Premier Inn has a new chief marketing officer in Tamara Strauss who tells The Drum her top priorities as she begins a hunt for an advertising agency to help bring the brand back to screens after a two-year hiatus.
The hotel chain hasn’t spent any of its marketing budgets on a blockbuster broadcast campaign since 2018. According to Winmo, in 2017 it blew over £17m on advertising, however, that figure has reduced to practically zero over recent years as parent company Whitbread battled bigger challenges.
But since joining in November as brand and marketing director, Strauss has orchestrated a full agency review which has seen it split with Lucky Generals and kick off the hunt for a partner that will be given a much broader scope of work.
“I’m taking the brand on the next stage of its journey,” claims the former EasyJet marketer. “It’s a bastion of the hospitality industry and the fact we own our hotels means that from ads right through to the deliverables at the property to the customer experience, I have end-to-end responsibility for delivering for the customer.”
Strauss is no stranger to establishing brands through big marketing campaigns. Before Premier Inn she spent five months at easyJet where she helped the airline prepare to launch its Holidays division and nearly three years at Royal Caribbean International as marketing director, rolling out it's long-running 'Where Extraordinary Happens' campaign.
She has whittled down a shortlist last week and will begin tissue meetings this week. Talking up the importance of "values", she said whichever agency lands the account will need to be “democratic and humble” as well as “deliver consistency.” International expertise, if not a presence, is also vital as the brand’s operations in Germany and the Middle East are given more attention.
Getting back on TV with or without Lenny
Strauss said that Premier Inn intends to return to TV this year with a campaign to get it back to the front of minds for budget travellers. After looking at the figures since arriving, she quickly realised the damage being done to the brand by simply relying on investment into digital and search to keep it competitive against the various online comparison sites offering up alternatives.
“When we come off-air there is an impact to the share of voice and customer acquisition. We’ve not been on air since 2018 and it’s clear from the data we don’t get the same engagement from customers. We’re a direct business, we need to talk to customers,” she outlines.
Setting the foundations of this big brand campaign, Strauss is now mulling what to do with its long-serving brand ambassador Lenny Henry. He’s not appeared in a marketing push for the company since 2015 but is still “very much an ambassador for the brand”. Agencies pitching for the multi-million-pound creative brief will likely have to work out how the comedian will play a role in its communications moving forward.
In 2018, Premier Inn publicly pledged to cut carbon emissions intensity cut in half by 2025 and by as much as 88% by 2050. Since then it’s looked at everything from the design of its new-build hotels and upgrading the fixtures in new hotels to be more eco-friendly to cutting the use of plastics and dealing with food waste.
To date it’s been talked about under the banner of ‘Force for Good’ but Strauss said that it’s now keen to make its sustainability efforts a key part of its marketing communications especially as to how to travel sustainably becomes a bigger part of the public's conscious.
According to a report in The Guardian, British travellers are ready to reduce the amount they fly in response to the climate crisis, even though just 3% have actually made steps to cut their flight times. But this offers a big opportunity to Premier Inn to promte the stable to hotels it has in popular British holiday towns.
"Sustainability is a relevant message that as a business we’re keen to make sure come across in our marketing. When people stay with us they’re having a positive impact,” she said. “But we’ve not liked to brag about it, it’s not the core of who we are.”
Talking up its auxiliary services
Recently, Premier Inn has upped the focus on its auxiliary revenue streams, hunting out new partners it can work with to generate added income and services for its guests. For example, it’s brought a gym called Hustle into the mix and will offer guests access to the local facility if it doesn’t have one on-site.
With sales at Premier Inn down 2.1% in the third quarter of 2019, against headwinds it expects to persist until 2021, these add on revenue no matter how small are of increasing importance.
Forging partnerships with third parties now falls under the marketing teams’ remit, led by Strauss. As she pushes to have a greater share of voice in the market, she said the brand will be relying on added services to help it stand out.
“Unusually, we have responsibility for brand, comms, PR, market research and insight, as well as product and propositions which includes ancillary revues. From Amazon lockers, Hustle and Laundry We’re trying to take a new approach to how we become more relevant for customers,” she concludes.