On this episode of Suite Spot, we have the distinct pleasure of welcoming special guest Mike Parent, Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing at Coakley & Williams Hotel Management Company, to the podcast. Host Ryan Embree interviews Mike on the subject of multi-property hotel marketing as he shares a wealth of hospitality experience and knowledge.
Mike speaks to Coakley Williams’ philosophy of curating a unique and targeted marketing strategy for each property within their portfolio. Mike also shares his approach to implementing effective marketing campaigns for new acquisitions and new-build properties. We discuss the balance of traditional and digital marketing technologies in today’s hotel landscape. This episode is a must-listen for anyone in the industry looking to learn more about building a successful hotel marketing campaign.
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Ryan Embree: Welcome to Suite Spot where hoteliers check in and we check out what’s trending in hotel marketing. I’m your host, Ryan Embree. Hello and welcome, this is Ryan Embree your host of the Suite Spot. Another episode we have in a very special episode with a, another very special guest, Mr Mike Parent who is the Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Coakley and Williams Hotel Management Company, have the pleasure of introducing him for the first time to the Suite Spot. Mike is an innovator whose creative ideas has developed new revenue streams for hotel properties that he works with. And I want to go ahead and welcome Mike to the Suite Spot today, so thank you for joining me, Mike.
Mike Parent: Thank you, Ryan, great to be with you. I appreciate you, including me.
Ryan Embree: Absolutely, absolutely, and what we do with a lot of our guests on the Suite Spot, just to get a little background of how you started in the industry, the hotel industry itself. I think one of the things that makes it so unique is that everyone can come from really any place in hospitality. So I always find it absolutely fascinating to ask our guests, “Tell us a little bit about your background, how you got started in the industry and maybe the journey that led you to Coakley Williams.”
Mike Parent: Sure. Well, I’ve been in the industry for many years. I started as a desk clerk at a hotel in Washington DC. I took a summer job while I was in college pursuing my degree in radio/TV broadcasting. For the first five years of my hotel career I worked mostly in operations. I was a desk clerk, I was a night auditor, I did maintenance during the winter, I was assistant manager of a hotel, but I was eventually exposed to hotel sales when I worked for a larger hotel and I saw what they were doing in sales and that really got my interest. So my first sales gig was for a new hotel that was opening near the Watergate in Washington DC called Guest Quarters. That brand is now evolved into the Doubletree brand, which is part of the Hilton family. But since Guest Quarters my hotel sales journey as you call it, has taken me through many major branded and independent hotels, several management companies and two senior level positions at major brands. I was Director of Sales and Marketing for Taj Hotels of India when they had six hotels in Washington DC and I was also Vice President of new hotels sales support at Choice Hotels International.
Ryan Embree: That’s awesome. So again, quite the plethora of knowledge and experience there. I find it such a common trend that a lot of people in the industry, you know, just got started as a, you know, front desk clerk, you know, you made your way up the ranks there. I have to ask, especially, you know, starting from front end positions, how has that in your experience served you in your position?
Mike Parent: Yeah, I mean, I think working in operations positions helps a salesperson to understand what happens throughout the hotel. It’s one thing to go out and sell a hotel and its features and benefits and services, but you have to know what the delivery is like and you have to be sensitive to operations as well. So definitely that experience helped me understand that better and put me in a better position for sales and marketing.
Ryan Embree: You know you talked about your first sales being for a new hotel in DC we know how difficult that is for a sales job, for one, you have to manage marketing for multiple hotels. So talk to us a little bit about that, what are your biggest challenges when it comes to managing marketing for multiple hotels?
Mike Parent: Sure, at Coakley & Williams, first of all, we’re a third party management company, so we manage hotels for owners. Today we have 32 hotels and they range from city center in Washington DC to suburban properties in Maryland and Virginia and other states. We also have beach front properties in Florida at Cape Canaveral and Daytona Beach and Virginia Beach, Virginia as well, and we have attraction based properties like the Red Coach Inn in Niagara Falls, New York and right now we’re working on a new development of a La Quinta del Sol at Seaworld in Orlando. Our properties are branded and they’re independent. They range in size from as small as 24 rooms to as large as 250 rooms. So you can see that there’s a lot of variety in our portfolio and every hotel has its own unique personality and along with that, its own set of challenges and opportunities. I’m fortunate to have a great corporate sales and marketing staff, Beth Taylor is our Vice President of Sales and Marketing and Lisa Bogue is our Corporate Director of Sales. So among the three of us, we cover all 32 properties and we are boots on the ground. We’ve visited the hotels, we work with the sales staffs, we hire them, we train them, we work alongside them in our smaller hotels, we work with our General Managers to help them with their sales and marketing efforts. When we’re at the hotels, we work in direct sales and we help them with their digital marketing efforts. We’re also in touch on a regular basis through live training webinars and live online meetings. So we take advantage of technology to be present whenever we’re needed.
Ryan Embree: That hands on approach, really it’s impressive again, that you guys can can scope that throughout the entirety of the group. And you guys have had that opportunity for portfolio growth and expansion. It’s really a byproduct of the your success in the hotel industry. And Luckily for Coakley Williams, you’ve had a lot of growth very recently. So I’m curious if you could walk us through, from a marketing perspective, what do you do when a property is added to your portfolio? Do you have like an onboarding process? How is that process handled?
Mike Parent: Sure. For me, taking over management of an existing hotel, it’s always an exciting event. You never know what you’re going to find when you walk into a hotel for the first time. So I like to refer to Coakley and Williams as hotel doctors, we’re often brought in to take over management of a hotel that needs care in all of the departments: housekeeping, maintenance, front desk, food and beverage, sales, every department. And as you can imagine, a property that needs this kind of attention is also experiencing a morale problem. And when you come in as a new management company, you have existing employees who are nervous about it. They’re concerned about their jobs and how we’re going to treat them as the management company. So on day one, our team comes in, we meet with the entire staff, we get their perspective on the hotel. We ask them, what are the issues? What do you need to do your jobs better? How can we help you? Once we get a list of all the things that need to be addressed from the employees perspective, because they’re the frontline people after all, then we work at the department level to breathe life back into the hotel, starting with an assessment of the personnel, training and retraining if needed. Implementing our SOPs, our standard operating procedures, for cleanliness, for maintenance and service, and not to mention the attitude adjustments that may need to be made along the way. Before we go into a new hotel, that we’re taking over, we’ve already done our homework so we know what travelers think about the hotel. We study Medallia scores, TripAdvisor reviews, Google, and Expedia reviews. And these resources really help us to focus in on areas that need immediate attention. When we go in we get the employee’s perspective and we have the guest’s perspective, so we’re working on both sides of the desks so to speak, to understand what the challenges are at the hotel. From my perspective, it’s always rewarding to see our guest review scores and ratings improve from the day we took over, when we take a benchmark reading on the day that we assume management at the hotel and within weeks, months we start to see those guest scores and reviews and ratings improve.
Ryan Embree: And I love that term hotel doctors. It’s almost like you have to go in and diagnose the problems. What are the issues of why this hotel is not performing? Growing your portfolio doesn’t just come from – at least for Coakley Williams – doesn’t just come from acquiring already built hotels. You mentioned it at the beginning, that you guys are actually doing some new build projects, which is super exciting. I’m sure it has its headaches as well. Talk our listeners through what your approaches for marketing a new build versus coming in and trying to fix an existing.
Mike Parent: So to continue in the medical terminology as doctors of hotels that need to be fixed or repaired with a new build, it’s like helping our owners give birth to a new hotel. And improving an existing hotels has many challenges, but opening a new hotel from the ground up has many more because we do all those things that we do for an existing hotel, but we do so much more even before it opens. So we often get involved at the very outset, when the first shovel of dirt is turned, we consult on the building layout and design, we consult on development and construction, we also get involved in licensing and registration as well as helping owners in some cases, determine which brand is better for their particular location. And that’s particularly important in markets where there is a saturation of competing brands. So with a brand new hotel, we get to start with a brand new staff. The General Manager and the Director of Sales are typically onboarded about four to six months in advance of the opening. And while the GM focuses on operations and getting rooms ready for guests in that time period leading up to the opening, the Director of Sales is out in the field, calling on accounts, strategizing with the brands, establishing digital channels for generating revenues. Basically what I like to call making the phone ring and the booking engine click.
Ryan Embree: Absolutely, you want to start to get the word out about the new property, you want to get the excitement building about a new build, but yeah, those are some great points that you talked about. Even the decision of picking a brand is vital and very critical to the success of a new property. But even putting the staff together, you know, picking a specific GM or picking the right staff to make sure that they’re aligned in the goals. So I found that absolutely fascinating. So let’s talk about that type of marketing. You mentioned making the phone ring and the booking engine click and there’s a couple of different ways to do that. And I’m sure in your experience you’ve seen that kind of transition. So how do you find balance in traditional marketing, feet to street, billboards, things of that nature and the newer digital marketing strategies like social media, PPC ad spend, things of that nature?
Mike Parent: Right, and that’s, that’s a great question, Ryan. In recent years, as you know, the hotel industry has kind of evolved into a blend of traditional sales and digital marketing. And the balance is different for every hotel. Just like each hotel has its own unique personality, the balance of traditional sales and marketing versus digital marketing, it can be different for each hotel. So let me explain what traditional sales means to me, it’s good old fashioned knocking on doors, creating relationships with clients in your own backyard. It’s networking at CVB and chamber events, it’s participating in travel trade shows, sales blitzes, organized sales missions to targeted feeder cities and business generators. That’s what we’ve always done in the hotel business, right? But now we have digital marketing and it’s a whole new world. Digital marketing changes every day. Actually by the time we finish our discussion, something new in digital marketing will have been invented and Ryan, you and I both need to know about it. I’m always on the lookout for new opportunities, new ways to get the phone ringing and get the booking engine revved up. In the past that used to be that you signed a corporate deal or landed a RFP and then you moved on to the next corporate deal or RFP. Then you made a list and you posted it at the front desk. Well that just doesn’t work anymore. Once the corporate deal is signed or the RFP is signed or the partnership relationship is signed, you’ve got to open up the channels for making reservations and that means providing the client with their unique rate code, helping them push it out to their travelers, including the name of the company on your brand and your vanity website for good search engine optimization so your travelers can find your hotel when they search. And creating landing pages for the client, highlighting all the benefits and features of your hotel, not to mention the proximity to the client’s nearby location. And don’t forget that despite company travel policy that many of the big companies have in place, many travelers make their own hotel decisions and they often book outside of the company guidelines. And that’s where your online presence matters most on the travelers shopping on their own, whether it’s for business or pleasure they’re gonna make their decision on where they stay based on their personal preferences, not necessarily on the company guidelines. So you asked about social media and PPC spend also, depending upon the brand or the independent status of the hotel, as well as, the hotel’s location and the intensity of competition, PPC spend can vary. Sometimes a hotel enjoys a unique positioning by brand or by independent name or by having very modest competition in that case, very little, if any, PPC may be necessary to invest. On the other hand, a property with fierce competition in a market that has an intensity of popular brands and wide swings in demand, seasonal demands, that’s likely going to require more significant investment in PPC, particularly during the off season because it’s a game of market share and shifting market share to your hotel.
Mike Parent: With regard to Social Media now than ever before, in my opinion, it’s a critical piece of the puzzle. Instagram and Facebook interaction with guests, potential guests, and their friends can enhance the hotel’s SEO and visibility on the web. Equally important, if not more important, are guest reviews on TripAdvisor, Yelp, Expedia, Google, and other review channels. Just one bad review or headline sitting at the top of the review page can make or break you, so think about it. Your hotel is doing great with guest reviews, all glowing reports, five bubbles on TripAdvisor. Then one bad review is posted by a disgruntled guest. The headline is, “What a dump” or “Lousy service” or “We’ll never stay here again.” Of course, those headlines are in caps and bold at the top of the review and at the top of the page and that review is going to sit on the top of your review page until it’s responded to and pushed down by other reviews. In the meantime, regardless of your hotel’s rating or ranking or number of bubbles or stars or diamonds, this is your hotels headline. It’s like a Las Vegas billboard and it’s gonna kill reservations activity on that channel until it’s resolved.
Ryan Embree: You’re absolutely right and I love that analogy and that’s where Travel Media Group has partnered with you and your team, most of your properties to help you with the social media and reputation and even responding to some reviews there. And we’re a proud partner with a lot of the hotels in your portfolio, can you speak to the partnership between Travel Media Group and Coakley and Williams and how that has evolved to what it is today?
Mike Parent: Sure. Well, I was introduced to Travel Media Group by John Dodd several years ago. John walked me through all of the new digital marketing services that TMG offers. So I invited TMG to participate in our annual hospitality conference and trade show and a few of our hotels at the conclusion of that event picked up on some of your services. And over the past few years, TMG has been a great partner, you’ve participated in our conference and trade shows and training. Our relationship has grown ever since. So we have a very close working relationship with you, Ryan, as well as John, Aislynn, Erica and Stephanie. Everyone is so helpful and so responsive, we really appreciate it. And if you look at our portfolio today, more than half of our hotels use at least one of your services, whether it’s website management or guest reviews and responses or social media postings.
Ryan Embree: And like I said, Mike, we are such a proud partner of Coakley and Williams. And it’s been such a great partnership and many of those conferences, I myself have been to two already, and hope to be at a lot more, but culture is really at the foundation of any successful company and I’ve, like I said, had the pleasure of attending those conferences and really been able to see a Coakley and Williams culture in action. Can you talk to us about the role of company culture and how it’s played into the success of Coakley and Williams?
Mike Parent: Absolutely, the vision of Coakley Williams really defines our culture. And our vision, our stated vision is to provide peace of mind and success for all. And what that means, Ryan, is that vision applies to all of our team members, our guests, the vendors we work with, and our clients. We want everyone sleeping well at night and we all have to work towards that goal. We also value entrepreneurial-ism, of course we have our standard operating procedures and every department and we adhere to brand guidelines, but we also recognize that each person is unique and that they have unique talents and skills to bring to the table. Each person’s perspective is different, so we encourage new ideas and experimentation. When we try something new at someone’s recommendation and it works, we blow it out for the rest of the portfolio and we encourage all of our hotels to get involved. If we try something and it doesn’t work, that’s fine, we move on, we’ve learned from that experience and we can cross that off of our list and look forward to the next idea that we can try.
Ryan Embree: And I think it goes back to that cohesiveness again between all of your properties and your employees at Coakley and Williams. So awesome. Well, we really appreciate you being on the call with us, Mike, and you know, I just wanted to open it up. Finally, what tips and best practices would you give to listeners that might be managing marketing strategies for properties? You know, you have had so much success, what tips and advice could you give?
Mike Parent: Well, my philosophy is that you should always be on the lookout for new ways of doing business. If you don’t, you’re going to get left in the dust. So I have a few things that I try to remember every day. One is collaborate with others, learn something new every day, and teach something new every day. And finally, my favorite acronym is E. O. M. S. and that means ears open, mouth shut. I always learn more from people and I let them do the talking and that means I ask a lot of questions along the way.
Ryan Embree: I love that. E. O. M. S. Awesome, well thank you again Mike so much for joining me on the Suite Spot. This was a great episode and we’ll have to do it again sometime.
Mike Parent: Thank you Ryan. I enjoyed it.
Ryan Embree: Thank you Mike, and thank you to all of our listeners and we’ll see you next time on the Suite Spot. To join our loyalty program, be sure to subscribe and give us a five star rating on iTunes. Suite Spot is produced by Travel Media Group. Our editor is Anne Sandoval with cover art by Bary Gordon and content support by Priscilla Osorio. I’m your host, Ryan Embree, and we hope you enjoyed your stay.