In partnership with The CMO Club, The CMO of the Week series profiles CMOs who are shaping, changing and challenging the world of modern marketing. For Drew Neisser's complete interview with CMO Award Winner Tom Santora, click here.
Corporations may or may not "be people," depending on the political leanings of who you ask, but to appropriate a phrase from Lincoln, they can at least be "for the people." That's the idea behind Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), that much-criticized area of activities meant to reveal a more altruistic side of a big company - think environmental clean ups, community investment, doing good beyond what's required by law.
In some ways, giving away a slice of the pie runs against the whole point of business, but it increasingly doesn't have to. Tom Santora, CMO & SVP of Sales at Omni Hotels & Resorts, makes the argument that extra-curricular benevolence actually presents businesses with a big opportunity: a bonus for the bottom line, the larger community and, of course, a marketing angle - and he can prove it. A Social Responsibility award-winner at the most recent CMO Club Awards, Santora walked me through what CSR has done for Omni and what it means for his role as CMO, an inspiring discussion that I'll share with you here.
A Sustainable Foundation
While "going green," if you remember, was a nice trend that took root in popular culture not ten years ago, businesses like Omni have found a permanent place for environmental friendliness in their architecture. And because we're talking about hotels, I mean that literally. "Sustainability is central to Omni Hotel & Resorts' entire business," Santora says, "from operations to procurement to architecture to construction."
The goal, he says, is for all of Omni's future properties to earn LEED certification, a prestigious and widely respected mark of environmental consciousness and energy efficiency in architectural design. And Santora describes this goal not with lofty expectations and a twinkle in his eye, but as a veteran of the process. During his tenure, Omni finished construction on the largest LEED Gold certified hotel outside of Vegas.
And it wasn't easy. Getting that gold stamp for the Dallas Omni came after lengthy planning and a meticulous phase of design and development. "We worked with recycled and regionally-sourced materials," says Santora, "incorporated significant natural day lighting into our design, implemented a keycard-based guestroom energy management system, utilized construction process to significantly reduce construction pollution and rolled out a number of water conservation initiatives."
The Green Guest Experience
The company's sustainability goals extend well beyond construction. "We also are finding other ways to minimize our carbon footprint," says Santora. Even the hotel's dining room, Texas Spice, is a two-star certified Green Restaurant, which means more than just kale and spinach on the menu. "We are increasing local and organic dining options by partnering with local farmers, growers and seafood purveyors," he says, "as well as sourcing - and in some cases producing our own - environmentally preferred products."
Venture into the guest rooms and you'll also find the effects of Omni's corporate conscience. Loyalty program guests can participate by indicating that they'd like to use their linens and towels over several days. "By giving our guests the option to re-use items that would normally be laundered in-between uses, we can reduce water, chemical, and energy use," Santora says. And those bars of soap you leave behind? The housekeeping associates collect and donate them to the Global Soap Project.
What About the Greenbacks?
Lest we begin to believe that a cabal of new-age hippy types run the company, Santora reaffirms that Omni's business is better for it, too: "Obviously, there are long-term operational cost benefits to building properties that consume fewer natural resources. This is one of our ways we rationalize our investments."
Furthermore, the customers love it. "One of our core brand attributes is providing hotel properties that are unique and authentic to their local markets. By using building and design materials that are indigenous to the local region and providing culinary creations based on locally sourced ingredients, we can cater a true local experience," Santora says. "It's what guests look forward to when staying with Omni."
As for his role as CMO, because Omni is a smaller, privately held company, Santora says he's fortunate to be involved with these initiatives from the outset, "particularly if they have the potential to benefit the guest experience and/or our brand reputation." He often collaborates with the construction team to provide input on anything that could make Omni more marketable to customers, and sustainability is often part of this. "In fact," he says, "We have secured business solely because we have a LEED Gold certified hotel in Dallas."
If green initiatives just aren't in the cards for your company's CSR activities, Santora says to keep exploring your options. "My advice to other CMOs is this," he says. "Find CSR programs and initiatives that aren't just good for the community, but are good for your business too. That makes it easy to justify the investment."
CMO of the Week is an exclusive Social Media Today column published every Thursday