The hotel chain has extended its internal CARE culture to an effort to educate kids
When Hilton Hotels purchased Doubletree Hotels in late 1999, the struggling hotel chain "was a ship lost at sea," says Dave Horton, SVP of brand management for Hilton.
So Horton and his PR team threw this so-called sinking ship a life preserver in the shape of a cookie. They leveraged the tasty calling card that has come to define Doubletree: the warm chocolate chip cookie given to guests at check-in, a tradition that started in the early 1980s, initially for VIP guests.
Today, the cookie has become the symbol of a new internal culture called CARE (Caring, Attentive, Responsive, and Empowered). Each of Doubletree's 164 hotels has a CARE committee - whose president is a line-level worker, such as a housekeeper or bellman - which examines ways to improve guest and employee satisfaction.
What has made CARE so successful is how Doubletree has extended that internal culture through an innovative community outreach program. In 2002, Cohn & Wolfe helped Doubletree create "Teaching Kids to Care," which aims to educate elementary school students about the importance of giving back to communities. Each hotel teams up with an elementary school to help administer an educator-approved lesson to, in most instances, third-graders.
The spring component focuses on the environment. Last year, Doubletree teamed up with schools to plant 10,000 tree seedlings across the country, as well as 70 mature indigenous trees in a Florida park ravaged by Hurricane Charlie.
The autumn effort is all about cookies. In 2004, kids learned about the importance of voting by casting ballots for groups they felt most deserved a cookie (such as firefighters and hospital workers). In votes counted nationally, kids selected the military, which was then presented with 300,000 cookies.
"We have taken cookies and the powerful symbolism of trees and wrapped up these two powerful icons into a fantastic program," says Tom Wingham, Doubletree's director of brand communications.
"Historically," adds Horton, "when you launch a program like this, it falls apart: Staff [at individual hotels] have too much to do on their own, they interpret directions differently, or they can't figure it out."
To curb that risk, Doubletree provides each hotel with a detailed, educator-approved lesson plan. A turnkey tool kit, meanwhile, includes a timeline and checklist, as well as communication materials, including pre-written press releases, media alerts, and even invitations to parents and the local mayor. "This keeps it simple," says Horton, "and gives each hotel the tools to be successful."
Individual hotels are motivated to participate - in fact, some hotels partner with up to five schools at once - because it links with Doubletree's internal CARE program. Doubletree awards a "CARE Cup" each quarter to the location that scores the highest based on various CARE criteria.
Doubletree has widened the program's reach through affiliations with reputable partners like the National Arbor Day Foundation, a million-member nonprofit educational organization that celebrates trees.
Kevin Sander, the foundation's director of marketing, says the partnership is the foundation's first with a hotel chain. "The program is so unique and such a perfect fit," Sander says, adding that the scope of the alliance will broaden this spring.
"Teaching Kids to Care" generated broadcast coverage last year in more than 179 markets, including LA, DC, and Philadelphia. With a budget of just $200,000, the program reached an ad equivalency of $1.08 million. Media coverage has been positive, and the one time it was controversial, it only reinforced Doubletree's brand attributes.
Building on the 2004 fall program around the importance of voting, Doubletree offered anyone a cookie for simply presenting a voter stub or "I voted" sticker. News reports surfaced suggesting such programs were illegal because they coerced people to vote. The absurdity of the claim led to comments like this from a former Doubletree executive: "If someone was only going to vote because of a cookie, I guess that says a lot about these cookies. They're delicious."
Because "Teaching Kids to Care" makes communities aware of Doubletree's CARE culture, and employees, in turn, are proud of it, Horton attributes the program to improved guest satisfaction. J.D. Power and Associates 2005 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index study reports Doubletree boosted its scores 21 points versus 2004. The average upscale brand increased only eight points.
"Doubletree is now the envy of the other brands within our company," says Horton. "Doubletree has become a brand our company celebrates."
Beverly Hills, CA
Intercontinental Hotels, Marriott, Sheraton
Key trade publications:
Hotel Business, Hotel & Motel Management, Lodging Hospitality
PR Budget: undisclosed
SVP of brand management, Dave Horton
Senior director of brand marketing, Ronnie Kaiser
Director of brand communications, Thomas Wingham
Manager of brand marketing, Rebecca Harris
Marketing Services Agencies:
PR: Cohn & Wolfe
Advertising: Foote Cone & Belding