As the Director of Brand Communications at InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG®), Jason Rollins understands the complexity of internal communications in an organization with multiple brands, hundreds of hotel locations, and tens of thousands of employees. Jason’s diverse experience as Manager of Corporate Communications at Arby’s and an adjunct Professor of Marketing at Mercer University has helped him shape his passion for helping brands communicate their story, internally and externally.


Chuck Gose:
It’s been a while since we chatted, Jason. How’s life?

Jason Rollins: Life is great! I’m loving my job at IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group). My son just turned three and is tons of fun. And we have a baby girl due in two months!

CG: You’ve helped produce two human beings since we first met. Congratulations! (But you can’t take all of the credit).

JR: HAHA - thank you! How about you? Hope life is also treating you well!

CG: Well, I gave birth to Chuck Chats, which brings us here today.

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When we first met, you were part of the comms team at Arby’s. Now you’re at IHG. What sort of adjustment was there, if any?

JR: Not as much as I thought. Even though the hotel industry is very different from the restaurant industry, it’s still a franchise business with many similarities, from a comms perspective.

My primary assignment is to support the transformation of the Crowne Plaza brand, which is very similar to the transformation Arby’s embarked on several years ago.

CG: I guess in many ways, hospitality is hospitality. When it comes to working with franchises, is branding a difficult conversation?

JR: It can be, particularly if you have franchisees who go rogue and do things that could potentially be detrimental to the brand.

Fortunately, most of our franchisees are top-notch and understand the importance of maintaining the integrity of our brands.

"There’s no comms silver bullet. We make things available in a variety of channels in hopes it reaches and resonates with as many folks as possible."

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CG: You know, Indianapolis has a super cool Crowne Plaza Hotel.

JR: Yes, inside of an old train station! So cool! We are considering it for a PR event this year.

CG: When you’re dealing with franchisees, what sort of tools or assets do you provide to help them help employees stay on brand?

JR: We are currently leveraging a number of channels, including new Quarterly Calls that are conducted similarly to  earnings calls with our senior execs. We also use standard e-newsletters, back-of-house monitors in the break room areas that our team pushes content to, road shows, intranets, toolkits, etc.

There’s no comms silver bullet. We make things available in a variety of channels in hopes it reaches and resonates with as many folks as possible.

CG: What are some of the other major brands that are part of IHG that readers might be familiar with?

JR: In addition to Crowne Plaza, my team is currently supporting Holiday Inn, which remains one of the more iconic brands in the world.

We also support the IHG Rewards Club, which is the largest hotel loyalty program in the world with over 100M members.

Other IHG brands include Intercontinental, Hotel Indigo, Holiday Inn Express, EVEN Hotels, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, Candlewood Suites and Staybridge Suites.

CG: So when it comes to the customer experience, how do you differentiate Crowne Plaza from all of the other brands, even those in the IHG family?

JR: Crowne Plaza is the premier choice for the modern business traveler. The brand works hard to make business travel easier and more efficient, with innovations that enable what we call a ‘blurred and blended’ experience between work and leisure.

CG: And it’s now “the thing” to talk about how employee experience impacts the customer experience.

So what are you guys doing from the employee side of things to deliver the customer experience?

JR: Reaching the frontline is an ongoing challenge for Crowne Plaza, as there are 151 hotels in the Americas estate and thousands of hotel team members.

In many instances, we’re pushing out important information that we hope the GM will receive and cascade down. Some do that well, and others not as much. We are continuing to look for new ways to engage.

The BOH monitor example is something we’re really going to be pushing this year.

We also just rolled our new guest experience program called Dare to Connect that is designed to empower frontline team members to make more of a personal connection with guests when interacting with them. So far it’s been well-received and I’m hopeful guests are going to really start seeing a difference.

"Dare to Connect is designed to empower frontline team members to make more of a personal connection with guests."

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CG: I have another comms friend who works in hospitality. And she shared a story about how they got dinged severely by an independent reviewer because employees weren’t using guests’ first or last names when greeting them. It doesn’t sound like much but this is the type of area where internal comms and branding can really make a difference in the business.

JR: Interesting, referring to guests by name is a key part of Dare to Connect.

Our data shows it makes a big difference. It also shows that business travelers are often lonely. They appreciate and value a bit more interaction from a hotel staffer while on the road, more so than when travelling for leisure.

CG: As a frequent business traveler, that comment kind of stung a bit. But I know that you are right. We’re the ones who often expect a little extra comfort when on the road because we are on the road so often.

JR: There are always going to be those folks who want to bypass the front desk altogether, and we’re working to enable that, too. The team members are being trained to evaluate each guest case-by-case and decide how much interaction to apply.

CG: Let’s talk a bit more about the Dare to Connect campaign. How long has it been going on?

JR: It’s being introduced across the estate as we speak via Road Shows.

CG: And what’s the expectation?

JR: Increase in engagement and empowerment among team members, including increased overall job satisfaction. 

For guests, better overall experience, more likely to return/refer friends and colleagues, and better customer service survey scores (we call Guest Love scores).

"We work hard to ensure the estate is well-informed of things happening at the brand level, not only so they’re informed and engaged, but also so they can be up-to-speed on what’s new when interacting with guests. "

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CG: Let’s move on to brand alignment. And bear with me as I make my way through this story.

When you were at Arby’s we talked about how customers had one experience with a brand that employees do not have. You guys sponsored a golfer and customers would come in talking about that and the employees simply didn’t follow golf.

I would imagine the same type of thing can happen with hotels. You have a traveler who perhaps has stayed at Crowne Plazas all over the place, but the employee only knows their one experience at the property.

How do you work to rectify that? Or is it possible to align those?

JR: That’s a big part of our overall IC strategy. We work hard to ensure the estate is well-informed of things happening at the brand level, not only so they’re informed and engaged, but also so they can be up-to-speed on what’s new when interacting with guests.

As an example, we just rolled out the 2018 brand campaign for Crowne Plaza last week, which includes national TV, digital, print and social. We made a huge splash about this in all our IC channels so our frontline would be aware and able to talk about it with guests.

CG: Let’s take a step back from Arby’s and IHG and look at internal branding in general.

What are some of the common mistakes companies make when either developing an internal brand or creating alignment between the internal and external brands?

JR: For internal branding, I’d say one mistake is not rolling it out effectively and making use of all available channels. You can’t just push something big like that out in a newsletter and expect employees to understand and embrace it.

It has to be a combination of high and low touch points with some in-person celebrating to really rally around it.

"You can’t just push something big like that out in a newsletter and expect employees to understand and embrace it."

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CG: I need to confess something to you.

It’s been a little more than two years since I first heard of it but I still haven’t tried the “Meat Mountain.” For those who don’t know what it is, you can follow this link to this secret Arby’s menu item.

So I’m curious. Does Crowne Plaza have its own Meat Mountain. . . so to speak?

JR: Oh man! That was your one key action item from our last convo! I guess I’ll forgive you. Although that will likely be life-changing, so I do still encourage it!

Crowne Plaza doesn’t have a secret menu item, per se. However, we do have some interesting properties unlike any others like the one in Indiana you mentioned. We also have chefs across the estate who take advantage of the “chef favorites” section on many of our menus to serve up local flare that you can’t find elsewhere. We’ve found our modern business traveler guest really enjoys that.

CG: Trust me. The Meat Mountain commitment hangs over to me to this day but I promise I will give it a try.

Though I noticed you keep using a unique word - estate. I’m guessing this is also part of the Crowne Plaza brand.

JR: Yep, that’s how we refer to our region or footprint of hotels. My team supports the Americas region, which is the US, Canada, Latin America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

CG: Let’s wrap this chat up the way we do all of them. Describe your thoughts about internal comms and branding via emojis.

JR: 😀🚣🏋️‍♂️🎉⏳

CG: Thanks for being on this Chuck Chat Jason!

JR: Thank you for having me! Had a blast.