david-beebeIn the press release announcing the launch of the global content marketing studio, you say the aim is for Marriott to “become the world’s leading publisher of travel lifestyle content for the next generation.” That’s an ambitious statement. How do you plan on carrying it out?

I didn’t pack my bags and leave L.A. after 15 years of running digital studios at various networks just to come to a company that wanted to dabble in the space.

Marriott International’s 4,000 properties across 78 countries serve as a distribution platform. If you look at the traffic we have to Marriott.com – it’s the seventh largest retail website – our mobile app, our reward members, which are 45 million strong, our reach on social, and the YouTube travel MCN that we’re building out, when you combine all those numbers, we have the largest reach of any travel media company.

So we’re already there, we just haven’t activated those platforms as places for content to live. So now it’s all about our strategy. What are we going to make?  Where are we going to put it?

The studio will create content for TV, film, web and print. Can you give us a rundown of its organizational structure?

Internally, there are three different groups. The first is the creative agency group. It’s about 60-people strong. We’re responsible for developing creative marketing assets, campaigns and content for our brands globally.

It’s a traditional agency setup where you’ve got creative and strategists and account managers, operations, production – all of that. There are other agencies we work with, but that’s the main internal agency.

The new groups that we are building out currently, and the second group of the global content studio is the entertainment side, which is more responsible for stuff that has a very strong story. So that could be a webisode, a TV show, a film or a series in a magazine. It’s not just a campaign or a one-off creative asset.

The third group is the live group. It’s a real-time marketing team dedicated to monitoring online conversations and identifying opportunities to essentially create content that adds value in real time.

There are plenty of publishers, from The Guardian to Buzzfeed that work with brands to create content for their platforms. Do those kinds of content studios have a place in your strategy?

There’s value in working with Buzzfeed, Funny or Die or The Onion and other platforms. I think the difference is that traditionally those platforms have come to us for us to buy media, to buy audience.

We feel that yes, you still need to do that. At the same time though, we want to own the content. So we look at it a little bit differently, where it’s a co-production, co-ownership situation.

We don’t just want to buy audience now, we want to build a relationship with the audience directly. But again, it’s not a “this or that,” it’s a little bit of both. It’s just a different approach.

Last year Renaissance Hotels (a Marriott brand) partnered with Slate to create a series of sponsor videos for the news site.

Last year Renaissance Hotels (a Marriott brand) partnered with Slate to create a series of sponsor videos for the news site.

One of the primary missions behind the content studio launch is to create content that drives commerce. What can you tell us about how that will look?

The goal is to create engaging content that builds community. If we do that enough times and we give enough value to people, whether through informative content, making a funny GIF that makes them laugh, or though a short film – we will build trust and they will ultimately book with us.

The second way to do it is with licensing fees. Our show, The Navigator Live on AXS TV, has six half-hour episodes. After that content airs on AXS TV, like a traditional production or media company, you can turn around and sell it to other distributors that need content, both domestically and internationally and across multiple platforms.

Essentially, your ‘content marketing’ entertainment programming starts to make license fees to help fund additional marketing.

YouTube group Substance Over Hype has been signed to create a short film, “Two Bellmen.” How do you convince people they want to watch a movie created by and featuring a hotel brand?

Consumers understand that brands still need to market. At the end of the day I don’t think they care who it comes from if the story is good and it’s authentic.

We’re very careful in all of our entertainment programming to make sure that the brand is serving as a natural point in the story. So it’s not like, “JW Marriott presents this” or “Look at JW Marriott!” It’s just part of the story.

At the same time, we might build some non-branded distribution channels as well. It’s no different than us integrating into other film, TV and web projects. It’s the same approach, it just so happens that we’re producing it.

So you’re the Red Bull of hotel chains?

Red Bull sells a lifestyle that’s action and sports. They just happen to have an energy drink that supports it. We want to sell a travel lifestyle and programming around that, and we just happen to sell hotel rooms.

There are a lot of brands that are taking that same approach and doing it really well. American Express, Pepsi, Chipotle and GE, for example. It’s this connected generation, it’s all about content. It’s content that we’ll produce, it’s content that we’ll co-create with them and it’s content that we’ll curate.