Holiday Inn brand makeover is built on internal support

Francie Schulwolf, VP of corporate communications, Americas, at IHG, explains that while brand awareness of Holiday Inn (HI) was very high, it had become "marred with an inconsistent image."

Holiday Inn brand makeover  is built on internal support

Client: IHG (Atlanta)
PR agency:
Weber Shandwick, (New York)
Campaign: Holiday Inn brand relaunch
Duration: January 2009-ongoing
Budget: More than $1 million

Francie Schulwolf, VP of corporate communications, Americas, at IHG, explains that while brand awareness of Holiday Inn (HI) was very high, it had become "marred with an inconsistent image." In 2007, IHG announced a global relaunch to be complete by 2010. It focuses on physical and customer-service changes to all 3,300-plus HI hotels, which are mostly franchise-owned. Weber Shandwick, IHG's AOR for the Americas, won the global task.

The campaign has rolled out in phases. The initial focus was on internal audiences and financial/business media. When the 1,000th hotel relaunched this July, consumers became a key target.

"With one-third of the hotels relaunched," Schulwolf says, "we went loud and hard globally with consumers."

Schulwolf says it was critical to communicate with employees and hotel owners first.

"The best word of mouth is from people in-house," she says. "We must generate excitement from employees and ensure they understand what's happening. Getting owners on board was key to success and momentum."

Jennifer Risi, EVP of global strategic media at WS, adds that hotel-owner testimonials would motivate other owners to invest in the conversation.

Getting the financial/business media behind the relaunch was also key. Relaunched hotels would be showcased. Milestones, such as the first relaunch, the 500th, 1,000th, and 1,200th, would be celebrated with events.

"Celebration is important because of the economic climate," Schulwolf says. "Most people would never imagine we'd go forward with a [relaunch]. We needed to show commitment."

Internal messaging, including steps to accomplish a relaunch, milestones, and success stories, are delivered in monthly e-newsletters, videos, meetings, and at various employee events.

Videos of owners telling relaunch stories and of IHG execs discussing the relaunch are used extensively internally, with press, and on HI's YouTube channel.

"We had to have a 360-degree approach to media," Schulwolf explains. "Our business is 50% business and 50% leisure. HI is mainstream America, so we went after everyone."

Risi says online outreach has included travel sites, mommy bloggers, general consumer sites, and outlets like The Wall Street Journal and USA Today. "We hit sites internationally to get messages much more into the cultures," she adds.

For the 1,000th relaunch this summer, IHG executives did a media blitz in London and New York. Bryan Berg, world record card stacker, used key cards to create a 400-square-foot hotel (pictured above), which was placed in New York's South Street Seaport in September to celebrate the 1,200th relaunch. That event included a promotion to drive traffic to HI's new Web site (relaunched in July 2009). A key-card stacking event was also held for employees at IHG headquarters.

To date, more than 1,200 hotels have relaunched. The team reports an average global increase of more than 5% in revenue per room from January 2009 through September 2009. Risi estimates more than 2 billion media impressions. Schulwolf notes that the card stack hotel story was covered in 200-plus countries.

"IHG is incredibly pleased," she adds. "It is investing more in PR as we move into 2010 because of it. They see the value."

WS will continue working on the campaign. The team is currently developing a strategy to drive people to the new hotels.

PRWeek's View
This was a daunting task from a business and communications perspective. IHG should be applauded for its commitment to rebuilding this brand - something that could not have been accomplished without a tremendous communications program driving buy-in on all fronts. This team has done an outstanding job of knowing when and what to communicate, to which audiences, and executing it on all levels. IHG should expect the Holiday Inn relaunch story to continue to play out on business and consumer fronts for some time to come.

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