Hilton is shifting to an in-house model buoyed by niche agencies

Hilton's recent celebration of Room 702 was created by VaynerMedia

Hilton has spent the past year building out its in-house team, creating internal ‘centers of excellence’ and forgoing full-service agencies in favour of specialist shops.

The hotel brand, which is celebrating its centenary this year, has reworked its in-house structure around ‘centers of excellence’ – teams that specialize in particular areas of marketing and work across the entire business.

So far, the company has set up in-house hubs dedicated to media, social media, strategy, enterprise, marketing operations, marketing performance, regional marketing and PR and communications.

Kasey O’Leary, Hilton’s vice-president of global marketing for portfolio and Hilton Honors, told The Drum the ‘centers of excellence’ were designed not only to streamline and speed up the company’s marketing ops, but expand its staff’s expertise as well.

“Like a lot of great companies, we're looking a lot at how much we should be doing in-house versus not doing in-house, and that evolution is going on as we realize that marketers can't be jacks of all trades,” added Mark Weinstein, senior vice-president and global head of customer engagement, loyalty and partnerships.

The travel brand is taking a similar view when it comes to agencies now, too. Rather than appointing what Weinstein describes as “broad-based agencies”, Hilton is now looking for “the right niche players” that come armed with specialist expertise.

“Having the right combination of those agencies together, plus great talent in-house, is really our evolution.”

The SVP noted that speed – “the ability to respond in real time” – is central in Hilton’s move to an in-house model, particularly when it comes to content.

“[It’s about] taking a real-time conversation and making sure we’re part of it immediately – not waiting for tomorrow or a day from now or waiting for all the approvals that have to happen. The teams are getting much more agile and flexible in order to do that.”

Weinstein is looking to expand his own core team, which has brokered Hilton Honors partnerships with the likes of Live Nation and the Grammy Awards in recent years, in emerging markets.

“You need people [on the ground] who are connected to the global network but are globally empowered,” he said. “It's not about localising and translating, it's about co-creating locally. We have a premium on people who understand the global implications of an international company but also the regional nuances.”

However, O’Leary noted Hilton’s agency network is still “critical” to the development and execution of the brand’s strategy. Its latest big campaign push, which stars Anna Kendrick, was created by its global agency of record TBWA, for instance, while its initiative celebrating 50 years since John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s 'bed-in for peace' was produced by VaynerMedia.

The brand appointed Mediacom as its media AOR last July.

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