Campaign: No Room at the Inn
PR team: Shine Communications
Timescale: November- December 2004
Christmas is traditionally a slow time for hotels. Budget chain Travelodge tasked retained agency Shine Communications with positioning the chain as a Yuletide accommodation option via a media relations programme within its existing press office budget. Objectives
To achieve a significant increase in Christmas bookings. To support Travelodge's desire to be known for its city centre sites and the comfort of its rooms.
Strategy and Plan
The PR team decided to use the Nativity theme and came up with the idea of offering any couple called Mary and Joseph a free night's stay at any UK Travelodge.
A major aspect of the strategy was to engage with customers in a 'conversational' tone. News agency contacts were initially targeted in late November - Shine wanted the 'talkability' of the 'No Room at the Inn' offer to drive interest beyond a single day's coverage. The giveaway aspect made it a natural item for entertainment radio and Shine kept the story going during December with updates on the take-up of the offer.
Measurement and Evaluation
The Press Association and Reuters covered the story, along with London free paper Metro and website Ananova. It appeared in The Sunday Times' Atticus column and was used by The Sun as a Sun Spot item; there were 15 branded mentions on major radio stations nationwide during the weekend after the story was released.
A press release quote from the manager of the Covent Garden Travelodge - saying his hotels were more comfortable than a stable and that he trusted qualifying couples would not bring donkeys - achieved ten mentions in 'quotes of the week' columns.
Internationally, the story was picked up by US magazine Newsweek, The International Herald Tribune's Traveller's Update column, ABC News, The New York Post and The Telegraph in Calcutta. Mentions in the hospitality trade media - important for Travelodge's internal comms and recruitment drive - included weekly news magazine Travel Trade Gazette.
Shine followed up some of the 25 couples who took up the offer, generating local coverage in papers such as the North Wales Weekly News and the Lancashire Evening Post.
The following criteria were used to assess the campaign: consistency with pre-agreed messages, media longevity and relevance, and tonality in line with 'conversational' positioning. Independent measurement consultant Mediaproof says there were 79 mentions of the Mary and Joseph offer, generating 43,825,000 OTS. Of the coverage, 55 pieces mentioned the 'comfort' message.
Room sales over Christmas were up 20 per cent year on year, according to Travelodge. Mark Solomons, founder of news agency Specialist News Services, says Shine timed the release well: 'It was far enough ahead of Christmas for it not to be swamped by other seasonal stories, 99.9 per cent of which are rubbish. It also had some relevance to Christmas, whereas most "Christmas-themed" stories do not.
'We have a good feel for the lighter stories and this was funny. It was fairly well written and our queries were quickly answered.'
Alison Whitfield, founder of Ethos Marketing, has clients including Legacy Hotels and Serena Hotels in southern and east Africa.
Travelodge is a well-known brand that has established itself as a value-for-money product, popular with corporate/business travellers who are looking for a good standard of accommodation - clean, comfortable and in the right locations.
The perception is that the group has always struggled to generate the same level of business over weekends or during holiday periods - possibly due to the fact that it does not normally target these markets. As such, the campaign was a bold move but done simply and quirkily - cleverly linked to Christmas. It also achieved some great results.
I believe the PR team realised most of its objectives - increased awareness of Travelodge (but not necessarily the city centre locations), comfort of the rooms (if being more comfortable than a stable is the way it wants to be known) and, more importantly, an increase of business over the Christmas period.
Offering free rooms to Marys and Josephs could have been costly, but as the name Joseph is not that common, the take-up of 25 rooms made the campaign affordable for Travelodge.
The only downside is that it is a hard act to follow - perhaps it should concentrate on the comfort angle in the next campaign.