Following the trend of marketers becoming publishers, Marriott International is launching a global creative and content marketing studio to handle internal work for its portfolio of 18 travel-related brands.
"We view this as the opportunity to be the world's largest producer of travel-related content," said David Beebe, Marriott's vp of creative, content marketing and global marketing. The former Disney-ABC Television executive and producer will lead the new initiative.
As the largest hotel chain in the world, Marriott aims to leverage its expertise on travel, according to Beebe. Similar to the approach that Red Bull and GoPro take with action sports, Marriott wants to own the travel entertainment space—and, in turn, gain the recognition as a trusted source for all travel needs.
"You're most likely to remember something if a friend recommends it," Beebe said. "We want to take that same approach as a brand through building engaging content communities through social platforms."
The in-house division will have three parts: content development, which will be the personal creative agency; production, or the entertainment division responsible for video content ranging from Web clips to TV shows; and distribution, a real-time marketing group that will monitor social media to ensure immediate interaction with trending topics. Marriott will continue to work with external agencies and other production companies as needed.
Marriott has signed a stable of exclusive talent from the online space, including Sonia Travel's Sonia Gil, stunt team Substance Over Hype, social media news purveyors What's Trending and comedian Taryn Southern. Shows in development include Renaissance Hotels' indie music performance series The Navigator Live; action-comedy stunt show Two Bellmen; and Web series Marriott Rewards' Year of Surprises, which will honor people in the community for their contributions to society. Online series will be broadcast on Marriot.com and Marriot Mobile and through Marriott Rewards and other media channels like YouTube.
Gartner's Andrew Frank said Marriott's in-house approach reflects a general trend in the industry that meets the increasing demand for content marketing, particularly ongoing interactions for long-term campaigns. It can be a risky move, however, because brands can be less experienced in creative and media strategy compared to agencies, but widening media access has made it easier. "Since most agencies are not organized to support content marketing engagements, at a certain scale it can be more cost-effective to bring it in house," he said.
Larry Woodard of digital advertising Graham Stanley Advertising added that brands like Pepsi and Nike have had internal resources for years, and it can be a smart way to create a following and get in touch with your consumer base. "Things are growing so fast and are so divergent from traditional marketing that you need to cast a wide net just to stay relevant,” he said.
Still, Frank noted that it isn't easy to become a global entertainment entity. Marriott, in particular, has an uphill battle considering how many travel programs are already established online and offline.
"For every brand do-it-yourself content publishing success story, there's a much larger number of failed attempts. Brands that lack creative core competencies may be surprised at the costs and cultural challenges involved in building a world-class in-house capability," Frank said.
Woodard was skeptical as well. "Neither Marriott nor any other travel giant will be able to own travel entertainment online. For the foreseeable future consumers will be the leading edge of content creation," he said.