#PRAwards 2021 highlight: Oakwood's bullish bet on the stylish traveller amidst COVID-19

Oakwood landed the finalist position in Best PR Campaign: Lifestyle and Travel category at MARKETING-INTERACTIVE's recent PR Awards 2021. Last year, the company entered into a strategic alliance with Country Garden Commercial and Culture Tourism Group. Oakwood, however, recognised the challenges of announcing its new alliance brand during a global pandemic and tapped PR agency GHC to debut its co-created brand Oakwood Beluxs, while international borders remain closed. Find out how Oakwood reinforced its brand positioning and brand messaging through a back-to-back series of media activities. 

Challenge 

Oakwood's business model is a balanced portfolio of short and long serviced residential stays, placing it in a unique position to appeal to a broader market and achieve stable returns on investment. Until international borders re-open, domestic tourism is expected to lead the way for tourism recovery. Intra-Asia and short-haul travel will be its focus before long haul demand resumes. With early signs of international flight routes being reinstated, it is confident that Asia will be the hot spot for recovery with Mainland China leading the trend.

In order to maintain its growth momentum, it entered a strategic alliance with Country Garden Commercial and Culture Tourism Group to co-create a new brand “Oakwood Beluxs” on 14 August 2020. With an aggressive plan to open 100 properties by 2030, this co-developed product is exclusive to Mainland China’s top 50 cities with the highest GDP.

Announcing this landmark partnership during a global pandemic bears testament to its commercial viability. The PR challenge was to debut Oakwood Beluxs, a specially curated product for the confident and stylish traveller looking for modern cultural experiences, during a global pandemic while international borders remain closed.

The campaign ran from 14 August to 31 October 2020 with the following objectives:

• Position Oakwood Beluxs as a residential lifestyle choice that serves the emerging needs of aspirational travellers with a global perspective of life, culture and identity

• Build brand awareness of Oakwood as a trusted hospitality management partner, and its commitment to continuous innovation and evolution with a guest-first approach

• Showcase Oakwood’s strong commitment to expansion and sustained growth despite the global pandemic

The target audience would be a new generation of savvy travellers – both current and potential, business partners and vendors, travel trade partners and peers, with the budget being SG$0.

Strategy 

In August 2020, when COVID-19 infections were worsening across the world, Mainland China was one of the few countries that showed showing green shoots of recovery. It was an opportune time to launch Oakwood Beluxs in Shanghai. For maximum credibility and relevance to the media, it was decided that Oakwood and Country Garden will host a signing ceremony on the sidelines of the 2020 Asia Hotel and Travel Forum located at the Shanghai National Exhibition & Convention Centre.

To reinforce Oakwood’s brand positioning, media engagement followed through to the 15th China Hotel Starlight Awards, held at the InterContinental Shanghai Hongqiao NECC, immediately after the signing ceremony.

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This back-to-back series of media activities strengthened Oakwood’s brand messaging and increased its share of voice exponentially at a time when hospitality companies are reeling from the impact of COVID-19

Given Oakwood Beluxs’ younger clientele, the PR efforts targeted Asia Pacific’s mass media outlets across print, digital and social platforms. Since the audience comprises junior managers with an international frame of mind, media selection focused on news & business, travel trade and lifestyle. The key success factor was to increase Oakwood’s share of voice through strategic media placement.

Its target audience being aspirational travellers with a global perspective of life, culture and identity. This new generation of travellers, with a desire for a sustainable, smart and personalised sanctuary, have exacting standards for lifestyle preferences influenced by their international exposure to social values, culture and personal ambitions, without compromising on the quality of residential comfort. Oakwood Beluxs will speak to their sense of style, penchant for aesthetics and environmental consciousness. Oakwood Beluxs will exude artful sophistication, rooted in a sense of culture. Its target media sectors were regional travel, travel trade, news and business, and property and lifestyle.

The main PR hooks deployed for this launch campaign included Oakwood’s first co-branded product for Mainland Chinese travellers, its commitment to continuous innovation and evolution with a guest-first approach, and its strong growth in China despite the impact from COVID-19 pushing hoteliers and hospitality companies into uncharted territory. Due to lack of marketing budget, the PR tactic deployed for this campaign is a press release that was distributed globally followed by personal, localised pitches to key media. After the announcement, media engagement continued with high profile executive interviews for Dean Schreiber, CEO of Oakwood, across Asia’s top media outlets.

Execution 

Due to restrictions on international travel, cross-border coordination was the critical success factor for the successful launch of Oakwood Beluxs. Together with Country Garden’s local team and GHC Asia’s associates in Shanghai, the series of media engagements was executed seamlessly. Since Oakwood’s corporate office and GHC Asia’s account leads are all here in Singapore, WeChat voice and video calls, as well as Group messaging, became the default mode of communications.

GHC Asia's Shanghainese team worked with Country Garden on behalf of Oakwood to provide logistics support, alignment of key messages, translation of Oakwood content and communication efforts with the media attending the events. While the Chinese teams worked on producing the event, the teams in Singapore assisted with press materials and brand assets for the events, such as press release, brand video to launch Oakwood Beluxs and a welcome address by Oakwood's CEO Dean Schreiber.

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In conjunction with media outreach, digital marketing efforts also complemented the public awareness campaign through personalised e-newsletters and social media conversations.

Results 

Oakwood’s determination to launch a new hospitality brand at the height of a global pandemic was a PR feat in itself. The launch of Oakwood Beluxs was executed at the perfect timing, proving that the time-honoured PR mandate holds true: It is all about the timing. Its campaign results exceeded expectations with 59 total number of media stories, and news coverage in  Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, Australia, USA and Mainland China. Its total circulation reached 2,570,251,137 and the total equivalent advertising value is marked at USD130,415. Its total PR value marked at USD391,245

The highlight of the PR success was an exclusive “live” broadcast on CNBC Asia: In addition, the news about Oakwood Beluxs’ launch was published across various media sectors, amassing an extensive reach to a diverse yet relevant target audience. The top three sectors were travel trade, lifestyle and business sectors respectively.

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The coverage generated by the launch of Oakwood Beluxs was not shrouded by sceptic conversations around COVID-19 at all. Media tonality was very positive and focused on Oakwood’s strategic alliance with Country Garden and Culture Tourism Group as well as on Oakwood Beluxs’ expansion plan.

The launch of Oakwood Beluxs was a resounding PR success in every aspect. At the end of the campaign, Oakwood reinforced its position as the hospitality industry’s disruptor with creative solutions for a new generation of travellers. The resulting media coverage shaped the target audiences’ perception of the brand and its commitment to product innovation in response to guest preferences. As such, Oakwood has demonstrated the guiding principles of PR professionals by taking full advantage of opportunities amidst a global pandemic. By crafting relevant and newsworthy content in a timely manner, Oakwood proved that PR success is possible while COVID-19 rages on.