About every two years, Hampton by Hilton convenes the general managers of its 2,300 hotels from 20 countries for three days of learning, networking, community-building, and immersion into the brand’s culture.
For the 2016 event in November in Orlando, the company worked with AgencyEA to weave the concept of happiness throughout the entire experience, from pre-event communications through follow-up months later. The theme connected to the rebranding of the company’s pledge to guests to offer not just a “satisfaction guarantee” but a “happiness guarantee.”
Gina Valenti, Hilton’s vice president of brand hospitality, said her goal was to translate the event’s theme into a dynamic experience that touches the senses of her attendees, creating what she calls a “sensorium.”
“I look at event planning as experience planning,” she said. “Our managers who come to these events spend their days working to create memorable, exceptional, and heartfelt experiences for their guests, so my job in the design and strategy of an event that I produce is to create memorable and heartfelt and exceptional experiences that demonstrate our culture to our attendees.”
To establish the theme long before the event, organizers dubbed the registration website the “Happiest Huddle Hub” and invited general managers to “launch their happiness journey” by registering to attend. In addition to standard event information, the site also included a “Happiness Live Feed” displaying users’ posts about happiness.
Each general manager received a canvas flag with instructions to have their team members decorate it with artwork that showed what makes their hotel special. At the conference, organizers hung the flags around the venue in an area dubbed “HamptoNation.”
“It almost became an experiential art exhibit. It was really impactful, and you really saw each hotel team come to life through those flags,” Valenti said. “Then after the event we sent those flags back to each hotel so they could keep it in their space to remind them they are unique and united in something bigger.”
In between hearing from 17 general session speakers—on a stage designed to looked like a wink and a smile—and dozens of breakout sessions (called Happiness Labs), attendees could choose from a variety of activities. The “Smile Swag” vending machine dispensed prizes only when its facial recognition system detected a smile on the guest’s face. A 16- by 21-foot swing set, shaped like a hexagon to match the border around the brand’s logo, added a playful experience with an underlying purpose. “We don’t do fun just for fun’s sake. So that swing engaged people’s ability to have connected conversations,” Valenti said.
And to increase the odds that attendees would actually get on the swings or use the vending machine, Valenti created a team of “Journey Guides” that were a mix of AgencyEA staff and hired actors. “We train them so they are facilitating connections. They are encouraging people to hop on the swing set, and they are helping to facilitate that dialogue,” she said.
To keep the happiness messaging alive long after the event, organizers sent each guest home with a deck of cards inspired by the popular Sneaky Cards game. Dubbed “Acts of Hamptonality,” the cards contained suggested acts of kindness such as, “Thank someone who always seems to make your day a little brighter!” After completing an act, attendees were asked to log their action on a microsite and then to pass the card to someone new.
The brand reinvigorated the campaign in March 2017, four months after the conference, when it launched the “100 Days of Happiness” campaign, sending inspirational messages and reminders to use the Acts of Hamptonality cards. To date Valenti said attendees have logged more than 4,000 acts of kindness on the site.