Beginning on January 29, 2018, Kenny will oversee the enterprise marketing strategy for Hilton, replacing current CMO Geraldine Calpin. Hilton
Hilton has announced the appointment of Kellyn Smith Kenny as its new senior vice president and chief marketing officer, and she’ll replace Hilton CMO Geraldine Calpin early next year.
Kenny comes to Hilton from Uber, where she serves as vice president of marketing and led these efforts in the U.S. and Canada. From 2015 to 2016, Kenny headed up marketing at Capital One, and before that she worked in marketing roles at Microsoft.
Calpin, a Hilton spokesperson said, is still with the company and will stay on until Kenny’s appointment becomes effective January 29. Her decision to leave the company was driven by a desire to pursue new opportunities. Calpin has served as CMO since September 2015, and before that held e-commerce and digital positions at the chain for a decade.
“After 15 years with Hilton, Geraldine Calpin shared last month that she intended to seek new professional challenges,” a Hilton spokesperson told Skift. “As our chief marketing officer, Geraldine dedicated herself to ensuring Hilton is at the forefront of the hospitality marketing and digital space. Under her leadership, Hilton has been elevated in the minds of guests, owners, and our future customers. We thank her sincerely for her many contributions, and wish her the best in her next chapter.”
Under Calpin, Hilton embarked on its largest-ever marketing campaign, which debuted in February 2016. Called “Stop Clicking Around,” it was one of the leading examples of the hotel industry’s efforts to push for more direct bookings, and to convince consumers that the lowest prices for Hilton hotels were not on online travel agencies like Expedia or Booking.com, but on Hilton’s own brand.com sites.
Almost a year after the campaign launched, in January 2017, Calpin told Skift it would be a campaign that would evolve and continue for years, and that it was already a success.
“Everything points to it [the campaign] is working,” Calpin said. “Are we going to stop? No. It’s years and years of not just OTAs [online travel agencies] but consumer misconceptions that ‘I go over there and I get a better price.’ You can’t just do a 12-month campaign and say it’s done. We will continue that journey of book direct, join our program, and you get a better experience with Hilton than you get anywhere else.”
Calpin said Hilton has seen the growth of bookings through third parties slowing. “We’ve changed that inflection point,” she said.
New Kalibri Labs research suggested Calpin’s assessment was right, and that marketing campaigns and member-only discounted room rates did, in fact, result in more direct bookings for brands like Hilton and its peers.
Under Calpin’s leadership, Hilton also merged its marketing and digital departments. Calpin has often cited the importance of Hilton being a “digital-first company.” She’s often said that she sees digital technology as being a vehicle for a a better guest experience that’s more personalized, and that’s being reflected in Hilton’s new Connected Room concept.
What Lies Ahead for Kenny
Calpin leaves a strong legacy for Kenny to build on at Hilton. It will be up to Kenny to continue that emphasis on digital technology and guest personalization, as well as to evolve “Stop Clicking Around.”
The so-called direct booking wars, which found Stop Clicking Around playing a starring role, have evolved. Today, it’s not just the online travel agencies that chains like Hilton need to be concerned about. Google’s hotel metasearch product, Google Hotels, is making gains, and increasingly Airbnb is showing its intent to be a force in the online travel agency arena.
Kenny will have to tackle Hilton’s ever-growing portfolio. While the company has 14 brands, it will be adding at least four more in the near future. These include a luxury soft collection brand, a luxury lifestyle brand, a more upscale version of the iconic Hilton brand, and what CEO Chris Nassetta has described as a “hostel on steroids.”
The Hilton Honors loyalty program, which received some updates this year, will also be a major focus for Kenny since it serves as the connecting thread for the company’s vision of a better and more personalized guest experience, as well as a driving force for more direct bookings.
Given her experience at Uber, Kenny will likely possess a similar appreciation for and familiarity with digital technology and marketing as Calpin did.
Kenny has the added bonus of having worked for a disruptive technology firm that is deeply rooted in the sharing economy.