Marriott as Storyteller: in Person and on “his” Blog

J.W. “Bill” Marriott, the Chairman & CEO of Marriott International, is one of the best storytellers I’ve ever heard in person. When he came to speak to the IABC International Conference in June at the Hilton New York, he captured my attention right off the bat.

“It’s great to be speaking to you,” Marriott said as he stood before an audience of 1,500 people gathered in the Hilton’s immense ballroom. “And it’s great to be speaking at a competitor’s hotel — I guess.”

The 76 year old Marriott held forth for the next hour or so telling story after story. I loved every one.

Bill Marriott is one of the best storytelllers I've heard in person.

Bill Marriott is one of the best storytelllers I've heard in person.

He explained how his parents turned a small root beer stand in Washington, D.C. into the Hot Shoppes restaurants and later transformed that into the Marriott hotel chain. Their first hotel was located on the site of what is now known as the Key Bridge Marriott in Arlington, Va.

He shared his pride in awarding the company’s top award to an employee who had come to personify the Ritz-Carlton experience for guests at their property in Istanbul, Turkey. The winning employee wasn’t the concierge or the sous chef, but a shoeshine boy who didn’t speak a word of English and had never left Turkey before Marriott flew him to Washington to accept the award at special employee banquet.

“What a wonderful message it sends to our 150,000 employees around the world that this young man could win this award. He really personifies our brand — not just our Ritz-Carlton brand — but in how we do business.”

Marriott’s best story was how he got his much ballyhooed CEO blog started. Apparently, when local ABC television anchor Kathleen Matthews decided to leave TV to head up Marriott’s corporate communications shop, one of the first meetings she had with Marriott was to discuss setting up a blog.

“What’s that?” he quipped. Marriott wasn’t exaggerating — he really didn’t know.

Like GOP presidential candidate John McCain, Marriott freely admits to being slow to adapt technology. A friend of mine who once worked at Marriott’s Corporate Headquarters tells me that the man whose name is on the door doesn’t even own a personal computer, much less email — a personal secretary manages his office correspondence and monitors an email account.

So how does the technically challenged Marriott manage his CEO Blog, “Marriott on the Move”? By dictaphone.

Kathleen Matthews sold him on the idea of keeping a blog by telling him all he needed to do was describe his experiences into the dictaphone and her staff would take it from there. Marriott said every two weeks a member on Matthews’s team meets with him to discuss the blog entries they’ve drafted for his review based on the stories. Marriott picks the best one and Matthews’s team takes it from there. He claims to our IABC audience that it takes him 20-30 minutes every two weeks to sort through which stories he wants to use on the blog. The blog is updated weekly.

While the blogging purists are disappointed that Marriott isn’t clicking away at a computer keyboard like I am right now, I think the results that Marriott and his corp. comm. team speak for themselves. Marriott told the IABC delegates that in 2007 the blog earned over $4 million in revenue just through online room sales.

Marriott claims that while he doesn’t write every word, most of the ideas are his.

The same could be said of the $4 million.

So even though Marriott isn’t sweating  over every blog entry, by “dictaphoning” and digitizing the stories Marriott captivated my fellow IABCers with in person, he and his corp. comm. team are strengthening their relationships with their customers, one story at a time.

Does the dictaphone really matter?


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