Colin Nagy, head of strategy at Fred & Farid, a global advertising agency, writes this opinion column for Skift on hospitality, innovation, and business travel.
“On Experience” dissects customer-centric experiences and innovation across hospitality, aviation, and beyond. You can read all of his columns here.
There’s a template for opening a new, hot boutique hotel. It includes earned media, generating a ton of immediate awareness, manufactured scandal, and striving to ensure that a new property quickly becomes part of the fabric of a city. The recipe is: Hire the smart nightlife coordinators, tap into whatever the zeitgeisty parties are, and pay performers much more than they would get elsewhere — at least for a limited hype window.
Then there’s the old school, earned media playbook. When its hotel on the High Line opened, the Standard had the predictable New York Post story about the voyeurism and community outrage of people doing risqué things in the windows. Shock! Horror! Unsurprisingly, the story and the strategy mapped nicely with the idea of sex appeal and the heart of the brand.
But with a lot of these launches, the air goes out of the tires quickly. Once the media hype cycle winds down, the pace of Instagram stories soften, and the hype beasts move on, there is the predictable lull. Then, rinse and repeat and onto the next property. There’s a way to do it sustainably, but it takes more effort, commitment and caring.
There’s one brand that consistently bucks this trend: Ace Hotels, founded in Portland, has consistently demonstrated the desire to play the long game. Ace has avoided the predictable “smash and grab” approach, instead opting for a smart, sustained relationship with culture and community. The result is a much more normalized cadence, better artist relationships, and a more significant impact in a local community.
When launching in New Orleans, the brand improved how artists were treated, elevating the hospitality standard to one befitting talented musicians: competitive pay, green rooms for before the show, and meals. When launching in Chicago, Ace partnered with literary programs such as Young Chicago Authors and a cultural arts center on the South Side to donate some of the money from launch bookings to support the organizations. Across all properties, the hotel brand’s actions, however small or large, show sincerity and resonate with guests who can see and sense this spirit a mile away.
For brands to avoid the sugar high and then the inevitable crash when launching a new property, there are some guidelines to follow:
Be a Participant, Not a Predator
There’s a temptation to hop on the trending and Instagrammable acts of the moment. But if you are looking to contribute to sustainable culture, you need to adopt the mindset of reciprocity and being a participant, and not a leech, on the artistic ecosystem of a city.
Understand the Market
Ace’s team did its homework deeply. Doing recon and understanding the market, and how artists and musicians get paid and treated provides a basis for setting your benchmarks, improving, and adding to the system.
Be Generous But Stable
It might be tempting to show up with briefcases full of cash and handing it out, but being mindful of what a sustainable wage is versus one that that’s merely geared for short-term hype seems more intelligent. An artistic ecosystem is fragile and when one venue comes in and pumps in money, then stops, this changes dynamics at several levels. Being generous, but sustainable for the long term with payments to artists is the prudent and authentic route.
Balance the Hype Versus the Scene’s Backbone
Every scene has the people who make things happen, put on the shows, put in the love and serve as the backbone in the background through thick and thin. These are the people you need to involve as diplomats and collaborators.
Embrace the Local Community Rather Than Visit It From Afar
It is shocking how many hotels don’t get this right. Putting on events that locals want to come to, or even just providing a comfortable lobby for meetings with reasonably priced food and beverage, is half the battle. Community diplomacy is an artform and contributes to a vibrant feeling.