Ms. Heydt

Sales & Marketing

Hotel Marketing Plans That Mean Business

By Sandy Heydt, Director of Sales & Marketing, The Logan, Philadelphia's Hotel

When completed, most marketing plans only get placed in a tabbed binder, while the Owner, Management Company and General Manager may or may not even glance at it. Then it goes on a shelf and collects dust.

First things first: everyone along the food chain needs to take responsibility for marketing plans that are not meaningful. Sometimes Management Company executives or General Managers just want a plan to look good...i.e. big and thick with lots of graphs. Marketing directors just want to get it done and move on to the next project - like actually selling rooms or putting out the first fire of the day. I can remember that when I was on property I dreaded marketing plan time because I had so many other things to do, and I was also a tad resentful because I knew the plan would really never be read carefully by anyone else.

Working document

What a waste of a potentially great tool. Marketing plans can be valuable, working documents which are used all year long by sales and catering managers, food and beverage directors, restaurant managers, revenue managers, advertising and public relations staff. All these individuals should not only have input into the plan, but assist in writing it. Who better knows their clients, competition, challenges and strengths? Who is responsible on a day-to-day basis for revenue production? There is no better way to get the buy-in from key staff on plans and actions for the coming year than involving them in the planning process.

How many of us have written plans while cloistered in our office, just writing to deadline, daring anyone to interrupt? I can remember in the old days, before I got smart about writing plans, that my staff would avoid me like the plague during this time. I must have had a look that said, "Ask me a question and I just might lose it!"

Use your staff to help

Sales, catering, revenue and outlet managers often never get the chance to review the marketing plan, rarely have input, and would probably find most plans irrelevant to their daily lives. After all, most marketing plans are written because they are a requirement, not because anyone really sees the long- term value in the thinking behind the document and the inherent staff training that could have taken place through its very design. This is a mistake and one I have made. I'll never forget that day, around March or April one year, when a sales manager asked me if she could see that year's marketing plan. I was embarrassed. How could I have not included her in the process, much less at least respected her enough to share the finished plan with her and the team?

I learned later that an innovative marketing director - what I was trying to become - would use the marketing plan development process as learning and planning tool for staff. The result will be an action-oriented document with great back up information that the staff uses all year long for guidance, information and planning.

What a concept - to have the marketing plan be a real living, breathing document and working action plan for the staff! I know that everyone's eyes lit up and the staff felt important once I started involving them in the planning strategy and implementation process. A good lesson for those of us that say, "Oh, I can do it faster myself. I don't have time to involve anyone else in the process."

What to include

Marketing plans should never be written without detailed information about your competition. How can a hotel, restaurant, golf course, spa or catering department even think about how they are going to market their services and products successfully unless they are knowledgeable about their competitive set?

What are the features and benefits of the competition? Their pricing points? What do their customers think about them? How does your property and product stack up...honestly? The best way to do this is to really shop your competition as a client would, and do this for every market segment and for every hotel department. Then have someone shop you. You'd be surprised what you'll find out about how your property handles incoming requests.

What about recapping the past year's work? What didn't succeed, what stumbled, what soared, and what didn't even make it off the drawing board? Who and what are, were, and will be your target markets? How can you reach them? Do you actually speak on a regular schedule to your current loyal customer base? Do you have a specific plan to care for and motivate your regular customers?

When I was on property I always thought I was very open-minded and able to see where we needed to improve with how we dealt with inquiries, and how the golf course and spa handled their members and clients. But I know that I could become defensive about protecting my staff and was not always open to constructive criticism. Once I learned to really listen to what others might be saying about where we could improve, my staff became more open as well and our customer service really improved. What a surprise...this yielded greater revenue results as well!

This open way of thinking is very important for room sales, catering sales, restaurant outlets, the spa and golf course. No revenue producing area of a property should be left out of the marketing plan process. How many of us think it is a room department document, and forget about including the restaurants, golf course and spa?

Other information necessary to collect before starting on your strategies and action plans includes citywide pressure dates, local and national economic conditions that impact the hospitality, restaurant and travel industry, and a thorough review of any new inventory coming on the market. This information, coupled with historical data, will give you the framework to begin starting to think about very detailed strategy for the coming year.

Again, use your team

If the staff members who are directly responsible for revenue generating departments participate in the data collection, brainstorming of ideas and reviewing how your product stacks up against the competition, you will have an engaged staff that is motivated to follow the plan and feel personally responsible for making sure that positive things happen.

How about the silly spa story?

A resort spa where I used to work was trying to appeal to the local clientele, not just resort guests. The spa facility was a bit tired, however there was not much money to put into improvements. To make matters worse, a new, swanky spa opened 30 minutes away. Everyone felt defeated. But, during the marketing plan process we brought all the spa staff together - even the part time therapists - to get their input for the spa section of the plan. One engaged staff member made a great suggestion when asked for input. "Can't we at least replace the bright sodium lighting with softer light to make the spa to feel warm and inviting? Plus, softer lights will shine less brightly on some of our flaws." For $100 the spa was improved 1,000 percent, thanks to a clever idea from someone who was asked for their opinion during the marketing plan process. How many of us engage hourly staff for ideas when writing a marketing plan? Perhaps we should do so as a starting point as a key management tool over and beyond "writing the plan".

Small business owners

How many plans are big on flashy mission statements and strategy, but short on specific action agendas? A plan without weekly and monthly goals, actions, and targets is a plan that is meaningless. Even if the owner or manager is not interested in these specifics, marketing directors worth their salt will be sure to include this in the plan and ask the managers of each specific area to provide input and ideas. How better to engage the managers in their jobs than to give them input into the big picture? Who knows the customers better than they? This also teaches managers to think for themselves, take responsibility for their part of the business, and holds them accountable.

Once I started treating my staff like owners of their own small business, I was amazed at the results I was getting. Why was I surprised? This is the way I wanted to be treated, why should my staff have been different?

Weekly success updates

The marketing director should follow-up each month with every department so as to ensure that they are working through the action items in the marketing plan and then get their input on changes that might need to be made to deal with any recent developments in the marketplace.

Be sure to share the excitement on a weekly basis. Email all hotel staff success stories and positive press or guest comments that you have received. Keep motivation levels high by rewarding all departments with praise and incentives when they meet their goals. As a positive example, talk about and publicly praise the individuals who conscientiously follow the actions items set forth in the plan.

Marketing directors remember: spread the wealth - and the work. Have everyone - hourly and management - assist you in compiling information, strategizing and writing actions strategies for the marketing plan. Everybody wins!

Sandy Heydt is Director of Sales and Marketing at The Logan, Philadelphia’s Hotel. Ms. Heydthas 25 years experience in luxury hotel sales and marketing, for both resorts and city hotels. Ms. Heydt’s passion for building brands, strategic marketing, team empowerment and collaboration supports the owner’s vision and goals as The Logan strives to be the most exciting and successful hotel in the marketplace. Sandy’s knack for introducing and engaging new brands to a targeted customer base and working with operations teams to deliver the brand promise is essential to her success at The Logan Hotel. Prior to joining the team at The Logan Hotel, Ms. Heydt was Vice President of Sales at the AAA Five Star/Mobile Five Diamond Eau Palm Beach Resort and Spa, and was instrumental in transitioning this former Ritz Carlton to an Independent resort. Prior to that, Ms. Heydt founded and owned Panetiere Marketing Advisors for 10 years, a company that provided sales and marketing consulting and temporary staffing to a variety of hotels ownership groups and management companies. Ms. Heydt personally worked on projects with Destination Hotels & Resorts, Noble House Hotels & Resorts, Leading Hotels of the World, Preferred Hotels & Resorts and many private owners and investors. Ms. Heydt can be contacted at 215-963-1500 or sandra.heydt@theloganhotel.com Please visit http://www.theloganhotel.com for more information. Extended Bio...

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