Starwood goes Hollywood

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Steve Heyer is out to make Starwood Hotels & Resorts as hip as Nike and Apple-and has called in top marketing guns to help.

Six months after taking the reins as CEO, Mr. Heyer has enlisted Creative Artists Agency, Nike and Starbucks veteran Scott Bedbury and former Coca-Cola Chief Marketing Officer Javier Benito. Their goal: to differentiate the third-largest hotel chain's brands-Sheraton, Westin, W, St. Regis, The Luxury Collection and Four Points by Sheraton.

In an exclusive interview with Advertising Age, Mr. Heyer-a marketing and media executive who left Coke after being passed over by the board in a CEO search-said that Mr. Benito will serve as global exec VP-chief marketing officer, while Mr. Bedbury has signed on as brand adviser to "help me quarterback" the chain.

"Scott understands the service delivery and general marketing elements needed to deliver a brand promise," said Mr. Heyer, adding that he will help "build an integrated model that will drive everything the company does."

Mr. Heyer's long-term strategy isn't just to separate Starwood from its competitors, but to fashion its individual brands as having "unique places in the mind-set of our consumers so that they speak to a different set of needs, a different set of values and different trip personas."

To do so, Mr. Heyer, who galvanized the marketing industry with a call for branded-entertainment strategies as president-chief operating officer at Coca-Cola, has also hired Hollywood talent agency CAA, which counts Coke among its clients. "There is a spectacularly interesting opportunity here to really bring Madison & Vine to life in this area," he said. "Javier understands that vision and one of the reasons why Javier is coming here is that we're going to reinvent the whole way consumer brands connect to consumers, and CAA plays a role in that." Mr. Benito was not available for comment.

Mr. Heyer wouldn't expand on his plans other than to say he is looking to evolve Starwood's advertising to include more passion points, "and selling the fact that we have a great bed is only a small piece of that," referring to Starwood's current ad campaign that features the luxury "Heavenly Bed." Figure some of those ideas to include more elaborate measures of buzz-worthy ventures already in place, particularly in Starwood's W brands: Bliss brand spas; iPod cradles in each room and iPods available for rent; along with Rande Gerber-designed "Whisky" nightclubs.

Starwood isn't broken: Its fourth-quarter profit was up 15% to $100 million and revenue rose 20%. Starwood's revenue per available room, the industry's primary measure, was up an outstanding 11.1% worldwide in the fourth quarter compared to the same period a year earlier. Westin and St. Regis are seen as upscale; Sheraton, for business travelers and W for trend-setters.


Its weakest brand is Four Points by Sheraton, a budget alternative competing with Holiday Inn Express and Courtyard by Marriott. It is handled in-house. Deutsch, New York, handles Sheraton and Weston; RDA, New York, has W Hotels; Avrett, Free & Ginsburg, New York, handles St. Regis and The Luxury Collection.

Starwood spent $51.3 million in measured media in 2004, according to TNS Media Intelligence, a far cry from the $347 million that Coke spent last year. But hotel-industry observers have been waiting to see how Mr. Heyer would carve out a new niche and do more with less.

The wait could be over soon. Mr. Heyer said that while he has a strategic platform in place, his first objective as CEO has been less marketing and more schmoozing. "I've been on the road a lot, in and out of more hotels and talking to more hotel leaderships than you can shake a stick at," he said. "I've been with owners, I've been with competitors, with developers, with analysts and with our shareholders. We have come a long way in clarifying where we want to place our emphasis."

"What he's done in a short period of time is gain the respect of people in the lodging industry," said analyst Bill Crow from Raymond James & Associates.

And to hear him tell it, Mr. Heyer has gotten along famously with Starwood Chairman Barry Sternlicht. It was Mr. Crow who wrote in a report last September that "many of us will closely watch the interaction between the two well-proven executives (both men are notoriously strong willed and opinionated)."

"Barry is really smart, a good partner, passionate about the business and he has done a lot to share his experiences with me," Mr. Heyer said. He then added, in perhaps a veiled reference to his days at Coke, where the conservative board didn't exactly share his visionary ideas, "When you're passionate about a mission, it's easy to find a good working relationship."

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