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Becoming the story

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As one of the most prominent hotel brands in Europe for over 30 years, Marriott’s heritage is both a strength and a weakness. Its legacy is a strength for Baby Boomer and Gen X travellers, but becomes a hindrance among the growing number of younger travellers. 

Marriott found it was losing relevance among this new generation, who were turning to younger hospitality brands that enjoyed a more innovative brand image. It was therefore vital for Marriott to refresh its brand and renew relevance amongst its future guests.  

Marriott’s original solution was to sponsor innovation conferences in Europe and amplify the content, but MEC believed a different approach was needed. Its insight stemmed from a simple observation of the audience at these sponsored conferences. This audience it seems, was coming away with the inspiration without the association. The speakers on stage – the tech entrepreneurs – were captivating. Meanwhile, the event sponsors vying for attention through association were going unnoticed. In fact, an onsite survey the agency conducted showed only 20% of brand sponsors were recalled on average at these events.  

As a sponsor, Marriott was not only occupying the wrong space in these events, it was going after the wrong people. It actually needed to capture the attention of the startup founders who its younger business travellers so eagerly followed. If it could win over the startup founders and inspire them enough to talk about Marriott, they would win over the wider tech-engaged audience.   


Grabbing the attention of the startup community could only be done providing something of value to them. It had to move from sponsoring to doing.  

From amplifying someone else’s innovation story to BECOMING THE STORY. 

MEC's strategy was to make Marriott become the innovation story in two ways:  
1. Create an innovation story with the startup community  
2. Make it famous.  

Driving innovation is no easy task when you are the size of Marriott. The agency therefore elected an ‘open innovation’ approach and chose to collaborate with startups that were already developing innovation for the travel industry.  

It created, designed and managed Marriott TestBED: a first of its kind programme that invited the most innovative Tech startups within the travel category to partner with Marriott and help shape its guest experience.  

Start-up accelerator programmes are usually black boxes. Everything that happens within them is confidential. But TestBED was different. The agency used TestBED to generate content that placed Marriott at the centre of its own innovation story.  Every step of the five-month programme was documented, filmed and amplified through PR and media.  

Suddenly Marriott was an authority on business transformation and collaboration with Tech startups. And Tech entrepreneurs, the travel industry and the media, were talking about Marriott in connection to innovation.  


MEC launched Marriott TestBED with a call to action to startups in three countries - UK, Germany and France.  

At the same time, Marriott reached out to its network, giving its best hotels the chance to apply to become live testbeds for the winning pilots. It was hoping for 30 viable entries to create a creditable programme - and received over 150 from all over the world. 

After a much-needed shortlisting process, it held a dramatic ‘Dragon’s Den’ style event for finalists, with a jury panel of tech industry stars. The finalists were hosted at a weeklong Bootcamp, where they were coached on how to take their product to market. 

Two startups were then piloted live in London and Berlin.  

And every step was documented.  

Over five months the agency produced content and worked with its PR teams and partners to amplify this content to the niche audience of tech entrepreneurs. 

Over 50 pieces of content were created, combining press releases, interviews, editorials, images and documentary videos. These were distributed across Tech and travel publications and amplified via paid media placement, native video seeding and social networking.  

MEC used a variety of communication channels to reach the audience with TestBED stories. PR drove publications in Travel and Tech media. Paid media was used contextually – display and editorials appeared on platforms consumed by the target audience (such as Techcrunch and Engadget) and video was seeded in contextual environments. It used paid social to target people based on their interests. 


Results exceed anything that would have been achieved if MEC had stuck to the original brief and the original target audience. 

1. Despite running media and PR in three markets, it received entries from over 22 across three continents.  

2. Over 250 organic news articles generated in Tech and travel publications, reaching the younger business traveller audience. 

3. Social listening showed TestBED was picked up and talked about globally, with 76% of conversations linking Marriott with innovation and 83% positive sentiment.  

4. Marriott is now being invited to speak on stage about TestBED at innovation conferences, to the same audience it set out to appeal to in the first place. 

5. Osama Hirzalla (VP of Marketing & E-commerce): “you can measure TestBed’s success by how it infiltrated through the organisation to the highest level”  

6. TestBED is now entering its second cycle and expanding to more markets.

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Marriott International
United Kingdom
September 2016 - March 2017
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