M Live: Marriott’s 24-Hour War Room

My favorite brand is Marriott International. I grew up in the Washington DC area where the family business had its humble beginnings as an A&W root beer stand in 1927. I first learned about the hotel chain in the 1970s from my parents while my father was working to refurbish Marriott’s original property built in 1957 in Arlington, VA. Recently, the company has undergone a massive expansion by purchasing competitors and creating new brands for niche markets. In the process, Marriott has grown to become the world’s largest hotel conglomerate with 5,700 properties and 30 brands in 110 countries around the world.
I had the honor and privilege of meeting the company’s CEO J.W. Marriott in the early 1980s. Since then, I have enthusiastically followed the hotel chains growth and I continue to go out of my way to stay in their properties whenever I travel. During the last 30 years, I have witnessed Marriott’s advertising and public relations campaigns shift from legacy marketing efforts, in print and television, to complex integrated strategies that include cutting edge campaigns “built upon the role of quality content in developing reputation and relationships” on social media platforms (Lipschultz, 2015). Through my research for this Masters program, I have discovered that Marriott’s award winning strategies are the envy of many multinational corporations and are second to none in the lodging and travel industry.
In 2014 Marriott launched its first 24-hour global media studio called M Live in Bethesda, MD to engage with stakeholders in real time. Since that initial launch, the company has opened four more command centers in Miami, London, Hong Kong and Dubai. The M Live mission is to create interactive content that “leverages pop culture and contains micro-nuggets of information, humor, commentary, or inspiration” (Lipschultz, 2015). Marriott’s branded content engages consumers on Instagram, YouTube, and SnapChat. The campaigns include, but are not limited to, short videos such as the “Two Bellmen” series that are extremely well produced, offering entertaining plotlines filmed in various Marriott hotels from LA to Dubai. The campaigns also use social media influencers like Taryn Southern in the series “Do Not Disturb” featuring celebrity guests in light hearted interviews to promote Marriott’s new economy brand Moxy Hotels. The videos are available on YouTube and various digital platforms on the internet. I have become a devoted follower and analyst of this social media campaign even though its specific target audience is the Millennial demographic.
Needless to say, I am extremely impressed with the in-depth understanding and professionalism displayed in the presentation of these communication efforts. The powerful electronic word of mouth endorsements seen amongst online travel communities has only served to solidify my brand loyalty and increase my desire to travel. It is clear that Marriott practitioners understand “the important role that consumer reviews (on social media) play in the process” (Lipschultz, 2015). One of the things that impressed me most is that while many companies have ignored or even pulled away from SnapChat, Marriott had the vision to invest in a strong presence in the platform that now has 100 million users daily and is the most popular social media outlet amongst young travelers. This goes against the conventional wisdom of the 85% of the marketers in Stelzner’s report that stated they have “no plans to use SnapChat” (Stelzner, 2014). Marriott’s SnapChat campaign includes a series of three-minute videos showing young social media influencers traveling to various locations and casually sharing their adventures while staying at Marriott Hotels. The Millennial vloggers are powerful brand ambassadors among a market segment prone to research and make purchasing decisions based on the experiences shared by their peers online.
At the pinnacle of Marriott’s social media marketing strategy is the Marriott Rewards program. Marriott Rewards offers an extraordinary, unparalleled travel experience while simultaneously creating positive user content. As Lipschultz states, online customer relationship management (CRM) “can take advantage of communication tools by literally reaching out to nearby customers with new offers” (Lipschultz, 2015). Marriott is able to provide individualized service such as champagne for newlyweds in real time through geo-fencing software partnership with Hyp3r. The Rewards mobile app for phones just keeps giving as customer’s positive online comments are compensated with perks created to develop brand loyalty. The app offers everything from the keyless entry for the tech savvy consumer to points for participants that include free nights, and reduced pricing on exciting travel adventures. Marriott’s points program “rewards brand loyalty through a special program that has linkage to their social media marketing program” (Lipschultz, 2015).  Marriott’s campaign does just that and they presently do it better than any of their competitors.
My recommendation for the company to improve their social media presence is to continue to “approach social media as a viable business intelligence platform”(Lipschultz, 2015). Marriott International has the financial resources to experiment with what works and what doesn’t and adjust their campaigns accordingly. It is through the metrics of data mining software such as HootSuite, Narativ, and Hyp3r that social media can offer key “insights into consumer opinions and shared experiences” (Lipschultz, 2015). In this manner, the world’s largest provider of hospitality services can gain their greatest return on investment and convert the maximum number of tweets, likes, and shares into sustainable profits.

References

Lipschultz, J. H. (2015). Social Media Communication: Concepts, Practices, Data, Law and Ethics. New York, NY: Routledge.
Stelzner, M.A. (2014). 2014 Social media marketing industry report. Retrieved from the Social Media Examiner website: https://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/SocialMediaMarketingIndustryReport2014.pdf

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L.A. Rams: 5 Keys to Winning the NFC West

The L.A. Rams’ future looks as bright as a summer day on the Sunset Strip. Owner Stan Kroenke has added one of football’s hottest rookie quarterbacks to a backfield that already boasts the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.

A stout defense and a punishing running game are perfect conditions to start a rookie quarterback. This year Los Angeles has all three. Rookie QB Jared Goff can start the season as a game manager but he will need his arm to put this team in the playoffs.

With good luck and a lot of hard work, the franchise can win the NFC West in a triumphant return to Los Angeles.

The Rams face uncertainty under center. Jeff Fisher can turn to Case Keenum if things begin to fall apart. Keenum played admirably last year and led the Rams to their first victory in Seattle since 2004. But the team needs to see what they have in Jared Goff.

General manager Les Snead shelled out two first-round picks, two second-rounders, and a third-round pick to the Titans to procure 6’4 215 lb Goff out of the University of California. If the rookie does start,  it is not unreasonable to believe that he can turn the team around in his first year.

One need look no further than Joe Flacco for evidence. In 2008, Flacco started all 16 regular season games in his first season and took a team that went 5-11 in the previous year to 11-5 and the AFC Championship.

Goff does not need to be Peyton Manning, but he needs to protect the football and make some plays. Luckily he will have Todd Gurley to help him make a successful transition to the pros.

Todd Gurley makes winning a division title this year possible. Like Goff, some questioned the Rams’ rationale in drafting the tailback tenth overall in 2015. In truth, the pick was a grand slam home run. Gurley rushed for 1,106 yards, averaging 4.8 yds per carry, even though he missed the first three games of the season.

With ten touchdowns and only one fumble, the former Bulldog became an overnight sensation. He has had over a year to train and condition in the Rams system and if the second year veteran stays healthy, Los Angeles can expect an even greater contribution from their star running back; 1,500 yards rushing for Todd in 2016 isn’t an unrealistic projection.

His mere presence in the backfield improves the play of the offensive line; taking pressure off the rookie quarterback and opening up the passing game. If Goff can protect the football and work in sync with a healthy Gurley, the Rams will go far this season.

In 2015, the running game was the only bright spot on an offense that ranked last in the league. The Rams have a tough schedule, but if the team can make moderate progress on offense, the franchise could go 11-5 versus last year’s 7 -9.

Wide receiver Tavon Austin makes plays all over the field and is ready for a break out season. Los Angeles does lack a speedy deep threat, but the front office selected two tight ends and two wide receivers in an attempt to bolster the passing attack.

The team got steals in both  Tyler Higbee, out of Western Kentucky, and University of South Carolina standout Pharoh Cooper. Higbee is one of the best pass-catching TE’s to come out of this year’s draft.

He had a solid career at WKU where he racked up 14 touchdowns on 68 catches for 1,054 yards. Cooper was South Carolinas’ MVP and scored eight touchdowns on 66 catches for 973 yards while playing with three mediocre quarterbacks.

He is a play maker, and should not be underestimated.  It will be critical for Goff and his fellow rookies to build chemistry with Gurley, Austin, and the offensive line. If these players can gel with the veterans, they can do enough to win close games.

The Rams have gambled with a reload on defense this year, but defense is what Coach Fisher does best.  The departure of DE Chris Long and LB James Laurinaitis was a surprise, but both Long and Laurinaitis’s production was down.

In a move to add speed and youth, both players have been replaced by what looks to be upgrades in DE, William Hayes and OLB Alec Ogletree. Ogletree will move inside as the Rams’ new signal caller.

The losses of CB Jenoris Jenkins and S Rodney McLeod are a concern but their replacements will play behind one of the leagues’ best defensive lines led by Aaron Donald, who finished second last year to J.J. Watt for Defensive Player of the Year.

Look for defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to have CB E.J. Gaines and LaMarcus Joyner, well prepared to make the transition to starters. The Rams’ defense will continue to be the strength of the team in 2016.

Good defense and special teams cover a multitude of sins on offense and this year will be no different. While punter Johnny Hekker had another pro bowl season the Rams lost five critical games because of breakdowns on special teams.

The unit suffered from penalties that negated big plays from Tavon Austin on punt returns but the inaccuracy of kicker Greg Zuerlein was the most costly. Zuerlein has a strong leg and did well on kickoffs but lacked accuracy missing 10 out of 30 field goal attempts.

As a result, the four-year veteran had the worst average in the NFL. While Zuerlein has re-signed this off-season. The team brought in rookie free agent Taylor Bertolet out of Texas A&M to compete for the position.

In a schedule filled with staunch competition, there will be little room for error. Los Angeles must avoid mental mistakes and capitalize on every opportunity to score points if they are to win their division.

Before saying it is an impossible feat for this roster to win one of the leagues strongest divisions, remember the Rams went 4-2 last year against its NFC West opponents sweeping the Seahawks and splitting wins with Arizona Cardinals while starting two different quarterbacks.

However, the team’s schedule is ranked the third most difficult in the NFL in 2016. Los Angeles will need to play their very best football on offense, defense and special teams.

Success in these areas is key to Goff leading his new team to victory. Coach Fisher and company will need good luck to win the division title but as the saying goes, “Good luck is the result of hard work and preparation.”

Embrace the Pain and Live for the Fight

As I enter my 3rd year of sobriety, I cannot help but feel a great deal of gratitude. I lived through my addictions and have had the good fortune to land on my feet.

I have been given a gift. Because of this, I have come to the realization that I want to help others who suffer from similar circumstances. There are wonderful people, both children, and adults, that are destroying themselves. Many, if not all, suffer quietly with mental and emotional disorders. They spend a great deal of their time and resources trying to escape their demons by self-medicating. As a result, their lives become a tangled mass of wreckage.

The good news is that recovery is possible. Just over two years ago I was near death and the old adage of being “sick and tired of being sick and tired” hit me hard. In response, I had the overwhelming desire to break habits I developed as a 15-year-old boy. The party lifestyle and all its ugly consequences became my number one enemy. I suddenly realized that for years I had surrounded myself with people that I only thought were my friends.

As the fog lifted and I could once again think clearly, it became apparent that they were more enemies than anything else. Furthermore, along the path of self-destruction, I had lost the trust of the people that truly loved me. At the end of our lives, these people become the only things that matter. When I was finally done getting high, it was the love of real friends and my family’s trust that I set out to earn back.

The path to sanity is different for everyone but for me, success involved daily prayer. I had always prayed, even when I was not living my life right and despite my poor choices, the Lord responded and protected me.

The way I understand it, addicts that are in recovery need a “Higher Power.” Mine is the gospel of Jesus Christ. I was so addicted to cocaine that the only shot I had at happiness was by turning to Him. When I did, I was able to slowly lick my wounds and heal. For a long time, it appeared as though no progress was being made. It is now clear that I was making headway with every passing hour. I recall driving home from church one day and suddenly having the overwhelming desire to get drunk and score some rock.  I prayed for strength that day in the car and as I did, I was inspired to remember the pain and agony that comes at the end of a binge. The thought of the consequences made me shudder.

In the past, getting high felt like a soothing balm. That is the incredible lie that addicts believe and it causes us to return time and time again to a path that leads to despair.

Thankfully, the overwhelming urge to relapse passed. As I made my way home, I felt a message in my heart and mind say, “Each time you overcome these temptations and make good choices you will become more powerful.” That gave me great hope and still does to this day. I see it happening as my life and health steadily improve.

Because I cleaned up I was able to complete a Bachelor’s degree that I had started long ago. More importantly, I was able to mend relationships that I had nearly destroyed. I haven’t attended Alcoholics Anonymous or its equivalent called Narcotics Anonymous but I don’t knock these programs whatsoever. They have done tremendous good in the lives of many people. I have read some of their literature and the parts about God ring true to me.

As I struggled to stay sober, I learned about the healing brain and PAWS (Post-Acute Withdrawal). This is a whole new battle of overcoming depression, bad memories, and sickness that seems to come out of nowhere. The feelings of discouragement are brutal. These symptoms come long after the pain of physical withdrawal is over. It is during these times that those in recovery are at the greatest danger of relapsing. You have no other choice but to ride out the storm like a ship on the high seas, being tossed to and fro in the midst of a hurricane.

My symptoms associated with PAWS started about six months after I was clean and sober and may continue for years. I have them constantly. You can and will get through them though if you reach deep down inside and tap into the reservoirs of strength that exist in your soul. I must mention that a doctor’s care is necessary. I recommend a good therapist as well. We, as addicts, tend to carry many years of trauma and emotional pain and it is imperative to clean all that up if we are to return to anything close to normalcy.

I understand that religion isn’t in vogue these days but I read the Bible and pray daily. This is critical to my ability to withstand the promptings to return to cocaine. These are what I like to call “the moments of truth.” This is when I have to decide. What do I really want in life? Do I want love or people that use me? Do I really want a shot at happiness and am I willing to pass through “the seasons of suffering” to get it?

Have you ever noticed that anything really special in life comes with hard work? Sobriety has not been easy but it has been well worth it. My advice is to embrace the pain and live for the fight.

As for now. I am trying to figure out the best way to help as many people as I can to find the plan of happiness. But if this testimony and message only helps one person, then it has been well worth writing. I have realized through all of this that faith, gratitude, patience and hard work are the tools that can be used by anyone trying to make positive changes in their life. These key elements apply especially well to any addiction, whether it be food, porn, or as in my case cocaine.

I started out as a young person trying to relieve discouragement and anxiety. Little did I realize that the choice would eventually lead to a journey into hell. I feel strongly at this point that the best thing to do with this experience is to use it to help others and try to make the world a better place. Two thoughts that are never found in the depths of addiction.

Tim Richmond Storms Back

NASCAR began to grow rapidly in the late 1980’s and drivers like Tim Richmond are the reason the sport exploded in popularity. Richmond wasn’t groomed for racing in his teens like so many of today’s drivers, but there is no denying he was born to drive. His natural ability on the track is well documented and somewhat infamous in old school racing circles. Whether it was at the Indy 500 where he won “Rookie of the Race” in 1980 or Winston Cup where he finished 12th in his debut, Richmond was always off to a quick start. Tim was a black sheep of sorts in the Cup Series and his flashy persona was unwelcome at times. He would show up at the track with long hair driving a Harley Davidson, lived on a boat in Miami and wore Armani suits. He was a stark contrast to a sport dominated by good ole boys with deep southern roots- nothing against the good ole boys, they are the foundation of stock car racing. While Tim alienated some of the more no-nonsense personalities in the pits, power brokers on the circuit took notice of what he could do with a race car and word soon spread that Richmond was limited only by the lower budget teams he drove for.

Hendrick Sees Gold

The racing gods smiled on Richmond in 1986 when Rick Hendrick of Hendrick Motorsports signed him to drive the Folgers Coffee Machine. The move proved to be a good fit for both men and Tim had a season that legends are made of. As a matter of fact, the movie Days of Thunder starring Tom Cruise and Robert Duvall, was based loosely on the experiences of this dynamic duo in the Cup series.  Much like today, Hendrick offered the best equipment in the business and Richmond drove with reckless abandon in what would be his last full season. When the team finally began to hit on all cylinders, Tim won seven races finishing third in points with 8 poles and 13 top fives to his name. Richmond had more wins that year than any other driver, including the 1986 series champion, Dale Earnhardt.one

The Flame That Burns Twice As Bright 

Tim lived the same way he drove; when in doubt he hit the gas. It is easy to see why his driving style was compared to that of seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt. Driver Mark Martin, who totaled 40 cup wins, said of Richmond “When I first started racing, I thought, man, Tim Richmond is the coolest. I want to be like Tim Richmond. He was what being famous was all about. He had the women, the looks, the clothes and that kind of wild, crazy attitude that only super famous people have. And he could drive, too. He truly was one of the greatest that ever was.” Orlando Sentinel – Juliet Macor

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At the peak of his career, Richmond missed the first part of the 1987 season to deal with “double pneumonia”, later revealed to be the HIV virus.  In a season in which Tim was considered a favorite to win the championship, he was only able to drive in 8 races. His final victory on the road course in Riverside, CA, is forever etched in my memory. The Budweiser 400 fell on Fathers Day and Tim tearfully dedicated the race to his Dad in Victory Lane. I remember rushing to the store to pick up a magazine with “Tim Richmond Storms Back!” on the cover. I was thrilled. I carefully removed the article and still have it to this day. His comeback was inspirational. Little did his fans know it would be short and bittersweet.

 

Legacy In Question?

Richmond stormed back into the Winston Cup Series in the spring of 1987 and quickly won Pocono and Riverside back to back before his season was again cut short. At Michigan, the rest of the cup drivers were said to have lobbied to stop Tim from driving because he was rumored to be on drugs. NASCAR deemed Richmond “physically unfit to drive” and Tim was compelled to end his season abruptly.  Not long after, NASCAR created a drug testing provision for all drivers. Richmond’s test failed due to high levels of over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen. The test was later retracted after a lawsuit was filed on Tim’s behalf. So much was unknown about AIDS at that time and NASCAR was right to be concerned. However, the manner in which the rising star was treated left much to be desired. Being blocked from racing by a falsified drug test added insult to injury at a time of intense fear and uncertainty for the 34-year-old Richmond. The fake test is a black eye on what is otherwise one of Americas great sporting leagues. Richmond’s legacy in NASCAR is both notorious and controversial. Kyle Petty said of Tim “He is almost like a comet that blew through here and everybody said Ooh! Then it’s gone, and you really wonder if you saw it in the first place. Tim Richmond was one of the greatest drivers this sport has ever seen, but he was in the wrong era for us for this sport. He was ten or fifteen years ahead of his time.” Richmond had demons; He lived fast and died young. Despite his short career, he is recognized as one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history.