Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Your Marriott Awaits

You'd have to be in a coma to miss all the coverage about the opening of the new J.W. Marriott in downtown Grand Rapids. TV 13 has three headlines in my RSS aggregator starting with "J.W. Marriott......" TV 8 is live there this morning. Other broadcast news is all over it. Print coverage has also been extensive, including a special supplement in last weekend's Press and various treatments by our region's three business journals.

So, publicity is great, right? Well, some of my students and other area pros have wondered if it isn't overkill. It's a good question, and one that needs to be resolved not by basking in a clip count but by reconsidering the objective of publicity for a hotel in media that reaches people who have houses in the area and probably don't need a room. Well, it's an overlap of marketing and public relations.

On the marketing side, this is a form of relationship and word-of-mouth marketing. We may never want to drive 10 to 45-minutes to stay downtown (although some might; the Grand Plaza had packages for local folks for weekend getaways that involved museum and concert tix etc). But, more importantly, we are the all important referrals that hotels seek. I myself have mentioned the hotel already to friends from DC just last week. And when GVSU has had guest speakers in the past, it occured that there have not been many lodging options. So the publicity will help attract customers through referrals.

Secondly, this is an example of community relations. In some of the publicity and advertising about the opening, a host of local contractors who worked on the building are mentioned and thanked. Hotel owners made efforts to hire local companies--a good community relations move. Owners no doubt also want to instill a sense of community pride in the new hotel, which will also yield dividends in the form of referrals mentioned above. Also, there are government officials, planning commissions, hotel tax structures and other issues to keep in mind. All of this publicity and public celebnration of the building creates an environment in which local relationships can be fostered and enjoyed in the future.

Meanwhile, why is the media covering it? It's big and easy to photograph. It's downtown and easy for them to find. It's owned by Alticor. Everyone else in the wolf pack is doing it.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Who Knew Beans About Corporate Names?

I was proud of Michigan coffee franchise Beaners until I read they are changing their name.

Apparently, they are anticipating that Hispanics could be offended by the corporate name. I hadn't heard this derogatory characterization before, but it seems that this ethnic group has been stereotyped as enjoying a diet consisting mostly of beans, and thus they have been called "Beaners."

OK, but ya know, coffee is made from beans, and I thought it was a pretty natural name for a coffee shop. What next? Jumpin' Java in Grand Haven will bow to pressure from potentially offended Indonesians?

I dunno. Multiculturalism, sensitivity is certainly an important public relations concept, if we stress mutual relationship building as the core of our business. But there had been no complaints reported, and political correctness is given too much leeway at times. $1 million to change the name from Beaners to Biggby seems like the owners are seeing too much froth in the latte.

Watch for an association of big people to sue over the new name.

Meanwhile, I await the long overdue rebranding of Cracker Barrel. My white southern relatives are as hot as fried okra over that.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

What a Piece of Boatwerk

Lots of hulllaballoo about the closing of the Boatwerks Restaurant in Holland. The owner is at odds with city leaders over approvals for the eatery that has been open since last year. There are disagreements about compliance with the original site plan for the facility on the water. The owner closed his own restaurant and blamed Holland city officials.

City leaders consider this a 'publicity stunt,' according to an article in the Grand Rapids Press. In Holland Sentinel reportage, city leaders describe themselves as confused by the owners actions.

Here's the thing. It may have seemed like a good idea to Boatwerks owner Joe Walsh to move his previously private discussions with Holland into the public forum. After all, city leaders are elected and accountable to the public, and public sentiment about a popular new eatery being closed--and many employees laid off--could leverage the city to give approvals that have not been coming.

However, be careful of asking for the media spotlight. City leaders responded, and looked like they were doing their jobs and enforcing the site plan. That actually IS accountable to citizens. The public opinion and sentiment may actually make Walsh look a bit silly to Holland residents. He also is damaging his relationship (the essence of PR) with city leaders in the long-term.

Moving your dialogue to the public media might be a good idea if you're certain public opinion will support you and your cause is just. But it could also expose your weaknesses and reveal your move as indeed a "stunt" without substance.

Meanwhile, you can see video of the press conference with Holland city leaders on the Sentinel web site. It's always interesting to watch and learn from others' press conferences. Meanwhile, isn't it interesting to live in an era when newspapers are offering video?