparation for its official debut on the Party City website later this month.

Roehm said she’s hoping to eventually integrate the tool with the Pinterest platform so that users can pin their balloon designs for others to replicate, taking the brand’s Pinterest presence from “passive” to “actionable.”

She did not share how its social efforts have impacted revenue. Last year, the company’s net sales were $2.2 billion, up 17.3% compared to 2020. Its “digitally-enabled sales” in North America went up 35.4% in 2020.

In 2022, Roehm said she plans to continue her work with Pinterest and Instagram by leaning further into e-commerce on the platforms, “leveraging their checkout features to create a seamless shopping experience for customers.” And in years to come, she sees Party City, known for its massive brick-and-mortar locations, selling its products via livestream.

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