#PRAwards 2021 spills: Oakwood's PR pride in the launch of new brands in 2020

Oakwood secured 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. It saw 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. Through various strategies and executions, Oakwood tackled the challenge it saw at hand and was welcomed with campaign results exceeding expectations with 59 total number of media stories, and news coverage in  Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, Australia, USA and Mainland China.

In a conversation with MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, head of global marketing of Oakwood, Ee Jin Lim (pictured) shared about Oakwood's proudest achievement in 2020, and what can be expected of it in 2021. 

This interview is done as part of MARKETING-INTERACTIVE’s winners and finalists’ interview series for PR Awards 2021. To find out more about the awards, click here.

What would you say was the biggest accomplishment for the whole PR/communications community in 2020?

Lim: Being a member of the communications community, I would say the biggest accomplishment was to influence positive impact and instill confidence, especially in the hospitality industry.

Our industry has been in a battle against the pandemic, so communicators like us play a crucial role in protecting the brand’s share of voice and market position. I am particularly proud to see that the communications community has demonstrated remarkable resilience and creativity to make the best of the crisis.

What would you say was your proudest achievement of the year?

Lim: It would have to be the launch of not one, but two new brands – Oakwood Beluxs and The Unlimited Collection by Oakwood, within six months.

In a period where many hospitality brands are challenged by the circumstances that the current situation has given rise to, the team at Oakwood has not only maintained resilience in operations across its properties globally, but has gone further to rise above, identify the needs of partners and owners, and launch new brand solutions that sought to address the commercial demand.

Oakwood Beluxs is a new brand that was launched as part of a strategic alliance with Country Garden Commercial and Culture Tourism Group in China in August 2020. Co-developed to appear to well-travelled citizens of the world, the partnership will see a target of 100 new properties in China's top cities by 2030.

The Unlimited Collection by Oakwood on the other hand is a soft brand that allows for a curation of independent properties that retain their unique positioning yet leverage Oakwood’s hospitality management expertise and distribution network. The very first soft brand to be launched in the serviced apartment sector, our first mover advantage helped us secure great interest from several independent property owners and provided us with the opportunity to craft unique stories for each of these charming properties.

I have always been a believer of creating impact in everything I do, and being able to develop a brand to help independent property owners strengthen and grow their businesses with Oakwood definitely upped the ante of my achievements for the year.

What are some communications trends you see carrying on post-pandemic?

Lim: The buzz word these days seem to revolve around digital transformation. It is evident that smart technology and digital communications have permeated our everyday lives and business – whether we like it or not. Whilst this will most definitely carry on post-pandemic, I do also see digital fatigue driving the potential for experiential communications and authentic engagements post-pandemic.

Hybrid of digital and experiential communications

Through experiential communications, brands leverage on visual, auditory and tactile imagery to capture attention and stimulate the senses to allow stakeholders to experience and connect with our brand, product and service, physically, rationally and emotionally. Case in point, we saw great success in the launch of our new brand: The Unlimited Collection by Oakwood in conjunction with the re-opening of heritage properties, Wanderlust and KēSa House, in March this year. In response to the current situation, the launch campaign focused strategically on domestic tourism and an outreach programme that provided our media partners with a more holistic stay experience was a most welcomed relieve for many. Nothing beats being able to experience a brand, product or service in person.

Communicating empathy

This pandemic has taught us all the importance of communicating empathy. Having gone through an extraordinary period that has reshaped the beliefs and behaviours of most consumers, many brands have made it a priority to always ensure empathy in their promotional messaging and initiatives this period, addressing even the unspoken concerns and emotions. Be it in our messaging across channels or the activities we do to support our community, our sensitivity to feelings and emotions have definitely been heightened this period. And I believe that purposeful messages communicated with empathy is one trend that will continue on post-pandemic.

Partner relationships

One thing is for sure, we can’t go the distance alone. Within the hospitality industry in particular, we have seen hospitality leaders come together to support each other, and complementary brands partner and support each other in their engagements. Whilst this is not something that is new, I definitely foresee great collaboration between partners and more effective partner communications taking place even during the post-pandemic where we do not just communicate about our own brands, but rather, what we can achieve on a bigger scale with our partners.

How will the role of communications professionals evolve as we move into a rather uncertain future?

Lim: The basic principles of communications will not change. Our role is to deliver authentic content to our consumers – whether our direct consumers, our internal guests, or our media partners, in a timely and accurate manner.

With an uncertain future looming over our heads, the role of communicators will become even more crucial. With the marketing world obliterated by the crisis, communication professionals will play a larger role in effectively driving relevant messages and news that are not just what a brand wishes to communicate, but rather, content that is aligned with what the greater audience needs to hear. Communication will need to be driven with greater purpose, be it through more powerful storytelling, or insightful thought leadership just to name a few.

What can we expect from your company in 2021?

Expansion of brand portfolio - Inauguration of The Unlimited Collection by Oakwood in Singapore

Lim: The Unlimited Collection by Oakwood is a new soft brand, which allows for a curation of independent properties that retain their unique positioning yet leverage Oakwood’s hospitality management expertise and distribution network. In March 2021, Oakwood launched two iconic heritage properties in Singapore, namely Wanderlust and KēSa House, in partnership with 8M Real Estate. The third property - Ang Siang House, The Unlimited Collection by Oakwood is set to open in July 2021.

Continuous service innovation – Oakwood Premier Mobile Bar experience

Lim: First launched as a pilot programme at Oakwood Premier AMTD Singapore in 2019. this hallmark brand experience allows guests to enjoy the exclusive club lounge experience in the privacy of their rooms/apartments, where cocktails are prepared at their doorstep and served up alongside a pairing of canapés. When COVID-19 hit, this concept became even more relevant for the brand in catering to guests who preferred to enjoy their bar/club lounge experience in the safety of their apartments.

With traction increasing, this experience will be launched as a signature brand experience across all our Oakwood Premier properties this June.

Global community outreach – Give with Oakwood

Lim: Encouraged by the resounding success of Give with Oakwood – a global campaign designed to spread kindness and compassion to vulnerable members of society, Give with Oakwood will return for its second installation in July this year. Last year, a total of 67 Oakwood properties involving 2,803 associates around the world, contributed towards their local community, charity organisation or food bank. The mechanic was simple but meaningful: each participating property pledged to make a donation for every room booking during the campaign period. The global outreach successfully contributed over 11,263kg of rice to beneficiaries in Asia alone.

Growth momentum in 2021

Lim: Whilst Oakwood’s portfolio comprises a predominant offering of serviced apartments that are all well equipped with larger spaces and facilities including a kitchen and living space, the group also manages more traditional transient hotels such as Oakwood Hotel Oike Kyoto (opening September 2021), Oakwood Hotel Sukhumvit 11 Bangkok (currently renovating and opening August 2021), and resorts such as Oakwood Suites Chongli (opening November 2021). With this mix of both serviced apartments, hotels and resorts, Oakwood’s properties are well-placed to cater to both short and long-stay requirements across all markets.

Our new and upcoming properties for the group in 2021 include:

Jan 2021: Oakwood Suites & Studios Dupont Circle Washington DC, U.S.

Mar 2021: Wanderlust, The Unlimited Collection by Oakwood, Singapore; KēSa House, The Unlimited Collection by Oakwood, Singapore

May 2021: Oakwood Premier Tonglu, China, Oakwood Hotel & Residence Bangkok, Thailand

Jul 2021: Ann Siang House, The Unlimited Collection by Oakwood, Singapore

Sept 2021: Oakwood Hotel & Apartments Saigon, Vietnam; Oakwood Hotel & Apartments Daxing Beijing, China; Oakwood Hotel Oike Kyoto, Japan

Oct 2021: Oakwood Studios Bangkok, Thailand; Oakwood Hotel & Apartments Azabu Tokyo, Japan; Oakwood Premier Melbourne, Australia

Nov 2021: Oakwood Residence Foshan, China; Oakwood Hotel & Apartments Chongli, China; Oakwood Suites Chongli, China; Oakwood Hotel Sukhumvit 11 Bangkok, Thailand

Dec 2021: Oakwood Premier Phnom Penh, Cambodia