THE STORY OF TELLER, JOURNAL HOTELS’ PEOPLE-CENTRIC NEW BLOG
We’ve spoken before about the need for travel brands to up their content game in order to compete in a digital world, so when we heard about the launch of people-driven blog TELLER by new brand Journal Hotels, we wanted to find out how they would be using editorial content to build a community for a burgeoning brand. VP of Brand Experience, Sal Imposimato, tells us more…
Firstly, tell us a little bit about the proposition for Journal Hotels. What makes it unique in the marketplace?
Journal is a collection of hotels that have a really amazing historic pedigree. When we first started to talk about building a brand, we talked about it being consumer-facing, much like EDITION or Ace Hotel: brands that have that very consumer, in-your-face brand appearance. We have these assets that are amazing: we have the Hollywood Roosevelt, which has been around for 90 years, and we just bought a really eclectic wellness space down in Palm Springs which again has been there close to 90 years. We just acquired Public Chicago, which is an old Ian Schrager hotel with one of the most famous restaurants in the country, the Pump Room. We’re also developing two downtown properties: one is the Bradbury building, which is an old office building in downtown Los Angeles, one of two pieces of architecture in the country that exists that way; and now the MacArthur.
It’s so difficult to change the names of these places and make them more consumer-facing as a new brand. So we had really not a lot of choice but to build an infrastructure that housed these kinds of properties and the real synergy was that they are all really storied properties. We talk about this authentic measure for our guest experience, this modern philosophy of young and cool travellers. So that’s where Journal came in, it’s sort of two points: one is its history, the other is that it’s an interesting way of documenting the experience of travellers.
With this idea of very storied properties and a young, cool traveller in mind, why did you decide that a content platform like TELLER was the right way to go?
TELLER is short for ‘storyteller’ and without being too kitschy, because the brand Journal isn’t going to be so consumer facing we wanted to have a voice that brought together all the properties. This would be something more out in the front of the brand, talking about who we are and how we curate everything. For example, the first hotel we’ve opened is The Hollywood Roosevelt, which everyone has pre-connotations of due to its different reputations throughout the years. In the early 20s it was super Hollywood and glamour, to the 70s where it became really about the punk scene and riots in LA, to the 90s when Thompson took it over and it became very about young Hollywood. We’re now looking at a different phase of its history and we have so many amazing things happening at that hotel in particular, but it was very difficult to come out and say ‘this is who we are’. So we wanted to incorporate the history of these properties, even though they’re all being repositioned and rebranded at the moment, rather than just one hotel leading who we are as a group.
It’s interesting that you say TELLER is short for ‘storyteller’, as I know your tagline is ‘Construct a lifestyle worth collecting’ and I wondered whose story you are trying to tell – that of the property, the neighbourhood, the guests, or a combination?
It’s a little bit of both. I think the collection is really about stories and experiences. We’re not trying to be Hard Rock or Disney and have the brand everwhere you go – instead, we sort of adopted these little fables that exist on property. And most of them are true, but over the years we don’t know how they’ve evolved. So for instance with the Roosevelt, we know Marilyn Monroe lived there for five years in one of the suites. We know that she did her first modelling campaign at the pool. We know that Clark Gable had affairs in the penthouse, which he used to rent out for $5. But we don’t really know exactly what was going on then. And although people are very into that, we don’t want to lead with that – we are a hospitality company first and foremost, we care about the experience and the stay – but mixed with the history it makes a unique space.
What do you want people to come to TELLER for? Do you want them to come to discover more about the neighbourhood, or about who you are?
I think when we first started looking at it we started saying it should be stories centred around art, music, lifestyle, culture: trying to put together editorial content that like-minded consumers would be interested in. There are some stories that are centred around the cities that the hotels are in, so if a new exhibit opens up they have something to represent that. And then interviews – we have two types, one longer form and one a little shorter form called In Bed With. The latter are centred around cooler, younger, Instagram influencers and the way they are travelling, and then we’ve started doing longer form interviews that are a little bit more substantial.
We already have a couple of big interviews – we just did Diplo a couple of weeks ago, we just did something with Galore magazine and Sofia Richie, we have a couple of young directors – so we mix the longer form interviews with creative types, with credible artists in their world. We thought that was interesting because when we look at the blog scene in our space, Standard Culture does a really good job of putting together their blog, but other than that we didn’t see too much interesting content, and we wanted to bring these influencers and bigger names into the scene and put them into context. We thought it was interesting that a cool hotel company could publish this kind of stuff.
It is a pretty crowded marketplace as more and more travel brands launch content blogs. As you say, looking at TELLER, it’s very people-centric. Do you think that’s what makes you unique?
It’s true, it’s about taking the people who would stay here and showcasing them. With regards to visibility, it’s interesting to talk about them. We don’t ever promote people as staying in our hotels, but this is a good way to say people like Busta Rhymes are staying in the hotel and doing a performance; these kind of interviews are cool because these people support us. It’s not that we’re discovering influencers or celebrities that are out in the world doing stuff; we’re talking to people we’re actually involved with, which is a lot more authentic.
How does that relationship with influencers work? Do you contact them and invite them to stay, or is it a lot more organic?
It’s way more organic, because no-one knows about the blog yet. I think that a really good way to create the blog and make it more substantial is to use our relationships; and again, sometimes they’re big asks, but at the end of the day it’s amazing that they’re going to do that for an unknown blog. Those are the people who will eventually make it really strong and make people want to read it in future.
I read a previous quote from you in which you talked about hotels becoming ‘less activated’ and more places of solace. Is this something you were mindful of when designing TELLER: to tell the story of the hotel in a more subtle, less obviously promotional way to keep the brand and the experience separate?
Listen, it’s two-fold; ultimately we’re in the business of selling something, selling rooms. It’s always conflicting because with editorial content, people read it without necessarily understanding that we want them to do something afterwards. And maybe it’s a mistake or maybe it’s not, and it’s been very back and forth within our office, but we do not have a ‘Book Now’ button on our cultural blog. It represents the hotels, but doesn’t force you to book a room. It’s been a little more laidback, we’ve been scolded by the sales team, but I think we want people to feel comfortable coming to a place that doesn’t feel contrived or forced.
So is the blog more of a long game for you?
Everyone’s in a rush nowadays – every time you come up with an idea, it’s ‘what’s the ROI?’. At the end of the day, all the hotels have been repositioned and rebranded and everybody wants to know what the brand is and what is TELLER going to do, and this blog has really swayed in different directions along the way – and every day we’re in arguments about what this blog should be doing. We want it to take on its own life and experiment – put out stuff that we think people who want to stay in our hotel would like, and hopefully with time, that’s what we’ll get.
Now that ‘lifestyle’ has exploded and gone mainstream, do you think it’s lost some meaning? What’s next in terms of how hotels position themselves?
I agree, I do think it’s played out at this point. For me, starting out with André Balazs, doing those very cool, intimate experiences – now the big brands like Hilton all have these hotels that are all considered ‘lifestyle’ in the marketplace. The problem is that they’ve polluted it a little bit; they hire designers and leaders in the industry and kind of do it halfway to make a splash and say they’re ‘lifestyle’. I don’t really let it bother me so much – our hotels are lifestyle in a sense, but there’s so much surrounding them with F&B and the historic background and the experiences that we’re creating, I think it’s just a tagline that doesn’t really mean much to me, or to us.
Visit http://byjournal.com/teller for the latest from Journal Hotels