February has seen the fruition of our sales and marketing initiatives, and it reminds me of the importance of planning any marketing programme.
Although we have to be able to respond quickly to changing market conditions, too often there is little attention given to planning.
After more than 20 years in the industry, I still get excited when projects planned months ago "take off". Last month we relaunched Conferenceplan, our specialist, free venue-finding service, and announced a new approach to the conference and meetings market based on five months' market research.
Confex '95 seemed the ideal opportunity to launch a new set of guarantees for the conference organiser. These included a prompt response to all telephone enquiries, a written proposal within 24 hours, standard equipment in main meeting rooms and a new freephone number.
Also new were print materials, including the group's first conference directory, and an advertising campaign aimed at clients' needs.
Prior to any announcements, though, I spent six days in our hotels in London, Heathrow, Bristol, Birmingham, St Helens and Glasgow, running Conferenceplan Training Clinics for more than 300 staff. I showed them our latest sales-generating training video.
The candlelit, mahogany-panelled Gladstone Library, next to our Royal Horseguards Hotel in Whitehall, was the magnificent setting for our second annual press party.
With about 140 journalists and many general managers present, chief executive Robert Peel announced a £50m investment in our London hotels during the next two years.
The importance of branding was debated at our first Thistle Country House Hotels meeting held at the recently-refurbished Shelleys Hotel in Lewes, East Sussex.
In order to cross-sell our eight country house-style hotels we have grouped the properties together. The argument of branding versus individuality proved interesting, with all the general managers of the hotels taking a keen interest.
It's not often that I have the opportunity to be on the road and make sales calls. So I was delighted to join our sales managers on a sales blitz that included one-to-one meetings with more than 1,000 clients and potential clients, to launch our new print material.
As a result of this blitz, awareness of the group is undoubtedly increasing and this should be further aided by February's marketing drive. An insert has appeared in the Financial Times and a wrap-around will go into Travel Weekly in the USA, where we have extended our sales force four-fold in the past year.