Mailer's Pitch: No Place Like Homewood for the Holidays

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As travel-related businesses scramble to attract customers this holiday season, Homewood Suites by Hilton's most expensive holiday marketing campaign began this month unchanged from its pre-Sept. 11 concept.

Scaling back the effort was discussed immediately after the terrorist attacks, but that talk was quickly scuttled, said Calvin Stovall, senior director of brand marketing at Homewood Suites. The only concession was to delay the launch from late October to Nov. 8.

"The thinking was that if we wanted to get people to stay in our hotels and travel, we are going to have to be out there in front of them conveying a positive message," Stovall said. "We stood to lose a lot if we would have decided not to advertise at all, so we decided to go for it."

Memphis-based Homewood Suites sent 15,000 mail pieces to prospects and 35,000 to people from its internal database who have responded to offers in the past two years or previously have stayed with the chain during the holidays. Homewood Suites worked with the Hacker Group in designing the mail piece and all other components.

The campaign, which will include inserts in USA Today and ads in FamilyFun and FamilyLife magazines, cost $450,000. Though Stovall would not break down the direct mail versus print expenses, he said that a switch from a postcard to personalized letter and the Zany Brainy Fun Sacks were what made it the hotel's most expensive holiday piece. Zany Brainy is an educational toy retailer that made a marketing agreement with Homewood Suites for this effort. Stovall said half the cost of the campaign was for the 30,000 Fun Sacks with the rest going toward the direct mail, global distribution system ads and the print campaign.

"This time around we wanted to do something a little more personalized," he said. "We wanted to let these people know that we recognize who they are and that we appreciate their business. It sends a better message."

The pieces to prospects and customers will be nearly identical. Both include a special holiday rate of $69-$99 per night and ask recipients to make reservations online, which results in a $10 discount, or by calling a toll-free number.

The cover letters and the included brochures are tailored for each audience. The brochure heading for prospects reads: "Give Yourself a Holiday Treat." For customers it reads: "Come Back for a Holiday Treat." The prospect letter describes the benefits of staying with Homewood Suites while the letter to customers asks them to return for another enjoyable stay.

The Zany Brainy Fun Sack given to people when they check in includes a book, drawing pads and crossword puzzles, stretch animals and a "magic power ball."

Stovall said it was too early to measure reservations from the campaign. But reservations are already $1.5 million for the holiday season compared with $1.8 million last holiday season, he said.

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