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One Man's Opinion Vol 2, No. 7

It's hard to believe how long it's been since I have had something to say for this space. The combination of being busy, relocating from Orlando back to Chicago, then - really good news - taking an apartment in Scottsdale to (a) avoid Chicago's winter and (b) have a ten-minute drive to my daughter's house to visit my first grandchild, a boy named Emmett [NOTE: A newspaper editor might say I buried the lead here] takes its toll on the creative juices necessary to express a rational opinion on something. However, I am ready to resume, as I have a couple of notions that I'll be getting off my chest over the next couple of months.

One thing I have noticed is that, over the past several years, a new type of consultancy - the Branding Agency - has emerged in the hotel development space, spurred in large measure by the various brand "collections" (e.g., Luxury Collection, Autograph Collection, Curio Collection, Tribute Portfolio, etc., and Hyatt's new entry into the space, the Unbound Collection) and their progeny - and yes, I believe that the expansion of the so-called independent, "lifestyle" and "boutique" hotels is partially the result of the willingness of the major brands to provide the freedom to operate apart from the restrictions of the old type of franchise agreement. This, of course, is the "branding agency." In my experience, I know of such agencies that have grown out of the design arena, the marketing and advertising arena, the PR field, and related disciplines, and I have now worked with a few and researched several more.

At the end of the day, the process and the end-product are approximately the same across the board, but the approach may be different. I thought I would use my space to provide a bit of an overview.

A branding agency describes its services using terminology that generally looks like this:

Most of these firms will use some sort of information gathering process, using, first, internal (that is, Developer, Hotel Advisor, and Design Team (Architect, Interior Designer, Land Planner, Restaurant Designer, etc.)) members, then, potentially, external in-market folks or product specialists who understand the development to identify unique selling points (USP's) of the hotel and other project components and use them to create a "back story," a set of saleable characteristics, and a brand for the hotel and, if appropriate the rest of the project, that ultimately becomes a "brand name." This is all, of course, or certainly should be, subject to the owner's approval and acceptance.

One of these "creative agencies" (coming from the design arena) defines the process this way:

We first understand then articulate the vision; expand, sharpen and polish it through the design lens, and deliver a vital road map that serves as the critical foundation for each venture to achieve its fullest potential.

I think this particular agency may be overstating slightly the importance of branding as opposed to, say, the work it does (or used to do) in the design sphere, which says a lot more about a hotel than the name, the font, and the graphics style, but I understand the importance of each of these - after all, my corporate font and colors are stolen directly from the University of North Carolina website, down to the Pantone numbers.

In terms of Scope of Services, a typical proposal looks something like this, usually performed in several stages:

(a) Logistics

  • Explanation and agreement on objectives
  • Schedule and milestones
  • Collaborate to define the process
  • Identify the appropriate parties to be involved
  • Strategize to align key decision makers and stakeholders

(b) Research

  • Internal studies and surveys
  • Market research
  • Site analytics and research

(c) Competitive Analysis

  • Identify competitive characteristics to determine which the hotel/project can "own"

(d) Vision Statement

  • 'Envisioning' session - assembling the information-gathering group and moving forward
  • Creation of a SWOT analysis regarding competition and consumers
  • Proprietary (internal to the selected firm) processes to get to the brand story

(e) Creation of the brand

  • Tell the story
  • Describe the brand
  • Identify its singular characteristic
  • Express the brand promise
  • Create key messages
  • Create the brand voice
  • Create the brand identity (graphics, fonts, colors, photo usage, etc.)

There would be a deliverable at each stage. A firm might divide them into fewer or more steps, but these reflect the kind of scope one should look for in a branding agency.

The brands themselves create the back-story for their own properties, so these branding agencies have become the providers of choice when there is no brand, that is, when the hotel may (or may not) be the member of a collection.

The great thing about these types of efforts is that the response to the RFP is quite creative. One might almost believe that the name, the font, the color, the logo and the photo styles are as important as delivering a safe and secure environment, a comfortable bed, a strong, hot shower and high-speed WiFi (the latter, preferably for free). Perhaps they are, but, at this point, . . . I think not.

Four Corners Notes

This is being posted just after the Tar Heels won the double - both the ACC regular season championship and the ACC Tournament, the granddaddy of Conference Tournaments. What will happen over the next few weeks is unpredictable; after all, most of these schools are putting out freshman- and sophomore-laden teams. Do you wish to have your career success dictated by a bunch of 18-, 19- and 20-year old young men? There is no doubt where my loyalties lie in the NCAA Tournament.

However, I want to use this space to congratulate a young man who is no longer 20-years old; he is a UNC senior basketball player - Marcus Paige. Forget his performance this season, which, even he might admit, was not to his very high standard. Marcus Paige is the first person in UNC basketball history to be named an Academic All-American three years running. For a program that graduates more than 85% of its seniors, that no one before him had achieved this honor says a lot about this young man. Marcus, I hope you lead us to the NCAA Championship this season, but, even if you do not, your ability to deal with on-court pressures, personal criticism and a disappointing - for you - season is magnified by a fine grade point and the three-time Academic All-America honor. Well-deserved!! Very well-deserved.

The principal of FCA, Michael Shindler, has over 40 years of sophisticated legal and transactional experience in commercial real estate, of which the last 30 years have been spent in the hospitality field.