A position designed for visionary and adaptable planners

Business is up. Business is down. Who’s to praise? Who’s to punish? The relationship between a general manager and director of marketing is, at best, often a strained one. For better or for worse, no single individual in your planning committee has as much potential to change your business as your DofM (or DofM&S, when the position is twinned with sales).

A different role requires specialized talents

You would never promote your rooms division manager to the position of comptroller, nor would you ever move your executive housekeeper to F&B director. Yet we’ve seen countless examples where the director of marketing is promoted immediately from a role in operations. The move is simply illogical, underscoring a lack of understanding of marketing’s complexity and the very unique skill set that an exceptional marketer brings to the role.

By their very nature, marketers are more visionary than pragmatic. Your DofM should have a vision for the future of the property — in fact, the longer the time horizon, the better! Therein lies the conundrum.

Hotel operations tend to focus on the today: VIPs, groups in house, rooms out of order or service issues identified in the latest TripAdvisor guest rating. Hotel marketing, while remaining fully aware of all of this daily information, should nonetheless be focused on issues involving package development, positioning, competitive trends and seasonal opportunities. There’s very little a DofM can do to magically increase tonight’s or tomorrow night’s occupancy, yet with a good strategy, significant improvements can be made when long-term plans are put into action.

This leads to potential frustration on the part of the GM. The more you ask your DofM to get involved in today’s operations, the less time he or she has for planning the future. Sorry, but I side with the DofM on this one. You need your marketer as your scout, your advance planner and, quite frankly, your risk taker. A good DofM manages the relationship between revenue management, the sales team and senior operations. A great DofM builds fundamental bridges between these (often) disparate groups and leads them according to the vision.

But where do you find these evangelic and charismatic DofMs? Surprisingly, my recommendation is NOT necessarily in the hotel industry. Simply put, there are typically insufficient opportunities for gaining the prerequisite marketing experience on property. Packaged goods firms offer one potential resource — in particular, those with backgrounds in perishable goods such as soft drinks or snack foods. I note that my own marketing background with Procter & Gamble and Pepsico’s Frito Lay served me well in adapting quickly to hospitality marketing. Another potential reserve is financial marketing, especially those in retail banking, where customer acquisition strategies are meticulously honed.

In 30 years of working with hotels, I have had the pleasure of learning from more than 20 different DofM’s. The bulk of these individuals came up through the sales stream, typically moving from the director of sales position. I suspect, more often than not, adding the marketing title to their directorship was a cost savings measure as opposed to hiring two separate positions. That is not to say that this was a bad HR decision, or that the individuals who held this position were inferior. Rather, the marketing approach was by and large an extension of sales efforts: conservative and traditional. And for most market situations, this works more than sufficiently.

These are not traditional times

If you are a DofM reading this article, take charge. Hotel marketers need to rattle their GMs’ cages. And vice versa — GMs need to support their DofMs in this process. Set the tone for the future. Cast off the shackles of trying to measure every bit of minutia. Remember, you were hired as a marketer, not an accountant. Identify new opportunities, and take some calculated risks. Then test ideas with new ad creative, new web initiatives and ventures into new market segments. Take command by helping mold the future of your property. Remember, without risk, there is no reward.

A key trait of a marketer is to be adaptable. They must accept present conditions, then find some way to be unique among a slew of competitors. The Internet can really work to your advantage here, as it offers another direct channel to connect with your consumers.

Building on this notion, loyalty programs are a superb example. Now a mainstay of hotel chains, you should reflect on the broad acceptance of these initiatives, so you can take them to the next level.

Kudos to the marketers at Kimpton Hotels who delivered pet goldfish to befriend single travelers. And let’s not forget the age-old success (Holiday Inn, Howard Johnson’s) of the “This Summer Kids Eat and Stay for Free” campaign. Targeted and brilliant. What thumbprints has your property’s marketing team delivered lately to adapt to an industry of tighter margins and heightened expectations?

This gets us back to the original premise of this post. Is your hotel adapting to meet the rigors of a modern world? A comparative look at revenue forecasts should give you some indication. So, when is it time to look for a new director of marketing? As a GM, here are the questions you should ask yourself before even considering this difficult action:

  • Are your DofM’s bonus goals based on the short term (this fiscal/calendar year) or geared at least in some portion to long-term success?
  • Do you allow your DofM to test new initiatives, and does your marketing budget reflect this belief with a specifically identified allocation for these activities?
  • Have you encouraged your DofM to bring new ideas to your team garnered from companies outside the hotel industry?
  • Have you rejected your DofM’s business-building proposals when they are either unproven or cannot be specifically quantified?
  • Do you regularly allocate funds for guest research to provide inferences for testing initiatives?
  • How involved is your DofM with day-to-day operations? Have you asked if they need more time for proper long-term planning?

Great marketing requires a special type of leader — both visionary and malleable. With the right individual, nurtured with an environment that allows for their success, the results can be beyond your wildest imagination.