A couple of examples emerged recently from mid-rate hotel companies.
One involved Fairfield Inns & Suites (FIS), Marriott’s mid-rate product. About to celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2012, Fairfield Inn & Suites was looking for a way to build awareness of its brand attributes (e.g., free WiFi, free breakfast, 670+ distribution, Marriott endorsement) to position this Marriott brand as the lodging choice for Boomer parents.
Working with its New York agency, LDPR, the brand launched, “Check in at Fairfield Inn & Suites, Check out College Campuses.” This integrated PR and marketing program had a number of moving parts, which included leveraging partnerships, social media, marketing, public relations, Marriott channels, promotions and local activation through the hotels.
The brand executives knew that many of the hotels were located near college campuses and have been welcoming parents and their children for some time. To add additional power to the idea, FIS collaborated with The Princeton Review, a pioneer in helping students achieve their higher education goals through college preparation and tutoring.
In addition, FIS conducted an online survey that revealed interesting findings. Most parents (65%) were planning college visits with their children and 21% of these respondents said they expected to make three to four trips to campuses. Using this data, along with several other key questions, FIS created press materials for traditional outlets and digital media platforms, and coordinated Satellite And Internet Media Tours starring one of TV’s favorite dads, actor Alan Thicke.
To round out the program, FIS developed a travel package, which included a free copy of The Princeton Review’s popular “Portable Guidance Counselor: Answers to the 284 Most Important Questions About Getting Into College.” Guests also received a $25 Smart Bucks coupon and a tip sheet from The Princeton Review about getting the most out of the college campus visit. An added bonus for the program was a Fairfield Inn giveaway that offered five lucky parents $2,000 each to help offset college expenses.
The program generated big buzz for the brand both internally and externally. Bill Marriott blogged about the college program and the response at property level was so positive that Marriott is considering expanding the program in 2012. USA Today, in print and online, featured the survey results in “Snapshots.” The SMT/IMT resulted in over three dozen media placements in top designated market areas, such as Phoenix, St. Louis and Baltimore, and on websites with strong reach, such as BlogTalkRadio.com, Starpulse.com and The Philadelphia Inquirer online.
The contest was promoted extensively on The Princeton Review’s website and to its partners. The program generated $625,000 worth of coverage (straight ad value, no multipliers used) and the reach for the Satellite Media Tour/Internet Media Tour alone exceeded 26 million (combined broadcast audience figures and website unique monthly visitor totals).
Another example: Red Roof Inns. The company has a separate Facebook community called Redroofluvspets, which aims to raise awareness of the brand’s pet-friendly policies. The community was started in January and by the end of September had 900 “likes.” For October, according to Kevin Scholl, social media manager, the brand wanted to promote National Adopt A Shelter Dog Month. “We wanted to emphasize to our community,” he said, “that we care about the things they care about. We wanted a way to get engagement, not just have a contest.”
Red Roof decided to donate $10 to a pet shelter in Columbus Ohio, its headquarters city, for every new “like” on its redroofluvspets page – with a cap of $1,750. The page had over 200 new “likes” within the first day. Within a few weeks, the number of likes on the page had doubled. In addition, said Scholl, “We got a lot of new awareness about our pet policy, which was part of our goal. The majority of feedback from new fans was, ‘We didn’t realize you had this policy.’ I responded to 40 to 50 comments a day the first two weeks and established a relationship with these folks.”
The fun thing about niches and niches within niches is that there are always more – if you only look for them.