Piers Schreiber, VP Corporate Communications at Jumeirah Group in Dubai is one of the speakers at Azerbaijan's most anticipated event this year - Baku PR Experience, taking place on 17th October in Baku.
He has 20 years of experience in international corporate communications. Prior to joining Jumeirah, he was the co-founder of The Communication Matrix, a consultancy specialising in communication strategy, change management and multinational media relations. His clients included the International Finance Corporation (World Bank), Shell, Dell, Nutricia, Zain, Mubadala and BT.
He previously headed corporate communications for KPNQwest in the Netherlands, ran the European corporate practice for Ogilvy Public Relations in Brussels and spearheaded European Commission projects for The Rowland Company (Saatchi & Saatchi) in Brussels, Prague and across central and eastern Europe. In his earlier career he was PR Officer for the Delegation of the European Commission in Prague, lectured at Charles University, Prague and also at the Université de Poitiers, France.
Jumeirah Group owns some of the world's most luxurious hotels. What are some of the strategies you are using to distinguish your brand from other luxury hotel chains?
Jumeirah Group currently has over 20 luxury hotels, resorts and residences across the globe. Each of these properties is different and unique, with its own expression of luxury that is relevant to its location and environment. They are however united through our service philosophy of STAY DIFFERENT. This is a reflection of how we adapt our service to meet the individual needs of our guests; it is also a reflection of our commitment to deliver imaginative and exhilarating experiences with thoughtful and generous service and to do so in a way that is culturally relevant. What strategies do we use to differentiate ourselves from the competition? First and foremost, you must have a great product, flawlessly delivered - our brand is built on the accumulated experiences of thousands of delighted guests who vigorously endorse our brand promise; secondly, you must have robust brand standards that are never compromised; and thirdly you must understand how different audiences perceive your brand and adapt the execution of your strategies according to the needs and expectations of those audiences. Consequently we adopt an integrated approach across all marketing and communications platforms to ensure that the brand and our key messages are delivered consistently, compellingly and comprehensively.
Social media is a great trend. How are you using social media at Jumeirah?
We are very active on social media. Most of our hotels run their own Facebook and Twitter account; and many of them are active on FourSquare. In addition to that we operate a central YouTube channel, so that all of our video content is available in one place. We also run dedicated accounts for our corporate activities and other specialist areas such as sponsorship and our Wild Wadi Waterpark. Jumeirah Group operates over 70 restaurants and social media is a very effective channel for managing conversations with diners, getting their feedback, sharing ideas and recipes and offering special promotions. In the hospitality industry, one of the most important platforms is TripAdvisor and we monitor and respond to guest comments, as they are the real judges of whether we are successful or not. Another social media platform that is important to us, especially for recruitment, is LinkedIn and we have already secured many talented recruits for new and existing properties through this channel.
Jumeirah Group also has an amazing CSR strategy. Can you tell us something more about that?
One of the dimensions of our brand promise STAY DIFFERENT is to be thoughtful and generous in our approach to guests and other stakeholders. This extends to the way in which Jumeirah relates to the communities in which it operates and to people in need. Our long term strategy revolves around the creation of the Jumeirah Foundation, as a means of uniting all our stakeholders, including guests, employees, business partners and local bodies, in the pursuit of making a difference to both the environment and to the lives of people in need, especially children. On top of that, every hotel runs its own signature event in support of good causes, engaging our staff, our guests and the local community. For example, the annual 'Swim Around the Burj' attracts hundreds of participants and raises funds for Medecins Sans Frontiere; and the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project in Burj Al Arab plays a big role in ensuring the survival of an endangered species in the Arabian Gulf.
The world is still stunned by Burj Al Arab, the world's only 7 star hotel? How hard is it to maintain the hotel's status even after 10 years?
The 7 star designation was actually applied by a journalist at the opening of the hotel in 1999. Ever since, we have consistently aimed at living up to the expectation of the press and of course our guests. The success of this is reflected in the number of awards the hotel wins every year. Why are people stunned? From a physical point of view, it is to do with the elegance of the exterior design, resembling the billowing sail of a traditional dhow (or Arabian sailing boat) and the exuberance of the interior design, with over 1,590 square metres of 24 carat gold leaf used throughout the hotel. From a service point of view, it is to do with the number of highly trained staff who deliver the ultimate luxury experience. The ratio of staff to guests is around 8:1.
How do maintain the status after 13 years of operation?
This all comes down to an uncompromising approach to quality and to meeting the expectations of our guests. This ranges from the upkeep of the fabric of the building to the continual training of our staff. The restaurants at Burj Al Arab win as many awards as the hotel itself and are recognized as destinations in their own right. It is also down to innovation. For example, as well as offering free wifi internet access in the hotel, we also offer them wifi access in the fleet of Rolls Royce Phantoms; we provide ipads in every suite; and we design special events for every imaginable occasion.
The luxury hotel industry is booming in Azerbaijan. Jumeirah also manages a hotel in Baku. What is your advice for all PR professionals working in the hotel industry in Azerbaijan?
The hotel industry presents fascinating challenges for PR professionals. The brand is very vulnerable because it is literally on the sleeve of every employee. The way an employee behaves towards a guest will influence that guest's decision on where to spend his or her heard-earned money in the future; so a lot of a hotel company's brand equity is tied up in the quality of people it employs and the strength of its brand standards. PR plays a critical role in promoting and protecting the reputation of the brand, which in turn determines the success of the company. In a rapidly developing luxury hotel market like Azerbaijan, I think the most important challenge is the race for talent - getting the right people on your team, people who have the right disciplines and experience, but who are also passionate about the brand, who have the creativity to discover and generate new relevant content and who can build a communication culture within the business.
What are your expectations from the Baku PR Experience? Can you share some details from your presentation?
The conference has a very diverse and interesting range of speakers. It is always a good sign when you feel that as a speaker you will learn as much from the other speakers as you hope the audience will learn from yourself. That is definitely the case with the Baku PR Experience. As for my presentation, it will be sharing examples of how companies can generate compelling content for their communication strategies from more sources than they might imagine and show how different channels can be harnessed to have a lasting effect on the public's perception of the brand.