Waldorf’s Ingenious PR Stunt Pays Off.

Just how do you make what’s old new again? 

Imagine you work for a storied hotel brand that is long on history but short on contemporary allure.  Then imagine you’ve gone through a major renovation and the old Grand Dame is looking better than ever, yet folks still aren’t paying attention.

New York City’s Waldorf=Astoria hotel has been in just such a pickle. But a recent PR stunt is giving the legendary eastside hotel some renewed notoriety.  Using its Facebook page as the launch vehicle, the Waldorf announced an “amnesty program” that lets thieves of yore return stolen Waldorf=Astoria stuff, including silverware, towels and ashtrays, without penalty.

The amnesty program applies only to item pilfered before 1960. Returned items will be shown online at a special landing page, where visitors can vote for the items that should be added to a museum-like display in the hotel’s restored lobbies. They’re also asking for the stories behind the stolen goods so that each item has some sort of deeply personal context. It’s also a great way repatriate items that the hotel itself failed to properly archive throughout its history.

In addition to the social media buzz the campaign is earning, it’s gotten write-ups in news websites and papers around the world.  More importantly, perhaps, is the boost the brand is getting: people the world over are being reminded that the Waldorf=Astoria brand has so much value that otherwise good people will resort to thievery just to own a little piece of it.

Keeping legendary brands fresh is never easy. Indeed, most die before they ever get to their 100th birthday. Finding ways to drag a brand like Waldorf=Astoria into the 21st century while preserving the enduring qualities that put the brand on the map in the first place is no easy task.

For example, crosstown rival hotel, The Plaza, very nearly destroyed its legendary brand with a disastrous remodel that made a majority of the Central Park-adjacent property into private residential space. What remained for the public is disjoint and cramped, and luncheon or tea in the storied Palm Court is now a shabby affair attended by wait staff more concerned with their next break than creating a magical experience for their guests.

In San Francisco, the St. Francis Hotel on Union Square survived the 1906 earthquake but may never recover from the remodel of its lobby into a contemporary contrivance in the mold of hundreds of other Westin and W Hotels, all to better suit a Michael Mina restaurant that ultimately flopped (and was replaced by yet another Mina nameplate).  The timeless qualities that made it a destination for generations of San Franciscans and their out-of-town guests were wiped out in favor of a dumbed-down, corporate template that is a ablaze in beiges and browns.

Waldorf=Astoria has avoided these traps with a sensitive remodel that is nevertheless refreshing. Its efforts to reinvigorate its brand are consistent with the evident values behind the remodel and set the stage for a second life in a new millennium.  Moreover, the intelligent use of social media introduces the brand for the first time to a whole generation of people who have no brand association with Waldorf=Astoria at all – people whose first thought about the brand going forward will be: I’ve gotta have a piece of that.

It’s a smart way to make something old new again.

Author DEREK GORDON is a marketing and sales exec with more than 20 years success in integrated marketing and sales strategy and management. He is the Chief Marketing and Sales Officer for Pathbrite. You can also check out his blog, Daily Casserole



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