Magazines as Muses: Hotelier Finds Inspiration in Titles such as 'Wired'

Joie de Vivre Approach Puts a Unique Twist on the Standard Amenities

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Some people read magazines on the subway. Some clip articles. Some people pile them in hopes of reading them another day. But Chip Conley uses them as inspiration to build boutique hotels.
Chip Conley models each of his hotels on magazines to reach a psychographic niche and produce a hotel property with a 'soulful personality.'
Chip Conley models each of his hotels on magazines to reach a psychographic niche and produce a hotel property with a 'soulful personality.'

The founder and CEO of Joie de Vivre Hospitality, with 40 California properties and a goal of 60 in the next five years, is a self-described magazine devotee. He models each of his hotels on magazines as a "pathway to get to the right hotel personality," reach a psychographic niche and produce a hotel property with a "soulful personality."

Like bonding with your mate
"People have a deep emotional connection with their magazines," Mr. Conley said. "The relationship you have with your magazine is like the relationship you have to your mate."

He starts his acquisition process by looking at a site and coming up with a concept for the property. Then he finds a magazine brand or two suited to the concept. Using his staff as a focus group of sorts, he thinks of five adjectives that describe the magazine. Those adjectives are then used to build out the property, from the look of the front desk to the linens in the baths.

His Joie de Vivre Hospitality brand is a collection of small hotels; each usually has fewer than 100 rooms. While hotel chains such as Holiday Inn and Hyatt attract visitors because they are known to offer clean rooms, comfortable beds, phones and other standard amenities, Mr. Conley believes those offerings no longer make up a strong marketing position in the tough travel business. "Predictability is no longer [the basis for] a product choice," he said at the M2 conference produced by ad agency Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners, Sausalito, Calif.

His first property was the Phoenix Hotel, a rundown, '50s-style, by-the-hour motel located on the edge of San Francisco's rough Tenderloin neighborhood. When he first saw the space, Rolling Stone came to mind, and so did the adjectives "funky, hip, young-at-heart, irreverent, adventurous." Now the property offers free massages to band-tour managers and can boast that David Bowie, Linda Ronstadt, Faye Dunaway, Johnny Depp and John Candy have slept there.
'Dwell' and 'Real Simple' -- the inspirations for Hotel Vitale on San Francisco's waterfront -- recently held parties at the hotel.
'Dwell' and 'Real Simple' -- the inspirations for Hotel Vitale on San Francisco's waterfront -- recently held parties at the hotel.
Positive results
Since then, Mr. Conley's hotels have run the gamut of the magazine rack. The Hotel Carlton was inspired by National Geographic Traveler: "enchanting, international, cheerful, bohemian, eclectic." And a property under development in San Francisco's Japantown, the Miyako Inn, is an attempt to recreate today's Japanese pop culture with a Giant Robot meets Lucky feel -- "inventive, warm, optimistic, practical, quirky." One Silicon Valley hotel has Wired as its touchstone.

So far, the formula is netting positive results, with his average occupancy rate at 77%, compared with 74% throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

But while Mr. Conley's ties with magazines are close, the company's ties with the magazine business are not. "Most are in New York and don't have the time of day for us," he said.

Sometimes copies of the inspiring magazines are left in rooms. But Mr. Conley has not purchased subscriber lists from magazines to build a direct marketing link, nor has he tried to strike up deals with advertisers in the magazines at the corresponding properties.

PR, not print
And the hotel doesn't advertise in many magazines either. "We just don't put a lot of time, energy or resources into print ads," said Greg Horner, corporate director-marketing. Ninety percent of Joie de Vivre's marketing budget is centered on public relations, he said.

The property-management company, however, does limited tie-ins with the magazines it uses for inspiration. Most recently, Dwell and Real Simple -- the inspirations for Hotel Vitale on San Francisco's waterfront-held parties at the hotel.

Michela O'Connor Abrams, president and publisher of Dwell, said she sought out Mr. Conley when she learned about plans for the hotel across from San Francisco's landmark Ferry Building. Even though she had no input regarding Hotel Vitale's design, she said the hotel's "brand character is incredibly well-aligned" to her magazine, which focuses on modern architecture.

Dwell has the only magazine-marketing partnership with Joie de Vivre and provides magazines for every room and contributes Dwell corkscrews for the complimentary bottles of wine the hotel provides guests. Dwell ran Hotel Vitale ads in three issues, offering readers a gift that included a T-shirt and measuring tape if they mentioned the ad at check-in.
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