Business for Breakfast: Francie Schulwolf

Schulwolf recounted the recent relaunch of InterContinental Hotels Group’s (IHG) iconic, 58-year old brand, Holiday Inn. PHOTO: Allison Shirreffs

On January 27, The Goizueta Partners Society hosted a “Business for Breakfast” at the InterContinental Hotel in Buckhead. The topic of discussion, anchored by Francie Schulwolf, Vice President, Corporate Communications, IHG’s Americas region, was the role of communications — and the communications’ executive — and how that role has changed significantly over the last 10 years.

To illustrate her point, Schulwolf recounted the recent relaunch of InterContinental Hotels Group’s (IHG) iconic, 58-year old brand, Holiday Inn. With nearly 3,500 Holiday Inns worldwide (almost all of them owned by franchisees) the $1 billion rebranding would be no small task. To do so during an economic downturn and in the age of social media, where one bad experience can cause a public relations nightmare, made the task doubly difficult.

In order to get it done, noted Schulwolf, IHG needed to be transparent. That meant letting consumers, owners, employees and other stakeholders know the plan.

“We had to make sure employees knew first before reading about it externally,” explained Schulwolf.

And with Holiday Inns located across the globe, (it’s the largest international hotel company in China), it was imperative a cohesive and consistent message be communicated on a global scale.

The plan to relaunch was incredibly strategic and a communications platform was a major part of that plan.

Noted Schulwolf: “All communication was integrated. It worked hand-in-hand to deliver one single message: Holiday Inn has changed.”

Doled out in stages (change is coming; change is happening; the reestablishment of the “emotional piece,” explained Schulwolf, “the rebuilding of brand equity”), the communications platform utilized Holiday Inn’s long history without dwelling on its past.

Schulwolf chronicled several of the rebranding’s PR initiatives, including a hotel room built entirely of key cards (200,000 of them, in fact), and television advertisements urging viewers to “Stay You.” She also took questions from Goizueta alums in attendance.

Doug Bowman, Senior Associate Dean of Marketing and External Relations, Goizueta Business School, introduced Schulwolf and talked about how data — the collection and mining of it — has enabled the hospitality industry to better understand its customers and build and leverage loyalty programs.

“It’s led to a professionalization of this industry,” he said.

– Allison Shirreffs

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