We live in a celebrity-obsessed world. And those celebrities that are plastered all over paparazzi-led mags, newspapers, television news and chat shows have to stay somewhere. Joanna Wood explains how a hotel can piggy-back on the potential for marketing and brand profiling
By associating your hotel with a celebrity you can stand in line for the equivalent of several thousands - sometimes millions - of pounds-worth of advertising: for free. A name check in a press conference here, a logo in a photograph there and gradually a brand awareness will embed itself to the consciousness of the wider public, as Greg Hegarty, the regional general manager of Park Plaza Hotels and Resorts, knows only too well.
Hegarty is responsible for forging an association between the group's two properties on London's Southbank - the Plaza on the River and the Park Plaza Riverbank - and British boxer David Haye. The former WBO heavyweight world champion and his entourage stay at the sister hotels - one comprises suites, the other regular hotel rooms - in the 12-weeks prior to his fights.
In addition to the accommodation, Hegarty has facilitated the setting up of a private gym for sparring and workouts in railway arches just behind the properties leased by the hotel. In effect, the properties provide Haye with an exclusive training camp as well as a home-away-from-home as he prepares for fights.
The link-up with Haye began before he won his world championship title last November by defeating Russian boxer Nikolay Valuev and is grounded in a formal contract under which he gets accommodation and facilities at a special rate and the hotel gets an agreed amount of media exposure through him. Hegarty estimates that, to November last year, the hotels gained £1,161,844 worth of advertising value equivalent (AVE) in 39 press features and £2,904,612 worth of PR exposure.
How was that achieved? Through in-shot photographs and TV footage of the hotels' logo on background advertising hoardings - at press conferences staged at the hotel, at the training gym, at fight stadiums, plus logos on Haye's T-shirts and shorts - and hotel mentions by Haye in interviews.
At the time the association commenced there was no guarantee that Haye would gain the world title and, therefore, as a consequence, rocket his newsworthy value to super-celebrity status with all the attendant media interest. "It was a bit of a punt," admits Hegarty. "He could have lost that first fight - but it was clear he was a charismatic person right from the beginning."
Haye won that initial fight and successfully defended his title, but last month missed out on being named undisputed world champion having lost to Russian boxer Wladimir Klitschko. Even so, the media spotlight has only been a good thing for the Plaza properties.
The benefits have far outweighed any little hiccups, agrees Hegarty. The Southbank Plaza properties' association with Haye has established them as the place to stay for sports stars. Footballers' Frank Lampard and Rio Ferdinand, both friends of Haye, have stayed at the hotel, as have other showbiz friends of the boxer - Ricky Gervais and Justin Bieber.
Moreover, British and Commonwealth super middleweight boxing champion, George Groves, has followed in Haye's footsteps and now bases himself at the Park Plaza properties in fight build-ups. And the properties featured heavily in a documentary on Haye's build-up to last month's disappointing title fight, screened on Sky TV.
By establishing a link between the hotels and a sporting star like Haye, Hegarty is following in a path trailblazed by the likes of Pennyhill Park, which has long been associated with the England rugby team.
However, by far and away the most headline-grabbing celebrities are those from the movie and rock and pop world. One of London's most prestigious hotels, Claridge's, is well used to hosting international film stars visiting London for movie premieres. The hotel deems its links with the entertainment world so important for business that it has a dedicated member of staff dealing with them.
Christy Lee, head of entertainment at Claridge's, is on call 24/7 when high-profile celebs are staying at the renowned art deco hotel. "It's good PR to have these people to stay," she says. "Everyone wants people like the Sex and the City girls staying with them - as we did last year - because the media interest is so high," she states.
The hotel tries to keep disruption for its other guests at a minimum, but if there's a "film junket", as Lee calls it, going on, then a complete floor of the hotel is taken over, providing not only sleeping accommodation but also rooms and suites for press conferences, make-up and dressing areas, sometimes even a nursery if stars bring children with them. "An entourage can be more than 20 people sometimes," says Lee.
Surprisingly, Lee says that on the whole most visiting celebs don't have outrageous demands. "They're never horrible when you meet them, only in the lead-up to the stay," she jokes. Sometimes, she concedes, visiting stars want specific dietary requirements, or to bring their own chefs; occasionally someone may ask for bedroom or suite furniture to be rearranged; and from time-to-time specific make-up or pharmacy brands not available in the UK are asked for. "If we can't get something that's requested, we'll fly it in. It's usually things like US cereals - I've even had a request for a specific bottled water."
The key, she stresses, is a can-do attitude and flexibility. "You may get a call half an hour before someone is due to arrive, saying they're bringing 20 extra people, instead of four."
Clara Saffer, director of sales at the K West hotel in Shepherd's Bush, agrees with the need for flexibility when dealing with high-profile entertainment guests. Being located near to key concert venues, like the Shepherd's Bush Empire, as well as the BBC's current HQ in nearby White City, means that the boutique property frequently has pop and rock stars staying overnight. Anyone and everyone - from Peter Andre and Cher, to Cee Lo Green and Katy Perry.
Saffer estimates a quarter of the hotel's business is with music, entertainment and media guests. "It's a different style of business to normal corporate or leisure business. There are no long lead-in times. People come here when they're performing nearby, obviously, but they also come when they're doing PR work and, to use and visit the music studios and music label headquarters like EMI and Sony nearby."
One of the most obvious areas where the hotel has to adjust regular systems is in the check-in and check-out times. Pre-registering the night before an arrival is not uncommon and late check-outs are often the norm. "We try and meet the needs of our guests, but sometimes we have to charge for another night in extreme cases," says Saffer.
Saffer's advice to avoid hiccups and give celebrities an event-free stay is to clear everything in advance. Like Hegarty - and Lee - she suggests going through all requirements with a fine toothcomb with agents and managers before any guests arrive. Unlike Hegarty's deal with his Park Plaza properties, Saffer's guests are usually more transitory and not tied-in to contracts of association. However, the niche that K West has carved out in linking itself with the music industry has led to the hotel offering a "Rock ‘n' Roll" package to its regular guests; at £529 for two, guests get to stay at the hotel and also cut their own record at a nearby studio, where the likes of Robbie Williams and Kylie Minogue have recorded. The package is popular with hen and stag night parties.
If you are creative, there are always spin-off marketing opportunities to be made from links with celebrities, whether or not they are themselves tied-in with these.
celebrity contract essentials
If you're entering a formal association, kick-off by drawing-up a wish list of what both sides want. Then tie everything down in detail. Include things like:
â- How many rooms for the entourage - and limit this
â- Extras, for example, private gym, make-up/dressing rooms
â- The size of hotel logo when it appears on advertising hoardings
â- Where the logo will appear, for example, press conferences, merchandising, event venues
â- How and when you have access to the celebrity for hotel-related PR
â- Exclusion dates - key calendar dates when your hotel will be full, for example, Chelsea Flower Show week
how to appeal to celebrities
â- Can-do attitude - be flexible, expect last-minute requests
â- Make sure you tie everything down in the contract and constantly review it if you're entering a formal association with a celeb
â- If a one-off visit, find out beforehand any requests for extras - private gym space, food, make-up room, and so on
â- Don't be afraid to stick to your guns and say no if things get out of hand - particularly with entourages
â- Keep service informal but professional - particularly appropriate for rock and pop stars
â- Decide what camp you are in - are you going to be discreet for your guests, or are you going to spill the beans
â- Have a policy for dealing with paparazzi - maybe a discreet exit/drop-off point
the benefits of hosting celebrities
â- Free publicity for the hotel
â- Extra business from celebrity's own contacts
â- Higher profile - establishing the hotel as the place to stay for sports, pop and movie stars, TV guests/presenters
â- Specialist marketing packages, for example, Rock ‘n' Roll package at the K Hotel
â- Tickets to high-profile events at which you can entertain valued hotel clients
Common celebrity requests
â- Humidifiers in room - particularly for singers
â- Make-up mirrors - for movie stars/singers holding press conferences
â- Private gyms - or exclusive use of facilities
â- Specific dietary requests/own chef
â- Tour bus parking for rock bands
â- Extra clothes hangers
â- Odd checking-in and checking out hours
â- Games facilities in rooms, for example, table tennis
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