Marriott International has experienced a renaissance in recent years (and that’s not just a reference to their growing Renaissance Hotels brand). The hospitality company, with 4,100 properties in 80 countries, has repositioned and redesigned many of its 19 hotel brands to be hipper and appeal to younger guests, and the media and public have caught on.
According to Jay Hamilton, Marriott International’s senior director of digital corporate relations, the hotelier has undertaken a multi-tiered media approach. Hamilton recently spoke at the PR & Media Relations Summit, hosted by Ragan Communications in New York. He touched on content creation, cross-promotions, crisis communications and issues management.
Given its global scope and robust pipeline, Marriott’s PR efforts are divided by continent. Each country has a PR/media relations team to be closer to local markets, Hamilton said. Their program is driven by brands and focuses on multiple stakeholders: customers, owners, bloggers, influencers, and government officials. Their vision: “tell a story that sparks excitement and passion to make Marriott the world’s favorite travel company.”
Marriott’s brand portfolio has expanded, especially internationally. Their hotel segments include luxury, lifestyle, signature and select, as well as the Ritz Carlton and Autograph Collection of independent hotels (like New York’s Algonquin). The company developed Moxy, collaborated with boutique hotelier Ian Schrager on Editions (Miami Beach opened recently), and purchased the Spanish chain, AC Hotels, and the Canadian chain, Delta Hotels.
Hamilton shared Marriott’s PR and media relations blueprint.
- Content studio: “We’ve transferred resources from advertising to content marketing,” Hamilton said. Marriott launched a content studio to reach millennials and serve as their travel information source. They hired producers from Disney and other journalists. The studio produced short films: Two Bellman, and the recently announced French Kiss.
- Digital tools: Marriott uses a variety of methods targeted to each audience. For their Delta Hotels brand launch, they used an infographic. “It’s not easy to produce, but it’s a simple way to grasp numbers,” Hamilton said.
- Videos: They create videos for different end-users. They added a video to their annual report to provide a company overview. For their board of directors they produced a press reel, the “Marriott Hip Crowd,” to show the media coverage shift from stodgy to trendy.
- Blog network: “We have a built-in network to push out messages to customers,” Hamilton said. Among Marriott’s many blogs is a new one for millennials, What’s Overheard at Marriott. CEO Bill Marriott and president Arne Sorenson each have a blog. An assistant works with Bill Marriott on his blog, Marriott on the Move. The 83 year-old’s message: “you’re never too old to be hip.” Hamilton said they run the blogs by their legal team first and group the blogs under a corporate umbrella at LinkedIn.
Managing the news
- Cross-promoting media hits: Marriott has a social media hub and the team looks for buzzworthy moments. “When we see a story we push it out via our own social channels. If it turns out well, we can impact views,” Hamilton said.
- News alerts: They also have SMART (social media alert response teams) that flag newsworthy (and nefarious) activities taking place at Marriott properties.
- Crisis comms: Marriott has experienced crises, Hamilton acknowledged, like the FCC levying a $600,000 fine. Gaylord Opryland Hotel wrongly charged customers for wi-fi, and blocked the communication signals of others trying to gain access. However, the FCC statement wasn’t entirely accurate, Hamilton said. He notified the press that the wi-fi in question was for meetings, not individual use, which made more sense given the fees.
- Executive visibility: Marriott positions their executives as experts to increase their visibility on the international stage. As Hamilton noted, that impacts how the company is covered. This year Marriott execs were invited to the Davos World Economic Forum.
- Addressing Issues: “We believe in being bold and not shying away from controversies,” Hamilton said. Recently Sorenson went off the teleprompter and spoke out on the topic of religious freedom. “We didn’t choreograph it, and we ducked for cover as calls came in. His comments were picked up all over and were well-received,” added Hamilton.
- Social Causes: Kathleen Matthews (MSNBC broadcaster Chris Matthews’ wife), a longtime Marriott exec, works on matching social causes and brands, like women’s rights. For the opening of the company’s new Haiti location, Marriott worked with the Clinton Global Initiative.
Coming full circle
From the high peaks of Davos to the launch of Delta Hotels: it’s a lot of ground, and Marriott continues to find ways to keep it all covered.
(Images courtesy of Marriott International)