CAMPAIGNS: Service launch - Starwood seeks customer loyalty

Client: Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide (White Plains, NY)

Client: Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide (White Plains, NY)

Client: Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide (White Plains, NY)

PR Team: McKay Public Relations (Boston)

Campaign: Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty program launch

Time Frame: November 1998 - June 1999

Budget: dollars 500,000

What good is a hotel loyalty program if no one understands how it works?

And aren’t they all the same?

These were some of the issues Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide faced

when it developed a loyalty program for its six brands - St. Re-gis

Luxury Collection, Four Points, Caesars, W Hotels, Westin and


Through research, Starwood discovered that 70% of frequent guest program

members never redeem points for a hotel stay because they feel it is

time-consuming and restrictive. In addition, more than 33% aren’t

working toward any specific award because they don’t know how the

program works and they are often unaware that points can be swapped for

frequent flyer miles.


McKay Public Relations was charged with differentiating Starwood’s

loyalty program from those created by Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt. All

messages had to drive home its benefits and position it as the most

generous, accessible and rewarding loyalty program in the lodging

industry. Starwood also wanted to reduce cynicism about hotel loyalty

programs and to enroll 175,000 new members in its first quarter. As part

of the effort, McKay dreamed up a Starwood Preferred Guest Celebrity

Suitcase Auction.


Starwood developed a Preferred Guest press kit, which was translated

into 13 languages, and compared how its program stacked up against

competitors in areas such as the number of properties owned, ’fastest

way to a free night’ and ’easiest way to a free flight.’ Starwood topped

competitors in 90% of the categories, according to Colleen Turner,

director of account services for McKay.

The agency pitched an exclusive to The Wall Street Journal, focusing on

the idea that this program is upping the stakes of the loyalty program


On February 3, the company held a press conference for the travel and

business press to announce the program. In the following three months,

more than 120 similar ’launch’ events took place at Starwood cities such

as Sydney, Tokyo and Cairo.

But the highlight of the campaign was the Celebrity Suitcase Auction,

held at the W Hotel in New York on June 16. McKay solicited autographed

travel bags from celebrities and landed 38 items, including a fanny pack

from Ricky Martin and a make-up bag from Madonna. The auction would

benefit Starwood’s new StarGift charity, which provides travel and

lodging assistance to nonprofit groups such as UNICEF.


The day before the launch, an advanced story ran on the cover of the

Marketplace section of The Wall Street Journal. More than 100 reporters

attended the press conference, contributing to the more than 6.5 billion

media impressions that Starwood Preferred Guest has generated. USA Today

named the Starwood program the number one loyalty program in the


Total enrollment averages 50% above anticipated figures, topping one

million new members worldwide in its first four months.

The Celebrity Suitcase Auction drew about 500 attendees and 250 bidders

live, phone, absentee and online (through eBay). All items sold, raising

more than dollars 20,000 in less than one hour, and garnering more than

350 million global media impressions.

Due to the PR campaign, ’more press has been given to hotel loyalty

programs this year than in the past five years combined,’ says Hoyt

Harper, Starwood’s SVP of business development and marketing



Harper says Starwood will continue to draw direct comparisons between

its loyalty program and its competitors’. He also says it will continue

to develop the charitable aspect of the program to ensure that Starwood

remains a ’good corporate citizen.’

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