Publicity stunts work --- as we know from working with a small, successful hotel in Manhattan.
Independence and small size gives a competitive advantage when it comes to getting PR that translates into bookings.
Located on the corner of 57th & 6th Avenue, The Buckingham was a small (fewer than 100 suites), independently run midtown NYC boutique hotel--midpriced, nothing fancy or exorbitant. The hotel had a rich musical history--it is just down the block from Carnegie Hall, has played host to many musicians over the years, and celebrates these cultural roots whenever it can. Let's face it, though, small-brand hotels aren't easy to remember in a world where the Ritz-Carlton or Four Seasons mean something to consumers, as do brands like Sheraton, Hilton, or Marriott, all which have multiple locations in the heart of Manhattan. So, suffice it to say it ain't easy to garner media attention for niche hotels in New York, where there's a hotel on practically every corner.
Since the Buckingham couldn't pretend to be a luxury pad, we helped it capitalize on its strengths as a quirky, historic, fun place through pure elbow grease and fun stunts. When airlines stopped serving complimentary food some years ago, we offered a special Carnegie Deli brown bag airplane special from the hotel, which consisted of sending a hotel porter to pick up a sandwich for the guest from the famed deli (which happens to be a block away) a few minutes before checkout. Guests could grab a cab to the airport with lunch in hand. The stunt got huge national media attention because it addressed a real problem travelers face when they are dashing to the airport in an age of cutbacks and airline inhospitality. Offering guests the chance to have "doggie bag" food from New York's most famous deli tied the Buckingham Hotel brand to the big boys in terms of hospitality and guest care. It was creative, fun media that felt very intimate and personal, and created millions of media impressions. Combine that with traditional day-to-day media and a proactive aggressive public relations program and the hotel was sold out for months afterward.
On another occasion, we were charged with branding the hotel's one-of-a-kind 2,200-square-foot duplex suite, complete with a 1,400-square-foot terrace with Central Park views and two bedrooms. The suite was also once the hotel residence of world-renowned opera singer Giovanni Martinelliduring his reign at the Met. The Buckingham's penthouse--unique in the city--is available for guests (it's great for families), meetings, and private events. We created a $150,000 Valentine's Day package, which included the luxurious experience of being picked up in a private jet from anywhere in the continental United States, served a private Nobu-catered dinner, and showered with gifts from the hotel neighborhood's most exclusive shops.
While no one took the offer, the sweet deal did pay off--people noticed the Buckingham and learned about the amazing suite. Sure enough, the day before Valentine's Day, the front page of the New York Daily News ran with the story about the offer and interviewed the Buckingham's hotelier. "In February, it's a little chilly on the terrace, but if you're with your sweetheart, perhaps you won't notice," Stephen Shapiro told the paper. "We don't expect tens of thousands of people, but we do hope for that one couple that wants to experience the best that New York has to offer on this romantic day," Shapiro told reporters.
Selling the package was a pipe dream, but the branding and positive media that the Buckingham received was worth millions. Millions now knew the name of the hotel from media that swept through the digital world through images, blogging, and social network sites. Day-to-day media, stunts, and strategy: all a tremendous success.
"We got more good press per sales dollar than does any hotel in New York City, honestly," Shapiro told me. "This funny duck of a hotel captured the attention of the media, from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal to National Geographic and Travel & Leisure, newspapers around the country and the important trade press, as well. And it's paid off. We've gone from nothing to something in not only a snap of a finger, but in one of the most difficult and unusual hospitality market moments ever."
Creative ideas that work with, not against, the Buckingham's distinctive personality brought brand recognition to the hotel. In mid-2010, after seven years of 5WPR representing the hotel, the owners sold to an investment group headed by UBS.
"To me, marketing is about values. This is a very complicated world, it's a very noisy world, and we're not gonna get a chance to get people to remember much about us . . . no company is. So we have to be really clear about what we want them to know about us." --Apple CEO Steve Jobs in 1997
**Parts of this are excerpted from " For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations" by Ronn Torossian.