Inside in-house: AccorHotels' PR boss on how content curation is driving comms in Asia-Pacific

AccorHotels' Asia-Pacific vice president communications Gaynor Reid discusses the importance of PR as the company opens one new hotel a week, in the latest of PRWeek Asia's new monthly features.

Gaynor Reid
Gaynor Reid

With brands including Sofitel, Pullman, MGallery, Novotel, Ibis Styles and Mercure, chances are you’ve stayed at an AccorHotels property in the past.

The French hotel group opens, on average, one hotel per week in Asia-Pacific and has more than 20 communications specialists working across the region, with its head office in Singapore. This is where Gaynor Reid, the company’s vice president for communications in Asia Pacific is based, working alongside a comms manager and comms executive. She is also currently recruiting for the role of communications & CSR manager.

"This role is not new, but responsibility for this area is increasing as AccorHotels looks to become even more of a leader in corporate social responsibility," she says.

The rest of Reid’s team is spread throughout Asia, with four in both Australia and in China, two in Thailand and at least one in Indonesia, Japan, India, Malaysia, Vietnam and South Korea.

She also works closely with PR consultant Cynthia Dammerer, who has had more than 25 years experience with AccorHotels. And as a French-listed company, the team across Asia ensures it maintains close links with the comms departments in Paris and the rest of the world.

Blog all about it

Alongside activity centred on hotel openings, AccorHotels is currently working on its ‘MyResorts’ campaign in Asia-Pacific, highlighting its 100+ resorts across the region and promoting a range of benefits such as the ‘MyGlass’ scheme, aimed at members of its Le Club AccorHotels loyalty programme and which offers free drinks for a certain period of time, and ‘MyKids’, targeting family travellers. Both of these aim to make guest stays not only more enjoyable but also more affordable.

The PR campaign is focused on inviting bloggers, instagrammers and traditional media to come and experience the ‘MyResorts’ programme and record their experiences.

"We believe blogger engagement will be very important to the roll-out of this programme and we will be running some photographic competitions and a treasure hunt to allow them to explore our best resorts," explains Reid.

Storytelling is also an integral part of the brand’s comms strategy. Reid says that in the last year, the role of comms is moving more towards social media and content curation, resulting in the brand using more imagery, videos and social media channels to tell the stories of its hotels and its brands in a more visual and impactful way.

To this end, the brand is developing a collection of stories around why people travel to resorts, looking at reasons such as romance, family, bucket lists, adventure, golfing, wine time and just wanting to escape and creating content around this for AccorHotels’ new resorts website.

In addition, AccorHotels has identified television and photo opportunities with reality and travel shows and lifestyle brands to bring its resorts’ stories to life. The campaign aims to inform people about the company’s loyalty programme and inspire people to travel to destinations that showcase some of its best resorts.

Agency interaction

As a brand that operates in a fiercely competitive market, AccorHotels works with a number of agencies in Asia Pacific, mostly on a project basis, although it does have some on retainer. Agencies include Cognito in Indonesia, GHC Asia in China, HyperText in India and PPR in Australia. Several of its hotels also work with agencies independently across the region and Reid believes that in the digital age, external agencies are vital as a support network to help the brand get its message across.

"We use agencies a little more [than in the past], now that the communications function has become more complex, with the fast-changing media landscape requiring a more dedicated approach in each country," she says.

"As AccorHotels continues to grow rapidly across Asia-Pacific it is becoming more difficult for the in-house team to manage all communications and PR functions, especially now that we are more involved in the strategic side of the business. We will continue to look for agencies to act as our support teams on the ground."

Keeping pace

With almost 650 hotels across 17 countries in Asia Pacific and with around 70 hotels opening this year alone in the region (the Pullman Bangkok Grande Sukhumvit, pictured above opened last month), Reid says the brand’s biggest challenge from a comms point of view is keeping pace with the changing Asian media landscape.

"The ever-shrinking traditional media outlets and growing online ones make it difficult to quantify and qualify where to invest your advertising dollars and which bloggers are worth supporting," she says.

At the same time, she cautions, one cannot use a ‘cookie-cutter’ approach to communications, because every country is different and brands need to adapt and localise their campaigns for each market, due to cultural differences, the nationalistic nature of the media and the different hotel types.

The changing PR landscape

Reid firmly believes that PR is becoming a more integrated function across the business unit, with executives, she says, finally realising that PR has a role to play in driving business strategy.

"New audiences, new delivery models and the changing definition of what the media is has changed our business," says Reid. "It is not just about writing a press release and expecting coverage. Now content is king and it has to be meaningful content that people want to consume. We can’t just send out corporate messages and expect stories – we need to provide a service to our guests with useful information that informs and inspires and helps them get the most of out of their travels."

Information also needs to be tailored to different audiences and channels to ensure that AccorHotels group, its brands and its hotels remain relevant and interesting.

"More and more we need to measure and value PR and we are becoming publishers in our own right and curators of the AccorHotels story," adds Reid. "In addition, especially because we have so many countries under our purview, crisis communications is becoming more important because a crisis can break at any time on social media. We need to be aware of what is happening across all markets."

The fast pace at which digital comms is moving means that besides having a passion for travel and hotels, Reid expects her staff to be able to work quickly ad efficiently and to handle several projects at once. It is also important that they form and maintain great relationships with the media, bloggers, tourism bodies and airlines, to name but a few, as Reid believes relationships are key to everything.

"We will always work better with people in whom we invest time, and not just money, and this helps us to find new partnerships and new opportunities that are mutually beneficial," explains Reid. "I expect my team to spend part of their time meeting media and partners, and not just tied to their desks."

Front of mind

More than ever, says Reid, PR is integrated into every business unit, particularly within the marketing function. She believes the role of comms is to identify and amplify the experts within the business across all areas and draw attention to them. At the same time, every message her team delivers must further the overall business strategy.

Inside in-house is one of a number of new monthly features being rolled-out by PRWeek Asia. We also take a comprehensive look at the big issues affecting the industry in the Deep Dive, put the region's most influential comms leaders under the spotlight in The Big Interview, and drill down into the media landscape of emerging markets with our Country Case Files. Also, don't miss our weekly rapid-fire, no holds-barred run-through of the last seven days with The PR Week, every Friday.

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