Working with a like-minded brand can bring oodles of energy and creativity to a hotel or restaurant's marketing activity. Here are the operators whose brand partnerships have boosted business
The author CS Lewis coined the phrase "two heads are better than one", and when it comes to marketing there is certainly a lot to be gained by partnering up with a third-party brand.
Marketing activity in the hospitality sector lends itself nicely to brand collaborations. The plethora of supply companies in the sector, be it a drinks or specialist ingredients company, means there are plenty of compatible businesses willing to boost the marketing activity of a restaurant or hotel for mutual benefit. It also brings opportunities to think outside the box, often resulting in successful collaborations, such as the award-winning package created by Hotel Indigo Edinburgh and Edinburgh Zoo.
While boosting revenue may be the prime motivating factor in setting up a brand partnership, the benefits can be wider-reaching. They include the opportunity to tap into a new audience, reposition the business within its marketplace, showcase its corporate and social responsibilities, introduce greater creativity and ultimately enrich the guest experience.
An essential consideration for any brand partnership is selecting the right partner. Rochelle Cohen, founder and managing director of Roche Communications, advises clients on arrangements between restaurants and commercial partners.
"A brand collaboration should bring businesses together for mutual benefit," she says. "Look for partners with similar values and cultural synergy, although sometimes it's the most unexpected marriages – think of fine dining meets street food trader – that garner the most interest. Questions to bear in mind when selecting a partner are: what does the client want to get out of it, what can they offer in return, does the brand reflect the ethos of the client, and are the demographics aligned?"
As a hotel committed to the most stringent ethical and sustainable practices, Whatley Manor in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, works only with brands that share the same ethos. It is this philosophy that led to its partnership with Sapling Spirits, a drinks company launched in 2018 to inspire sustainable change in the drinks industry. A tree is planted for every bottle of Sapling sold, with nearly 25,000 planted so far.
The partnership led to the launch of Whatley Manor Citrus Vodka to mark Zero Waste Week in September 2021. Some 500 bottles of the vodka were made, using 10kg of waste lemon and orange peel from the hotel's kitchen.
Sue Williams, general manager of the 23-bedroom hotel, describes the initiative as having great purpose. "Learning how to combine best-practice distilling with a waste product makes perfect sense, and has resulted in a very delicious drink too."
A bigger bang
Brand partnerships are an excellent way to establish a newly launched hotel or restaurant in the marketplace. The Bradley Hare in Maiden Bradley, Wiltshire, has had great success with such agreements since opening in June 2021 following a transformation of the property by owner James Thurstan Waterworth, the former European design director of Soho House. The stylish design of the building, which features a pub and 12 bedrooms, has been the ideal setting for partnerships with a number of lifestyle brands.
Andrew Kelly, project manager for the Bradley Hare, says an arrangement with clothing and homeware brand Toast was "a natural collaboration". The PC Agency worked with Bradley Hare and Toast to host a back-to-back press trip for fashion and lifestyle journalists that showcased Toast's SS22 collection and promoted the pub to a group of influential individuals.
A tie-up with fashion brand Cefinn, founded by Samantha Cameron, revolved around a social media campaign and competition on Bradley Hare's and Cefinn's Instagram accounts. With a prize of a one-night stay at the Bradley Hare and an item of Cefinn clothing, the arrangement enabled both parties to tap into each other's targeted databases.
A third partnership involved cutlery company Robert Welch creating a case study on the Bradley Hare centred around two photo shoots. It generated great imagery for the pub to use and a promotion across Robert Welch's database, in newsletters and via its social media pages.
Kelly describes the partnerships as widely beneficial, particularly via social media exposure. "Through working with each brand, we reach new audiences, and the overall benefit is to attract new customers to book a stay with us."
There have been no financial arrangements with any of the brands the Bradley Hare has worked with. Each partnership has simply been a cross-collaboration beneficial to both parties. "We tend to offer up a giveaway prize or a space for a photoshoot or event and in return reap the rewards," Kelly says.
Brand partnerships are not just for new businesses. Well-established operators such as Iconic Luxury Hotels (ILH) are just as keen to use them to access new clients through cross-marketing, to create value and to promote brand confidence.
Brands are selected by the group, owner of five luxury UK hotels, on the basis of how they can play to the strengths of each property. It is what informs the partnership between the Lygon Arms, which ILH promotes as a dog-friendly hotel in Broadway, Worcestershire, and Le Chameau, which has a premium collection of accessories for canine companions. Guests booking the Le Chameau Dog Stay, from £340 per room, get a Le Chameau bed (to take home) and dog bowl in the room.
Meanwhile, at ILH's Cliveden House, a partnership between the spa and CBD supplier Oto highlights the importance of working with companies that are relevant at any given time. Photo shoots that have taken place at the hotel as part of the partnership have resulted in widespread publicity as the CBD market has grown exponentially.
When it comes to the financial agreement between its hotels and brands, an ILH spokesperson says that a favourable return on investment is sought by both parties. "Other partners are also suppliers, such as Oto at Cliveden, where our business has purchased their stock, with both parties benefitting from PR and promotional exposure," says Erika Steward, business development director at Cliveden House.
Many hospitality companies work with PR companies to set up partnership arrangements. Burger & Lobster, the restaurant chain with nine sites in London, for instance, works with Roche Communications on setting up partnerships with external chefs to drive engagement and new audiences to the brand.
"We are known for our mono-product approach and for creating an extraordinary union of great-quality burgers and fresh Atlantic lobsters," says Hannah Williams, head of marketing and digital at Burger & Lobster. "Our chef partnerships are simply another version of how a great union can create something new and exciting – and often unexpected."
Burger & Lobster's partnerships have included a tie-up with Max Halley of Max's Sandwich Shop, who has created two bespoke items for the chain: a lobster cocktail roll and a fish and chip lobster roll. While the group's core menu will remain in place, Williams says the partnership with chefs is all about innovation and creativity, which adds excitement for customers. Further collaborations with those she describes as "some of the country's best culinary talent" are to be introduced later this year.
Ultimately, partnerships provide an opportunity for a hotel or restaurant to gain the trust of potential customers, something which is not always easy to achieve for a new business. "By working with a similar brand, we help maintain trust with our audience and ensure we are exciting, creative and at the forefront of their mind," says Kelly.
Case study: Hotel Indigo Edinburgh's giraffe experience
A unique partnership between Hotel Indigo Edinburgh and Edinburgh Zoo has hadfar-reaching benefits. It has ensured that the two giraffe-themed bedrooms created as part of the hotel's Ultimate Giraffe Room Experience have been a hit with guests. And the promotion has also resulted in widespread publicity for Hotel Indigo Edinburgh, as well as a feel-good factor benefitting an animal conservation charity and an enthusiastic workforce.
For Marc Saunders, director of marketing and PR at Splendid Hospitality, the owner and operator of the 60-bedroom Hotel Indigo Edinburgh, brand partnerships should always be holistic. "You shouldn't think about a partnership in isolation. You should think about how it creates a wow experience for guests and impacts every touchpoint," he says.
The promotion stemmed from the announcement of the arrival of five giraffes at Edinburgh Zoo. It was the first time giraffes had been housed at the zoo for 15 years and the intention was to raise awareness that the number of giraffes in Africa has declined by nearly 30% since the 1980s to 117,0000 as a result of habitat loss and poaching.
"It is well known that tigers and rhinos are endangered, but fewer people are aware of the threat to giraffes," says Saunders, who recognised the benefits of working with a local business as the UK emerged from lockdown.
"I wanted to do something to help, regardless of the commercial benefits to the hotel."
The resulting Ultimate Giraffe Room Experience involved creating two giraffe-themed bedroom suites – one double and one family – incorporating a double bed and tepee beds for children up to the age of 11. It was important that the rooms, which were designed in-house, should not be gimmicky, but should feature stylish and subtle references to giraffes. "The rooms had to fit in with the four-star, boutique style of the rest of the property," Saunders says. "We didn't want giant plastic giraffes in the rooms."
The bedrooms launched in June 2021 and have been a huge success, with 240 enquiries within the first 48 hours of opening and more than 5,000 enquiries in total.
Some 20,000 page views have been recorded, with an average of two minutes and 38 seconds being spent on the webpage – a period of time Saunders describes as "incredibly long".
Guests booking the Ultimate Giraffe Room Experience get to enjoy the themed bedrooms, breakfast, transport to the zoo and entry passes (with tickets at a discounted rate), and all children receive a toy giraffe. The hotel donates £5 from every room booking to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.
A key part of the partnership has been providing staff at Indigo Edinburgh with tickets to the zoo to ensure the giraffe experience becomes an integral part of the hotel's DNA. "This created great enthusiasm and motivation among the team, which in turn has helped wow guests, drive revenue and result in an enormous amount of publicity," Saunders says.
The Ultimate Giraffe Room Experience won Hotel Indigo Edinburgh the Best Partnership Marketing accolade at the Hotel Marketing Awards 2022, while Saunders has been named Most Inspirational Marketer by HOSPA at the HOSPACE Awards 2021.
The judges of the Hotel Marketing Awards praised the campaign for "excellent results delivered across email marketing, social media and PR", leading to "a significant increase in average spend per room, a high social media engagement rate, and an improvement in guest satisfaction metrics". They were also impressed by Hotel Indigo's acting at a time when many hotels felt that nothing could be done to combat Covid.
How to make a brand partnership work
Petra Clayton, chair of the Hotel Marketing Association and chief executive of Custard Communications, explains the key issues in creating a successful brand partnership.
- Ensure the brand values of both organisations are aligned.
- Hotels should be used to building guest personas, analysing trends and behaviours of their audience as well as identifying trends. Use this information to establish who is the right brand partner for you.
- Don't ignore social media influencers – they can provide a direct and effective partnership to help position and build a hotel's brand. As with all partnerships, an influencer needs to target the same audience as the business, and to respect and understand the service.
- A brand partnership is not a quick win. The relationship needs to be nurtured and evaluated throughout the period of the agreement. While it may start off with one idea, it is healthy to consider how it can be developed to grow more business.
- Plot a full communication plan to ensure everything – from the language used to the agreed activations – is prepared in advance and executed at the best time.
- There needs to be accountability within the partnership. Manage expectations from the beginning, outline how the partnership is to be measured, and conduct reviews.
- Don't be rigid – be prepared to discuss adjustments. Keep revisiting, auditing and measuring for the best outcome.
- An open discussion between both parties needs to take place at the beginning to confirm budgets and ROI (return on investment), whether it's reliance on internal resources or direct marketing costs, Some partnerships will heavily depend on a mutual contra deal to avoid each party incurring direct costs.
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