Who can you trust with your brand?

If you’re following us on Twitter, you’ll know all about The HWY Apprentice Sponsored by Glam Adelaide, it’s #TweachMe hash tag and the 4 apprentice teams batting it out for $5000 & a trip for 2 to LA.

The idea was born late 2009 in the HWY office over a pot of green tea and soy latte.  Aiming to give up-and-coming Adelaide event organisers and promoters a foot in the door to an otherwise difficult industry to get into, we began planning our main event for 2010.

One by one the apprentice teams began promoting their events.  It was around this time we realised we had, in effect, left our brand & our sponsor’s brands, in the hands of four relatively inexperienced amateur event organisers.

‘HWY’ is a brand we have worked tirelessly to promote and make sure it is seen in a positive light which is associated with a fresh, healthy and female friendly environment.  We’re aware of spamming our followers, fans and database members, we don’t ‘shout’ our message to our guests and we maintain a quirky, left field outlook without taking ourselves too seriously.  Suddenly, this can all go horribly wrong in one of the biggest events we have staged.

Admittedly, we were aware of this before we began the journey.  We engaged the services of four industry leaders in Adelaide to hold 4 workshops in PR, event management, brand management and social media to teach the basics of promoting events.

We came out the other end of the subsequent 4 weeks relatively unscathed.  There were a few spammy tweets and Facebook tags/posts and some artwork we were nervous about having our logo attached to.  On the plus side, we received some unexpected media exposure across print & radio.  The result was a successful promotion with some staggering statistics attached to it.

We gained over 2000 Facebook ‘likes’
400 Twitter users followed us
@HWYhotel was seen trending in Adelaide on more than one occasion

All the additional exposure was reflected in our bottom line making the event an all round success.  Especially for Team Chiggy & their My Voice Rocks event who walked away with the grand prize of a trip for 2 to LA, $5000 and a 12 month contract with The Highway to stage a further 4 events.

We’d love to hear your feedback from the event.  How did it unfold from an outsiders point of view?  Was there too much exposure to handle?  Not enough?  Let us know your comments so we can improve our own event planning skills for next year’s HWY Apprentice event.

Posted in Glam Digital, Hospitality, Management, Marketing, Social Media | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

What I’ve learnt as SA’s Best Overall Hotel

The AHA Awards or Excellence are the industries most prestigious awards held in each state & territory across the country leading up to the national awards in Sydney.

This year’s awards dinner was held at the Entertainment Centre, which can I add, after its extensive renovation took us all by surprise.  The staff’s attention to detail and ability to make us feel like we were only one of 10 tables, instead of 1 of 60 tables was outstanding.  An overall excellent experience and a credit to their management and recruitment teams!

Anyway, back to the awards. We were initially awarded Best Bar Presentation & Service followed by Best Outdoor or Non-Enclosed Facility.  Then the award I have worked all year for, we won Best Marketed Hotel – General Division and the icing on the cake was SA’s Best Overall Hotel.  An award I didn’t think would have as much impact on the following days as it did.

Through tweeting through the awards, we received over 120 mentions of congratulations, RT’s & encouragement.  The next few days saw 100’s of messages & mentions through Twitter, Facebook & email.  Not to mention the phone calls and visits from reps, guests and clients.  Every message was congratulatory, comments like “you deserved it this year”, “it couldn’t have gone to anyone else”, “it’s a pleasure to work with SA’s best team!”.

It was on Wednesday when Adelaide Now published the article headlining us ‘SA’s Best Pub’ and listing awards won by other SA hotels.  The article mentioned our ‘funky’ design and several attributes leading to us winning the award.  It was the comments from the public that took us by surprise.

Why weren’t all these people happy for us?

Did Adelaide Now’s branding of ‘Pub’, when the award we won was ‘SA’s Best Overall Hotel’ make all the difference?

A hotel in SA is a multi-faceted venue, normally offering multiple dining styles, function rooms, bars & betting facilities.  Which is not 100% true of  Wiki’s pub or public house definition.  The comments discredited us as SA’s Best Pub, accused us of using profits from other hotel’s gaming rooms to fund our renovations and many disgruntled comments about our renovation being one of many adding ‘bling’ to previously nice suburban pubs.

Thursday was the day all the good news really hit home. We had guests lined up at our doors before opening time, our bistro was full, the phones were ringing hot and the bar and bistro trade almost doubled.  It seemed everyone wanted to experience SA’s Best Overall Hotel.  I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard “we’ve meant to come to the HWY for ages but never got around to it, I suppose we’d better now you’ve won all these awards” when taking dinner reservations.

It’s not like we’ve been overly secretive about it either though.  Our Twitter bio and Facebook tag have both changed, the prominent sign at the front of the hotel boasts thanks and praise to our staff.  Add this to banners on the side of the building, inside the venue and on the website to say much of the same and you’d be hard pressed not to know about our success.

Who would’ve thought so many people would come out of the woodwork to show their appreciation for our hard work and to experience our product and service that made us SA’s Best Overall Hotel?

We’ve always won awards at the annual awards dinner but not this many & none have had the same impact as this year’s success.  So why this time?  Not that we can complain 🙂

PS. follow #AHAnationals to find out how we go in the National AHA Awards for Excellence in Sydney on September 12th!

Posted in Hospitality, Management, Marketing, Social Media | Tagged | 2 Comments

Guests, are they ALWAYS right?

You might be surprised to know, the Highway don’t have any customers but we do have thousands of guests.  Guests are people we take care of with the same passion, enthusiasm and priority as guests in our own home.

We predict when they want a drink & remember their order for next time.  We recommend menu items & have a sound knowledge of their ingredients.  We allow them to try a wine before committing to buying it (and realise when they have had one too many and offer them a glass of water).

Understandably, we are disappointed when our guests let us down.

I am writing this blog because I’m confused where the line is drawn between guests always being right and sometimes having to tell them they are wrong.

Last week I received an email from a guest who dined on a table with 11 other guests on a booked out Saturday night, they had been on a winery tour and were celebrating a Birthday.  Their reservation was for 6:30pm so when they had not arrived at 6:45pm, our Bistro staff called to see if they were on their way.  With no answer and no other contact from them, at 7pm we gave their table away to awaiting guests.  At 7:20pm the late guests arrived demanding a table which we were unable to provide immediately but could offer about 30 minutes later.  We offered to buy them a round of drinks while they waited but they declined and walked out disgusted claiming never to return to the Highway.  The email I received described their turn of events and ended with “Surely a hotel like the HWY understand the customer is always right”.

If this was a one-off, I wouldn’t bother you with it but similar event occur every couple of months.  Some take our offer up of a later table and apologise for being late, some demand a discount on their final account or free drinks all night, some have the same reaction as our winery tour friends.

What I’m asking is, if you were invited to a friend’s house, is it OK to arrive nearly an hour late without prior notice?  If not, why is it OK to inflict the same level of impoliteness on us?  Should we be more accommodating and allow for guests to be late?  Should we have honoured their booking and made an alternative booking late?

Have you been excessively late for a dinner reservation? What happened?

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When the boss is away…

It was about 10 months ago when our GM, Simon, started planning his trip to the US.  He and his partner, Audrey were invited to a wedding in Mexico & they decided to extend their trip to include LA, Vegas and San Francisco.

The countdown to Simon’s trip began and so did the reel of questions from staff…

Who’s going to make decisions?

Who’s going to approve invoices?

Who’s going to hire extra staff if we need them?

Who’s going to write the rosters?

Who’s going to run the hotel?

So with a new menu due for release, The HWY Apprentice Sponsored by Glam Adelaide launching, new beer fonts being installed and so much more going on all while he is away, Simon took off.  He only left a brief email listing ‘who’s doing what’ in his absence.

We all read his email with interest taking our responsibilities on board and stepping up to the plate.  Not surprisingly, things are running fairly smoothly & not because of the email or the apparent lack of pre-trip organisation.

(Here’s where I suck up & earn brownie points, if you have a weak stomach, stop reading now)

Simon’s management style has taught each of our department heads and managers to work it out for themselves and ask for help when required.  We are authorised to; make decisions, take credit when it works out & change it when it doesn’t.

Simon’s rule: Make a mistake once, I’ll teach you the right way, make the same mistake again, I’ll be disappointed you didn’t learn from me.

And there’s that word, “disappointed“, the one word everyone hates hearing someone you respect say.  Luckily, we don’t disappoint him too often.

The trust Simon has in his management team and free rein we’re given is a real contributing factor in the success of the Highway.  We think on our feet, we’re not afraid to make decisions and most importantly, we see the success of the hotel an extension of our personal success.

There’s an old saying in the industry “s**t rolls down hill” but not always said in a derogatory way.  From the top, Martin’s passion for the Highway is passed to Simon which is then passed to us.  We instill the same passion in our staff which we hope is noticed by our guests.

I guess it ultimately comes down to great leadership and having faith in the team you surround yourself with.  Like anyone, Simon’s far from perfect but admits his faults and follows his own lead by learning from his mistakes and taking advice from those around him.

So with Simon due back in 11 days, lets all cross our fingers & hope I haven’t spoken too soon 🙂  Oh, and head in for a beer with the boss when he gets back, I’m sure the stories will be well worth it!

Posted in Hospitality, Management | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Why social media works for us.

We thought we were ahead of the rest in creating a Facebook group (The HWY), then a Facebook fan page (The Highway) and finally a Facebook profile (Hwy Highway).  That was until Kelly Noble from Glam Digital came along and gave me the heads up.

Little did we know, a profile page for a business violates Facebook’s T&C’s and what’s the point in having a group and a fan page for the same purpose?  The problem was, like so many venues, we’d left our social media strategy to our IT guy who wasn’t really interested.  We certainly didn’t realise the potential impact social media could have on our business.

After; creating the Highway’s twitter account (HWYhotel), cleaning up our Facebook mess, taking advantage of Foursquare and now starting a blog, we’re finally getting used to social media.

I am lucky to have a General Manager and the owner of the Highway who although are not at all Twitter savvy, trust me when I tell them social media is a great marketing tool for us.  They let me sit at my desk and (among other things) tweet, Facebook, foursquare and blog away hoping to see it reflected in our monthly figures.

After 9 months, it finally has. Our marketing bill is way under budget and our turnover has increased across all departments.  We no longer feel the urgent need to spend thousands on radio campaigns, flood the city with posters or give in to the constant phone calls offering advertising space.  Although these mediums have their place, I feel much happier knowing only those who wish to know about us, do know about us.  We’re no longer throwing very expensive mud at a wall hoping some of it will stick.

Where did our success come from?  Is it because we engage our guests and answer their questions? Is it because users can put a face to the tweets & posts? Or is it because we’re one of the first venues to embrace social media?

I think it’s mix all the above, as well as having a social media strategy & policy that works.  Taking advice from people who have used social media for longer than I have, not spamming our followers and rewarding those who show interest seems to work for us.  Why don’t other venues give it a shot?

Posted in Hospitality, Marketing, Social Media | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments