On the property level, there’s a lot that individual hotel owners can do to spread their good news.
It’s accepted wisdom in most businesses, including ours, that bigger is better.
With size comes geographic and demographic reach, access to capital markets, resources for future development and acquisitions, industry influence, economies of scale in areas such as operations, finance, technology and marketing, and the wherewithal to maximize “share of voice” and the ability to utilize all forms of communications to reach every desired audience.
When it comes to creating and executing far-reaching public relations programs, the bigger companies in our business are at a distinct advantage. They have the resources to maintain in-house staffs in marketing public relations, investor relations, government affairs and employee communications. If they choose to not carry large in-house communications departments, they have the ability to spend hundreds of thousands (or millions) of dollars hiring outside PR counsel on a retainer or project basis. Or, they might do both (and often do).
In the words of Mel Brooks: “It’s good to be the king.”
But what of the individual hotel property, whether or not its brand is part of a Hilton, Marriott or IHG corporate behemoth? How does the owner of one or two hotels publicize and promote new offerings, improvements and general happenings at his or her properties?
As the major global lodging companies have moved almost exclusively to a management/franchise fee-based model, their marketing and public relations funds (along with monies for technology, loyalty programs and reservations systems) consist of dollars contributed by hotel owners as part of their franchise agreements. This “OPM” creates a large pool of funding that is used to promote the companies’ family of brands.
At Hilton, the dollars contributed by Hampton Inn owners go toward the marketing and promotion of the Hampton Inn brand (and so on at Marriott with Courtyard, etc.) Again, size matters. With so many Hampton Inn hotels, the pool of dollars to promote and otherwise increase the value of the Hampton Inn brand is significant. And only the biggest companies can do this.
Back, though, to the individual hotel owner. While the Hampton Inn marketing fund maximizes visibility for the overall Hampton brand (which, along with the loyalty program, reservations system, etc., accrues to the benefit of all owners), it doesn’t necessarily help the Hampton Inn in Yakima, Washington, with its specific PR needs. There are, in fact many things an individual property (especially one in a smaller community) can do to promote itself in a cost-effective manner.
Write simple press releases for the local media. You don’t need to be Hemingway to put together a short press release announcing new things at your hotel. Maybe you’re starting a new Sunday brunch. Or you’ve equipped your meeting space with a new teleconference capability. Hired a new manager? Fixed up the swimming pool? One of your employees just receive an award? Earth-shattering developments no, but somewhat newsworthy in a smaller market. There’s never a guarantee that a press release will find its way into print or on TV, but a periodic flow of “news” from your hotel sends a message that things are happening. Just be careful not to flood the media with weekly press releases.
Get to know the local media. Introduce yourself to the local newspaper’s business, travel and lifestyle editors and reporters and the television assignment editors. A quick and informal hello (“we’ve got some neat things happening at the hotel, and I’ll be letting you know about them ...”) is perfect. Don’t overdo it, don’t lay it on too thick and don’t offer a menu of freebies. You just want these editors to know who you are. Consider doing the same thing with smaller media outlets in surrounding communities.
Think about, and play to the “visuals.” Invite the local food editor (and photographer) to that new Sunday brunch. Take your own photos of new things at the hotel and get them to your new friends at the newspaper.
Engage in selected community sponsorship opportunities. This may be the local Little League, a reading program at the public library. Being an active and enthusiastic member of the community is part of effective public relations. But be careful not to spread yourself (and your budget) too thin. Better to do one thing well than many things only so-so.
Utilize outside organizations. Becoming involved—playing an active role, not just being a member—with the local Chamber of Commerce, Tourism Bureau and similar organizations can help with the greater good of the community’s future prospects, but can also boost your profile and that of your hotel property.
Old school? Most certainly. But when budgets and other resources are limited, a “blocking-and-tackling” approach to public relations can be very effective. Corporate’s brand fund (which, if you’re affiliated with one of the national brands, you’re paying into) is a great asset for publicizing the overall brand, but you can supplement that effort with a little savvy local PR.
Marc Grossman is a senior communications executive who served as senior VP, corporate affairs, for Hilton Hotels Corporation, where he was responsible for all global corporate communications, investor/financial relations, public affairs, brand/marketing public relations, crisis communications and internal communications. He also held senior positions with three leading international communications firms. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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