Marketing3: Marketing to the 3rd Power

By Bonnie Knutson Professor, The School of Hospitality Business/MSU | May 19, 2010

Okay. Take out a pencil and paper. Draw a horizontal line across the page. At the left end of the line, write the word advertising. At the right end of the line, write the phrase word-of mouth. Now ask yourself the following question: As a hotelier, if you have the choice between running an advertisement for your hotel in the newspaper, or having the newspaper run a story on your property as an article, which would you choose? Of course, you would go for the article. After all, it would be free, right? But there is a more important reason for choosing the article. It carries far more credibility than your ad.

This is the power of three for hotel marketing. It is called publicity or public relations (PR) and it falls along the continuum between advertising and word of mouth. We all know that the most powerful form of promotion is a recommendation from others we trust. This is how we may decide to visit a hotel for the first time, see a movie, or try a new supplier. But absent a personal good word from family or friends, we look for a third party to help us decide whether we stay at Hotel A or Hotel B, or whether we go here or go there.

I have heard it said that, compared to the power of publicity, advertising has almost zero credibility. While I may not totally agree with that viewpoint, it reminds me of a quote from advertising genius Regis McKenna: We are witnessing the obsolescence of advertising has proliferated and become more obnoxiously insistent, consumers have gotten fed up. The more advertising seeks to intrude, the more people try to shut it out..." About a third of the typical newspaper is articles and editorials, while the other two-thirds is advertisements. Which do you spend most of your time reading? Or, as another marketing genius, Al Ries, says: To the average person the editorial stories are islands of objectivity in a sea of prejudice. Enough said.

Do you remember when the automotive slogan boasted, It's not your father's Oldsmobile? Well, in the same vein, we can also hype the fact that it's not your father's public relations either. In the past, there seemed to be two common themes associated with public relations. This first was crisis management. Remember the Tailhook scandal? At the 35th Annual Tailhook Symposium (September 5 to 7, 1991) at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel, 83 women and 7 men were assaulted during the three-day aviators' convention, according to a report by the Inspector General of the Department of Defense (DOD). The hotel's PR had to go into overdrive to counter-balance all the negative press resulting from that event. In fact, at the time of the Tylenol incident more than 20 years ago, which still represents one of the classic PR cases, public relations was still viewed a tool dedicated to managing damaging news about an organization. The second theme was a press release announcement about your business to the newspapers, magazines and broadcast media. Think about Starwood's Heavenly Bed or McDonald's I'm Lovin' It. In both cases, the media was all over these stories before one dollar was spent in advertising.

But public relations is a far different ballgame today than it was in the time of your father's Oldsmobile. It is far more involved, sophisticated, complex, and comprehensive. At its core, PR is a communication tool between your hotel brand and the public - your guests, your prospective guests, your employees, and your stockholders. The dictionary defines it as "the art or science of establishing and promoting a favorable relationship with the public." ( This is just a long winded way of saying PR is all about putting your best foot forward to build and maintain your hotel's reputation and trust by maximizing the power of third party credibility. Some successful non-hotel examples:

In 1984, the Apple Macintosh ran its "1984" commercial one time during the Super bowl. People still remember that commercial, not so much for the commercial itself, but for the countless stories that appeared in the media afterwards. The publicity made the advertising - and in turn the product - memorable.

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Coming up in March 2019...

Human Resources: An Era of Transition

Traditionally, the human resource department administers five key areas within a hotel operation - compliance, compensation and benefits, organizational dynamics, selection and retention, and training and development. However, HR professionals are also presently involved in culture-building activities, as well as implementing new employee on-boarding practices and engagement initiatives. As a result, HR professionals have been elevated to senior leadership status, creating value and profit within their organization. Still, they continue to face some intractable issues, including a shrinking talent pool and the need to recruit top-notch employees who are empowered to provide outstanding customer service. In order to attract top-tier talent, one option is to take advantage of recruitment opportunities offered through colleges and universities, especially if they have a hospitality major. This pool of prospective employees is likely to be better educated and more enthusiastic than walk-in hires. Also, once hired, there could be additional training and development opportunities that stem from an association with a college or university. Continuing education courses, business conferences, seminars and online instruction - all can be a valuable source of employee development opportunities. In addition to meeting recruitment demands in the present, HR professionals must also be forward-thinking, anticipating the skills that will be needed in the future to meet guest expectations. One such skill that is becoming increasingly valued is “resilience”, the ability to “go with the flow” and not become overwhelmed by the disruptive influences  of change and reinvention. In an era of transition—new technologies, expanding markets, consolidation of brands and businesses, and modifications in people's values and lifestyles - the capacity to remain flexible, nimble and resilient is a valuable skill to possess. The March Hotel Business Review will examine some of the strategies that HR professionals are employing to ensure that their hotel operations continue to thrive.