Consumer Awareness: Marriott certifies its staff's savvy at wedding planning

Destination weddings might be the hottest trend in nuptials, but planning them requires more than buying a dress, choosing a cake, and picking an exotic locale.

Destination weddings might be the hottest trend in nuptials, but planning them requires more than buying a dress, choosing a cake, and picking an exotic locale.

The majority of weddings - destination or otherwise - are held at hotels and become major productions that would make even Franck from Father of the Bride blush.

Long associated with business travel, Marriott International sought to establish itself as a major player in the flourishing wedding-planning market.

"Marriott does tens of thousands of weddings a year, and we really wanted to be put on the map as the premier hotel for wedding planning," says Bruno Lunghi, VP of event management for Marriott.

Strategy

Initially, Marriott's new wedding certification program was an internal affair, meant to turn hotel staff into trained wedding planners able to produce traditional and ethnic-specific weddings at Marriotts around the world. Staff would need to complete a 50-point test covering wedding protocols, etiquette, and trends to receive certification.

Officials at Marriott and its AOR, Laura Davidson Public Relations (LDPR), soon recognized the potential publicity benefits the certification program could generate.

"We realized we could really take this to a different level and put Marriott's experts and destinations on all the top bridal pages," says Lisa Caruso, account director of the Marriott campaign at LDPR, which sought to create a buzz within the bridal and travel media.

Tactics

For more than a year, LDPR pitched exotic Marriott locales to The Learning Channel (TLC) show A Perfect Wedding, where an entire wedding is planned without disclosing a single detail to the couple before the big day. TLC eventually chose a Marriott in St. Kitts, where the hotel's certified planners would take center stage for the wedding.

The campaign also reached out to print and online media. Three-tiered wedding cake media kits, including cookies, an image CD, and a "layer" of releases, were sent out to journalists, and LDPR reps met with members of the top bridal press.

The firm also struck up a partnership with Modern Bride and Bride magazines, and their respective websites. For four months, brides could take Marriott's wedding certification test to check their wedding-planning savvy, all with a chance at a free honeymoon. Lovetripper.com also agreed to monthly features promoting individual Marriott planners and their hotels, and offering tips on how to fashion the perfect wedding.

Marriott also established a website dedicated to the new weddings program and a toll-free wedding resource line to offer tips on planning, trends, and venues.

Results

Although exact figures are unavailable, Marriott estimates that wedding revenue increased an average of 10% in 2004. At some hotels, Lunghi said, that number was as high as 20%. The hotel also experienced a 100% increase in the number of certified planners, and the toll-free wedding resource line generated 200 new leads.

Media results were just as substantial. A Perfect Wedding aired twice, and articles appeared in newspapers in Chicago, New York, LA, and other markets. Bride's, Modern Bride, Bridal Guide, and WeddingBells magazines also picked up the story. The partnership with Lovetripper.com was especially fruitful, yielding 23 stories over two years.

All told, LDPR estimates combined media impressions hit 283.6 million on 85 tracked stories, with $3.7 million in ad value. And the hits keep coming.

"We just got a story this week in a Detroit paper that one of our colleagues pitched a year ago," Caruso said. "Editors now really know that Marriott has this program."

Future

On tap for Marriott and LDPR include a bridal rewards promotion for the fall, as well as efforts to announce the hotels' new fitness program and bedding.

PR team: Marriott International (Washington, DC) and Laura Davidson Public Relations (New York)

Campaign: Joy Weddings by Marriott

Time frame: January to December 2004

Budget: $75,000

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