Starring Roles for Hilton Hotels

Hilton Worldwide moved its headquarters from Beverly Hills to McLean, VA last year, but the company hasn’t forgotten its Southern California roots. Last year its flagship brand Hilton Hotels had a prominent role on the big screen in the Oscar-nominated ‘Up in the Air’ and this year it’s hard to miss the same brand on the Emmy-nominated TV series ‘Top Chef D.C.’

The Washington Hilton has a prominent role in this season of 'Top Chef' on Bravo.

Both are examples of integrated marketing partnerships and not your typical advertising campaigns centered on paid commercials. Instead, Hilton Hotels has been a part of both storylines and the backdrop to key moments of the movie and the reality TV show.

“Brand marketing is about telling the story of Hilton and doing it in new and interesting ways and in a powerful enough way to drive revenue to hotels,” says Andrew Flack, Hilton Hotels’ vice president of global brand marketing. “Our research tells us advertising and public relations are very important, but when a consumer sees the Hilton story come at them in many different ways, it’s richer.”

And for Flack, that’s the question he must decide when choosing which partnerships are worthwhile. “Does this help tell our story,” he asks. With ‘Up in the Air ‘ it was “about contemporary travel and many people connect with that. ‘Top Chef’ is about the enthusiasm for cooking, for cooking at home and discovering new ingredients.”

‘Up in the Air’ starred George Clooney and was largely about the life of a businessman who spends most of his time traveling for work, accumulating both American Airlines miles and Hilton HHonors points. The Hilton St. Louis Airport, Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark and Hilton Miami Airport all were featured in the movie.

Hilton didn’t pay for its part in the movie, instead trading hotels, help and expertise to director Jason Reitman, who was looking for authenticity and credibility. Flack says the partnership came about because Reitman is a Hilton HHonors member and Hilton had a previous relationship with Paramount Pictures. Hilton offered its three hotels, roomnights for the crew and help with the filming to provide a realistic setting.

Flack says none of the hotels had to close during filming, only cordoning off reception areas or parts of a guestroom floor. “It was huge excitement for everyone,” he says. Guests and employees were abuzz and the filming and finished product yielded many rewards.

Flack says the estimated value of related PR from the film was more than $15 million, Hilton got 40,000 sweepstakes entries per week for a contest running in conjunction with the movie and almost $2 million in revenue was booked from Hilton’s ‘Up in the Air’ microsite.

With ‘Top Chef D.C.,’ Hilton Hotels is trading and paying to be a part of the cooking series on Bravo to help promote its upscale foodservice. The show has already featured a Hilton-specific challenge, Hilton global culinary travel packages are gifted to winning chefs throughout the ongoing season and Beth Scott, Hilton Worldwide’s vice president of restaurant concepts for full-service and luxury brands, has been a guest judge. The Washington Hilton kitchen is where many of the cooking competitions have been filmed and an international Hilton location will be featured on the finale episodes.

Hilton Hotels has also partnered with Oprah, Ellen and has a five-year relationship with the leading Formula 1 racing team as a sponsor. Flack says the integrated marketing efforts are just one important piece to telling the brand’s story.

“The trick today is to do it in a smart and significant way, not just pay someone to walk by with your logo,” he says. “To be part of the story—that’s why we liked ‘Up in the Air’ so much.

“I’m a big believer in mix of communications. I think the consumer gets bombarded with so much information, only when they get the message several ways, in several places, at several times, does it cut through the natural filter people have.”

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