How Marriott Wants to be the Red Bull of the Hotel Industry

Hotel chain with 18 brands opens content studio to entertain consumers, fill rooms

If it worked for an energy drink maker like Red Bull, why not a hotel chain operator?

Marriott International today announced the formation of an internal content studio through which it will develop, produce and distribute a slate of entertainment projects that will include web series, short films, TV shows, music events and movies.

The goal for the Bethesda, Maryland-based company is to appeal to the “next-generation traveler” — made up mostly of millennials — with story driven content marketing.

“We’re saying we’re going to be the largest publishers of life style,” said David Beebe, who is running the new studio, and is now partnering up with producers on the first projects. “We’re going to be the Red Bull of this category. That’s where we want to get to.”

What Beebe is referring to is Red Bull’s successful ability over the years to transform into a brand that’s about experiences rather than selling cans of energy drinks through promotional stunts, sporting events, movies, TV shows, web series and its own magazine.

With 18 brands, Marriott is the world’s largest hotel company with over 4,000 hotels in 78 countries. Through its individual properties, in-room TVs, websites, mobile platforms and reward program, Marriott certainly has the network through which it can distribute entertainment.

“Everyone understands that all of us today are really media companies and content publishers,” Beebe said. “It’s more about how do we do it?

To pull that off, Marriott turned to two executives from Disney and ABC.

Karin Timpone, a former head of product strategy and marketing for Disney ABC Television Group’s Digital Media group, was named Marriott’s global marketing officer last year, and came up with a more entertainment-focused marketing approach to try something new at a time when so many consumers are distracted and glued to screens of various sizes.

“The purpose is to create and establish original content as a key component of the company’s global marketing strategy,” said Timpone, and move away from the more traditional hotel marketing campaigns that have focused exclusively on selling rooms.

Making sure rooms are filled is naturally still the goal — Marriott also will continue to spend on TV and print ads as it has done in the past. But content marketing, being embraced by a number of brands, is seen as a way to help drive overall revenue.

Marriott manages the Marriott, Courtyard, SpringHill Suites, Fairfield Inn & Suites, the new Edition brand with Ian Schrager, Gaylord Hotels, the Autograph Collection, Renaissance Hotels, AC Hotels, and the JW Marriott, Bulgari Hotels and Ritz-Carlton brands in the luxury category.

“Today’s consumers are in control of the message and not necessarily looking for brands to be your friends but to add value first,” added Beebe, a former Disney exec, himself. “If brands can help you out and give you a good experience, you’re most likely to go back to them.”

In joining Marriott over the last several months, as VP, content marketing, Beebe is reuniting with Timpone, a former colleague at ABC. Beebe was a founding executive and VP of the Disney-ABC Television Group’s Digital Studio, which oversees the company’s WATCH ABC app and produced a digital behind-the-scenes look at the Oscars telecast.

After that, Beebe executive produced the travel series “Lucky Bastard,” with Phil Rosenthal for PBS, and developed the digital series “Ultimate Proposal” and “Stunt Nation” with Vin Di Bona for Yahoo.com and digital brands “Petsami” and “Toddletable” on YouTube.

“Rather than talk at consumers, we’re shifting to speaking with them using attention-grabbing content that adds value to consumers’ lives by providing them with information and entertainment at the right time and in the right context,” Beebe said of his new role. “While content is just part of the overall travel experience we provide, we believe Marriott can become the world’s leading publisher of travel lifestyle content for the next generation. Our goal is to produce engaging content that builds communities of people passionate about travel that will drive commerce.”

Three teams make up Marriott’s content studio, with a creative group overseeing the company’s campaigns, special projects and short-form lifestyle related content. An entertainment team manages episodic story driven content, while a live team is responsible for Marriott’s social media efforts and tapping into real-time trends and pop culture conversations.

Marriott’s move into entertainment comes after the company already has produced “The Navigator Live,” a Renaissance Hotels-branded TV series for AXS TV that features live performances by bands and explores cities, restaurants and local attractions with the musicians. AEG co-produced the project which included groups Walk The Moon, DJ Cassidy, LaRoux and Capital Cities. The first episode aired in September.

It plans to continue to partner with producers for new projects.

Upcoming projects include the short film “Two Bellmen,” an action comedy filled with parkour stunts, about a bellman and his hapless counterpart who prove their company loyalty when they must stop art thieves at JW Marriott at L.A. Live, in downtown Los Angeles. Substance Over Hype’s Daniel “Malakai” Cabrera directs the project that will star William Spencer and Caine Sinclair. Another is “Marriott Rewards’ Year of Surprises,” a 12-webisode series, with the first hosted by basketball player Jordan Farmar. The series launches in October.

One in development is “Love Travels,” that examines how love travels around the world and is set at the company’s various properties in the world, like the JW Marriott in Dubai, the Ritz-Carlton in London or the Marriott Marquee in New York. “When they watch the story, they might say, ‘I didn’t know Marriott owns the Ritz,'” Beebe said.

For additional content, Marriott has partnered with travel vlogger Sonia Gil, behind “Sonia’s Travels,” which streams weekly on YouTube and Yahoo Screen; comedian and actress Taryn Southern; and Shira Lazar’s online series “What’s Trending.”

To promote the projects, Marriott will use its website; its mobile app; various social media channels; in-room TV network; and Marriott Rewards, a loyalty membership program that has over 45 million subscribers.

“With Marriott Rewards, that’s a huge platform to build content around,” Beebe said. “Those are loyal brand enthusiasts.”

The company also plans to expand its existing presence on YouTube and launch additional travel-related channels.

While digital will play a significant role in how Marriott distributes its entertainment, “we want to try all formats, all platforms,” Beebe said.

“Through content, we can build relationships, whether it’s informing people or entertaining them,” he said. “If we do this enough, they will come back to us.”

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