A Conversation with Alex Gregory, Director of Sales and Marketing for Sea Island.

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A new feature to Naked Hospitality is a conversation with key executives, such as this one with Alex Gregory. I started this site with the belief that truthful conversations about hospitality marketing would inspire new ideas. Ones that have real-world impact, encourage paradigm-shifting execution, and demonstrate that far-sighted risk taking can deliver meaningful return on investment. Hopefully, you will be inspired to join the conversation.

Sea Island is an historic icon. What’s been the key to its success?

The key is that we have an incredible team of people, and they truly believe—as I do—that this is the most wonderful place on Earth. That belief and all of the values we share as an organization come through to our guests and members daily. They live and breathe Sea Island’s brand promise, which is gracious Southern hospitality. It doesn’t hurt that we have an amazing setting on the beach, with facilities and experiences that are second to none.

What are today’s top sales and marketing challenges for large, multi-outlet, upscale, independent resorts like Sea Island?

I’d say they are the same for us as they likely are for any other resort—creating awareness, and cultivating loyalty. The trick for independent resorts is to figure out how to do both simultaneously with marketing budgets that can’t compete dollar for dollar with the big brands. It requires a talented, engaged, energized team of focused sales and creative marketing professionals who are passionate about what they do and the brand they represent. We are fortunate to have that team at Sea Island.

I’ve seen Sea Island ads in a number of travel and lifestyle magazines—they’re beautiful by the way—so clearly traditional print media is part of your marketing strategy. Can you share some of your thoughts on traditional media planning, placement and analysis?

Thanks John! We believe that an integrated approach is so important. And further, that print is alive and well. So much so, that two years ago, we created our own lifestyle magazine, Sea Island Life. It’s a publication we are very proud of, and one that gives us some of our best and most powerful results. A major airline came to us to ask if they could place copies in their VIP clubs, and that’s been a big win for us. And while tracking print is never an exact science, we can track website views of the magazine digitally, and we also place specific phone numbers in the pub, so when someone calls our reservations line to book, we know they saw that particular ad or read our magazine. In the end, it’s a pretty solid measure and it’s why we can justify reinvestment in those specific initiatives.

How large a role should social media play for independent resorts?

It’s critically important as a component of the overall marketing strategy. We have a Web and Social Media manager on our staff. I’d equate her role to that of a chief editor of a weekly publication—she is constantly pulling together stories that engage our fan base and keep Sea Island top of mind, even when they may be thousands of miles away.

Many hoteliers find it challenging to create enough relevant content for their various social media channels to be effective. Do you have any advice for them?

If you are just creating content because you want to make your social media effective, flip that notion on its head. Your team should focus on creating amazing experiences that your guests will love, look for those unique reasons why they stay and play with you, and pay attention to the superstars on your team that bring it all to life. The stories will jump off the page because they showcase your best work—and the great part is, your guests will be the ones telling it.

You’ve recently introduced a modern amenity to the resort, the Flip-Flop Bistro, touted as a food truck Sea Island style. Where did the idea come from and how has it been received by your guests?

It came from necessity really. We can have 2,000 people on our beach nearly every day in the summer—and just needed a way to serve great food quickly, particularly at the lunchtime crush. We also bring Flip-Flop over to the Seaside Course during the McGladrey Classic, our PGA TOUR event every fall. It’s been a great success and our guests love it! We’ll see if we can get Flip-Flop on the road this year to a city near you!

You offer a number of theme weekends such as your upcoming Downton Abbey weekend featuring several stars from the show, A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey author Jessica Fellowes, Antiques Roadshow personality Nick Dawes, a treasure hunt, and a costume party. Clearly this was a well planned event, attached to no small budget. What is the expectation in regards to measuring the event and similar event’s success? Is it a combination of media placements, revenue, et al—how do you illustrate to ownership and management the ROI for such weekends?

Our partnership has been an incredibly successful venture. We are truly a mutual admiration society—the Downton family, Jessica and Nick all love Sea Island as much as we love their shows! While the events have been amazingly successful for us, measuring ROI is so much more than revenue based on the three weekends we’ve actually hosted. We’ve seen significant media placements both domestic and in the UK, dozens upon dozens of PR opportunities, new guests becoming repeat guests, social media spikes, etcetera. It has all been positive for Sea Island and has certainly helped propel us to our three most successful years in the history of the property.

What’s one thing your team members would be surprised to know about you?

I’ve played guitar off and on for 17 years—not well, mind you—yet never performed live until this past year with a group of friends and coworkers here at Sea Island. And never, ever thought I’d sing outside the shower or the car, let alone in front of people. But it’s been a real thrill to perform live and something I really love!

About Alex Gregory
A twenty year veteran of the hospitality industry, Alex is director of sales and marketing at Sea Island. Now in its 87th year, Sea Island is home to four Forbes Five-Star winners—lodging properties The Cloister and The Lodge, fine dining restaurant The Georgian Room and the Spa at Sea Island. The Seaside Course is the site of the annual McGladrey Classic, a PGA TOUR event hosted by Davis Love III. Previously, Alex led sales and marketing efforts for Royal Palms Resort and Spa and its top-rated restaurant, T. Cook’s, in Phoenix, AZ, and also served in sales and marketing leadership roles at Wild Dunes Resort in Charleston, SC. Alex is a current member of the Hospitality Sales and Marketing International (HSMAI) Americas Board, and past chair of the HSMAI Resort Marketing Council. He earned a BA in English from Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, VA, and currently resides on Saint Simons Island, GA with his wife Cathy and their black lab Jasper.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015 at 2:03 pm and is filed under Conversations . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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