Bill Margaritis, who left the top comms position at FedEx at the end of 2012, is joining Hilton Worldwide as EVP of corporate affairs.
Before taking up the newly created position later this month, Margaritis talked with PRWeek about Hilton’s focus, how it is keeping an eye on new competitors, and the similarities shared by FedEx and Hilton.
PRWeek: Your role is new at Hilton. Who previously handled the responsibilities you are taking on? Why was the role created?
Margaritis: Kathryn Beiser was EVP of corporate communications at Hilton, but she left the company earlier this year and now serves as global chair of Edelman’s corporate practice.
My role was created to bring together corporate communications, government affairs, and corporate responsibility. I will be trying to find an optimal strategy and execution capabilities for the company, and will oversee about 50 people.
PRWeek: What are your responsibilities at Hilton?
Margaritis: I am expected to put together an integrated global strategy fully aligned with business priorities. I will be helping to strengthen the culture and reputation of the company; adding value to our change management initiatives in various divisions, for internal clients; advancing our thought leadership platform around Hilton’s purpose; and establishing competitive differentiation and communicating our value proposition.
Employee engagement is certainly a priority. I will also be advancing our corporate responsibility programs, and cultivating a close partnership between government affairs and corporate communications.
PRWeek: What new areas will Hilton focus on?
Margaritis: What Hilton is trying to do is reclaim its leadership position in the hospitality space. The business has strong momentum right now under CEO Chris Nassetta’s leadership. It is expanding and diversifying its portfolio globally at a rapid pace. Hilton has more new rooms in its system, both under construction and in the pipeline, than any competitor. A significant amount of those are in international markets. That proof point validates the fact that it is growing, expanding, and diversifying faster than any of the main competitors.
PRWeek: As Hilton grows, what is the comms team tasked with?
Margaritis: Hilton is focused on finding new ways to reach, engage, and connect with critical stakeholders as the company grows and diversifies around the world. I need to get in and look at the research and assess what it is Hilton is doing and then determine our most key stakeholders. In a general sense, it is obvious that frontline team members, customers, investors, prospective employees, prospective investors, policy makers, community leaders, and social responsibility organizations, and news media will be at the top of the list.
PRWeek: Edelman is among the PR firms Hilton works with. Do you see yourself changing agency partnerships?
Margaritis: I have to get into the job, assess the situation, learn, and get to meet people. So it is premature for me to have an opinion on that at this point.
Hilton uses various agencies to support its 12 sub-brands. Each brand has its own marketing and PR support and they use a variety of agencies that fit their business needs, whether that is a cultural need in Asia-Pacific or various consumer outreach targets. So the company as a whole uses a variety of agencies.
PRWeek: How do you see disruptors like Airbnb changing what Hilton does? Are they true challengers to a brand like Hilton?
Margaritis: [Nassetta] does not feel that Hilton is threatened by the Airbnb because they appeal to a different market segment and consumer. Hilton’s core value proposition appeals to those who like all the amenities of a hotel stay. That doesn’t mean Hilton is ignoring competition. Hilton is keeping a close eye on competitors like Airbnb.
PRWeek: You previously served as SVP of global communications and investor relations at FedEx for 15 years. Anything you learned at FedEx that will serve you well at Hilton?
Margaritis: There are many similarities between FedEx and Hilton. They are both iconic brands and global, well-established companies. Both have a diverse portfolio of brands, strong cultures, customer centric philosophies, tremendous respect for frontline employees, and strong innovation capabilities.
So with those similarities, hopefully what I have learned and was able to do at FedEx I can continue to do with Hilton.