UTS Library

"Get Sydney Talking" Launch of Hilton Sydney


Hilton Sydney

PR Company: 

Horizon Communication Group

Award Category: 

Award Type: 

Call Number: 

2006 C11 - 4



Executive Summary: 

Hilton Sydney had been closed for two and a half years while it underwent a $200 million makeover. As a result of this lengthy absence, the Hilton was effectively off Sydneysiders’ radar. The challenge was to make people fall in love with the Hilton all over again and ensure the hotel would regain the prestigious mantle of ‘Sydney’s number one hotel’.

Horizon was contracted only eight weeks out from the opening to develop a public relations strategy that would actively leverage the marketing strategy and campaign to effectively re-open the hotel.

The three phase strategy that we implemented involved the following:
Pre – opening – a  concentrated focus on leveraging the thought leaders (the people behind the success of the new Hilton Sydney, along with a program of events, sneak previews, visual imagery, building an influencer network and an international program.

The opening strategy was a highly visible launch event that involved all Hilton Sydney employees and the city of Sydney.

Maintaining the momentum (is still continuing) and required a consistent program of ongoing news activities and creative leveraging of the marketing strategy.

One Sydney Morning Herald journalist quoted that “You needed to have been on Mars (or in Melbourne) not to know that Hilton Sydney is opening its doors after a two year, $200 million revamp”

The business imperative was met and this quote from the Business Development Director explains:

“The Hotel has launched into the market with significant impact. In our first two weeks of opening we took over 10,000 reservations for the remainder of 2005. Horizon gave a commitment at the beginning of the eight weeks and delivered that commitment to us.”

Situation Analysis: 

The new Hilton Sydney needed to be successful from the moment it opened its doors – from patronage of all its key service areas – glass restaurant, Zeta bar, hotel accommodation and event space. In addition Hilton Sydney had always been an important part of the fabric of Sydney, and this launch needed to facilitate its reclaiming of that space.
The business objectives Horizon worked to were:
·      Establish Hilton Sydney as Australia’s premier conferences and events hotel
·      Position glass and Zeta as Sydney’s most outstanding restaurant and bar
·      Return on Hilton International’s largest investment in a venue launch to date by creating the most successful launch in Hilton’s history
·      Promote to the world that “we are open” we are “exciting” and we are “truly different”.

There were a number of factors that had to be considered in the communication strategy including the delayed opening period, (partly due to a number of challenges throughout the construction phase), the old Hilton Sydney image and some traditional perceptions about hotel food and beverage outlets.

The vision for the re-opening of the hotel was to completely rethink every single aspect of the hotel from design and function, to people and services, food and beverage, wine, uniforms, events and conferencing and communication.


Hilton Sydney had conducted a series of research activities including a detailed Strengths, Weaknesses and Threats analysis on the hotel, a detailed competitor analysis as well as a comprehensive segmentation of its customers.

This information provided key data to inform our strategic direction.

Horizon also access Tourism Australia data about the Sydney market to inform our strategy and then built research mechanisms into the implementation including conducting a media audit to determine the media’s understanding and perception of the hotel, media content analysis to measure the impact of the coverage and sales figures as a benchmark of our success 

Target Policies: 

1.      Mike Nalborczyk, Hotel Manager (Sydney)
2.      David Kelly, Director of Business Development (Sydney)
3.      Oded Lifschitz, Vice President (Australasia)
4.      Andrew Flack, Regional Director of Business Development (Australasia)
5.      Robin Watters, Regional Director of Sales and Marketing (Australasia)
6.      Deborah Gold, Regional CRM and Marketing Manager (Australasia)
1.      Stevan Premutico, Marketing Manager (Sydney)
2.      David Wasserman, internal PR Manager (consultant)
1.      Saatchi & Saatchi (lead marketing agency)
1.      Coca Cola (Business partner, not just preferred suppliers)
2.      Lion Nathan (Business partner, not just preferred suppliers)
3.      Staging Connections (Business partner, not just preferred suppliers)
4.      Tina Kalivas (Uniform designer, Leading Australian fashion designer)
5.      Bar Solutions (Zeta - Australia’s leading bar consultants)
6.      Tony Chi (Zeta and glass - Celebrated New York designer)

7.      Dr. Ron Georgiou – (glass Master of Wine (MW)


  • Government – Tourism Sydney, NSW and Australia


  • Event and meeting planners
  • PCOs 
  • MICE
  • Tourism industry
  • Corporate clients e.g. Citibank and Ernst & Young
  • Business travellers – interstate and international
  • Leisure travellers – Sydney, interstate and international
    • Romantic weekend breaks
    • Honeymoons
    • City breaks
  • Sydneysiders
    • Foodies
    • CBD workers
    • Party crowd
    • Wine connoisseurs

Communication Strategy: 


The program was staged into three critical phases –
·      Pre-opening – building the hype
·      Opening day – let the city know that we are open

·      Post opening – maintaining the hype and drive sales

The planning for each stage of the opening strategy was managed through a detailed critical path that clearly outlined each stage of the program, the desired outcome, responsibility, timelines and budgets.

Elements of this program were uploaded onto an extranet so that all stakeholders could monitor progress and provide feedback.

Pre-opening strategy

Our focus was to begin our engagement with the media with the ‘thinking’ behind the new hotel.

The Thought Leaders
The ‘Thought Leader’ concept developed by Saatchi and Saatchi focused on the people behind the new Hilton Sydney – this included management, architects, designers, artists, chefs, concierge and most importantly the employees – the people of Hilton Sydney.

The Thought Leaders gave the PR campaign interesting personalities and faces to feature in the pre-opening period when there wasn’t a finished hotel to showcase and opened up a whole range of media beyond traditional hotel/travel media.

Events were a critical part of the strategy as they provided us with opportunities to showcase the hotel, generate interest and deliver significant media coverage.

Individual strategies for each propertyThe hotel was not just one venue it offered a range of different products for a range of different audiences so individual product based strategies were developed to  was profile the individual areas within the hotel – glass restaurant, Zeta bar, Marble Bar, Café Cino, the health club - Living Well and the event space.

Visual component
A key element of the success of the program was the emphasis on images. Much of the stand out coverage was based on photo led stories. Therefore we ensured that there was high quality editorial style images created for ongoing use in the campaign.

 Building an influential network

We also developed an influencer strategy to ensure that all key Sydneysiders, media, tourism bodies, other Sydney landmarks, and Hilton Sydney neighbours were well informed of our program and understood the key messages.

This also involved a series of lunches with key influencers such as Alan Jones to ensure they had the experience and could communicate the key messages.

Taking it international

A comprehensive Australian and international media relations program was developed that targeted a broad range of media from Sydney columnists, travel writers (nationally and internationally), business writers, property writers, food and wine writers, bar reviewers, lifestyle media, meetings and conference exhibition writers (MICE), general news, art and style writers.


There was not a day during the 8 week pre-opening period that did not enjoy news from Hilton in the media.
Set up activity

Horizon developed a suite of media materials based on the key messages including backgrounders, biographies, fact sheets and media releases.

A comprehensive list of key messages for all elements of the property as well as for the thought leaders (spokespeople) was developed at the beginning of our planning and these were communicated consistently to all stakeholders throughout the program. All media activity was then measured against the level of penetration of these key messages.

Issues management

An issues management workshop was held to ensure we were prepared for any potential issue or threat. This included a detailed question and answers document that was incorporated in media coaching for our key spokespeople.

Building the hype

Sneak previews
We ran an ongoing series of ‘sneak previews’ for media to give them a behind the scenes tour of the hotel tell them the complete story and showcase all the spaces.

We ran an ongoing series of ‘sneak previews’ for media to give them a behind the scenes tour of the hotel tell them the complete story and showcase all the spaces.

Revealing the highlights with exclusives
In order to generate maximum leveraged we offered key highlight reveals to relevant media. For example the unveiling of the sculpture in the lobby and the installation of the 13 metre wine towers (complete with ‘abseilers’) was featured in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Events - Fashion show
A fashion show to profile the Hilton Sydney uniforms, designed by Tina Kalivas one of our thought leaders was coordinated.
As the interior of the hotel was not complete we chose the Marble Bar as the venue because of its link with the past and the uniforms represented the future.
The event was designed to maximise television coverage and was successful in drawing all three commercial stations to the event as well as key lifestyle and fashion pages in metro newspaper and long lead magazines

Unique concepts - The BathMaster
To generate long term coverage we needed a new concept to create news beyond the fact the hotel was opening – the BathMaster was born. Horizon turned this germ of an idea into a focal point to profile the hotel as truly different.
The BathMaster experience was a first for Sydney. It was an adaptation of the ritual of aromapathic bathing for the modern luxury hotel and added a touch of the spa to the guest experience.
The media loved the concept and the coverage flowed including a 5 minute segment on the Today Show (see Appendix 1) profiling the concept on opening day.

Opening Day - launch event
The launch concept was designed to involve all key stakeholders, particularly the staff. All the staff assembled in the hotel foyer on the day of opening, dressed in their uniforms and carrying objects that related to their department. For example the finance people had bags of money and the chefs had cooking utensils (see opening day images Appendix 1).
An African drumming band and an MC lead over 600 staff from the lobby to the streets. The staff marched in a parade and walked the streets of Sydney – alerting everyone that the hotel was now officially open. When they returned to the hotel – the official opening was marked by inviting the last guest at time of closing to return as the first guest to check in. Again this was a great success – media and stakeholders were engaged in the event and again every newspaper and television station in Sydney covered the opening.

Post launch – maintaining the momentum
The media interest has continued to be maintained. For the first six months following the launch activity Horizon was continuing to co-ordinate media familiarisations, generate news stories in trade, travel and general news media as well as support a range of marketing activities that were designed to keep the story alive.


The media coverage

  • The media coverage was extensive:
  • 122 radio hits
  • 62 major metropolitan newspaper stories
  • 34 online hits; 21 national newspaper stores
  • 36 trade stories; 14 pieces of TV coverage
  • 24 national magazine hits
  • 8 suburban and regional stories

Hilton Sydney Online - Launch Day Hits (Friday 15th July): 669,658


Media coverage
The campaign generated over 300 on message (99% with key messages) media hits spanning TV, print and online over the eight week campaign period.

This activity directly supported the business and marketing plan of Hilton Sydney by driving high levels of enquiry to the hotel. The initial campaign has since been supported by an extended stakeholder strategy which has delivered further value to Hilton Sydney.

The entire marketing program was evaluated against the business objectives and the results are as follows:

1. Within the first full month of trading, room occupancy was over 68% putting it in line with its competitors.

2. Corporate room bookings within the first full month of trading exceeded targets by 104%.

3.  4,500 Hilton Sydney Leisure Packages were sold within the first six months of opening.

4. glass brasserie was booked solid from opening night.

6. Within the first two weeks of opening, the events team recruited two additional staff to cope with the huge demand for events space.

7. Within just one-month Hilton Sydney moved to the number 1 best selling 5 star hotel through wotif.com.au

8. Such was the overwhelming success of the marketing campaign, the planned Launch Event in September was cancelled. It wasn’t required, the message was well and truly out there!

APPENDIX 1  - Hilton Sydney PR coverage and opening day images disk