Hotel Chain Aloft Conducts Agency-Review Process Over Twitter

PR Shops Asked to Make an Impression in 140 Characters

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PR agencies looking for new business could find an opportunity in a strange place: Twitter.

Starwood Hotels' Aloft chain has opened up what it's dubbing an "RFTweet" over the social network, inviting agencies to pitch its business using 140 characters or less. The first question posed yesterday in a tweet reads, "Q1: Many PR agencies can create buzz -- how does YOUR agency stand out from all the noise?" That's the first in a line of questions that Aloft's official Twitter feed will send out as it solicits responses from agencies over the next three weeks. (Answering each one is not required.)

A handful of agencies have already jumped into the fray and responded to the first question, including well-known shops like Allison & Partners and Havas PR.

The move by Aloft is an unusual one given marketers typically do their best not to publicize their internal processes for selecting agency partners. But the "RFTweet" is just the latest in a wave of attempts over the past couple of years to restructure the agency-search process. Other novel -- and highly controversial -- reviews we've seen in the past couple of years include open callslaunched over emailto the use of "e-auctions" to Pinterest boards.

Paige Francis, VP-marketing for Aloft, Element and Four Points, said the idea to solicit agencies on Twitter was borne out of a desire to learn about up-and-coming and undiscovered shops. Of course, it also creates the potential for a large number of agencies seeking a fresh account to throw their hats in the ring. But Ms. Francis didn't see that as an issue and noted that being inundated with responses would be a "good problem to have."

Aloft has been without a PR agency for most of the year but previously worked with Meg Connolly Communications, which helped to launch the brand (which now consists of about 60 hotels) in 2008.

Conducting the review process over the social network is also a way for Aloft to beef up its Twitter following (which had grown from 850 followers last night to 900 followers as of this morning) and rack up some free impressions.

Those agencies who intend to pitch the business are given instructions in a link inside Aloft's tweets to first follow it on Twitter and then include the hashtag #PitchAloft in their answers to questions.

"We really thought Twitter was a great way to cast a net that was a little bit broader and capture some of the creativity up front that would help us sort through all the agencies that are out there," she said. "We want to find a partner who's to the point and is attention-getting when making their point.

Before opening the first hotel four years ago, Aloft opened a virtual one on Second Life, so Ms. Francis noted that unusual marketing tactics on digital platforms is in character for the brand.

The review process won't be conducted totally over the web, however. Following the "RFTweet" process, Aloft's marketing team will meet a select group of agencies using a more traditional request-for-proposal method. "There's something to be said for good old-fashioned chemistry even in this digital age," Ms. Francis said.

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