The Player: Williams draws on theatrical sensibility to sell Starwood

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If all the world's a stage, then Scott Williams has the right background. He just had to convince people of that.

The senior VP-chief creative officer for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Mr. Williams came to the company in April of 1999 with a background in theater and TV. His jobs included stints as the director of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago, a writer/producer for Articulate Performance in Seattle, and various marketing and creative-development positions with Home Box Office, Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN Classic Sports and Viacom's CBS.

So when Starwood was looking for someone to set the company's visual style and to call the final shots on its advertising and marketing communications, Mr. Williams drew on that previous experience.

"Look at car design. It's the No.1 selling point for cars these days and the designers are coming out of art schools and architecture and fashion," he said. "The idea that I started in the theater, which is very sensual and environment-driven, is not much different. In the theater, you're creating one of those moments in life. We wanted to do the same thing for our customers at Starwood."

To that end, Mr. Williams has implemented several guest programs that have also looped in some well-known partners in a bit of crossover marketing, including deals with high-end luggage-maker Tumi as well as a deal that Starwood's Four Points hotels did with the PBS children's program "Sesame Street."

But it's SPG-TV that is creating the biggest splash for Starwood's brands, which include Sheraton, Westin, St. Regis and the Luxury Collection, among others. SPG-TV is Starwood Preferred Guest Television, an innovative idea that takes the dedicated hotel channel and turns it into an active network.

Ironically, Mr. Williams said he conceived of the idea a few years ago when he checked into a Sheraton in Chicago. "I turned on the TV and noticed the display said `Starwood' on it instead of Fox or NBC, but it was a blank space. No programming," Mr. Williams said. "And I thought, `Holy cow, that's the default channel and that's what comes on first.' So we did some research and found that something like 98% of travelers turn on the television as the first thing they do when they first get into their room."

And a network-and a brand-building feature-was born. SPG-TV is now in all Starwood properties and includes such programming as a tour of a winery; tech tips for business travelers; how to take great photographs, and more. Mr. Williams plans and produces the segments.

westin workout

Each segment is also wrapped with Starwood promotions, products and services. For the Westin hotel chain, Mr. Williams has partnered with sneaker and apparel giant Reebok to create a program called the Westin Workout. Lisa Wheeler, a trainer for Reebok, hosts a program that shows guests how to use the basic items in their room to create a quick workout, such as using the bed to stretch or a chair to help do push-ups.

The idea has been embraced by Starwood's agencies, which include Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch, New York, for Westin and Sheraton, and Avrett Free & Ginsberg, New York, for St. Regis. Mr. Williams and his staff handle advertising in-house for the Four Points and Luxury Collection brands.

"Scott is brilliant at delivering customer experiences," said Deutsch Chairman-CEO Donny Deutsch. "That's what the best brand builders do: create theatrical, highly visual and, most important, memorable experiences. Scott understands that this is the way to fulfill a brand promise."

Mr. Williams said that whether he works with an agency or produces his advertising in-house, he is trying to create the same message.

"Travel in general is difficult. But there is this moment when the customer walks into a hotel and you have a gigantic opportunity to have a huge brand impression. That's when you have to make your mark. We touch 11 million customers a year. We absolutely must make sure we're a preferred brand to them."

Résumé

Name: Scott Williams

Age: 45

Now: Senior VP-chief creative officer, Starwood Hotels & Resorts

Who: An outdoor enthusiast who was a member of the U.S. Rugby team in 1982 and a director of Steppenwolf Theater Company. Last year, he was one of 13 celebrities, including actress Parker Posey and TV host Jon Stewart, chosen to be profiled for a New Yorker magazine coffee table book.

Challenge: Encourage repeat business by creating brand-building amenities for customers.

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