MARINA DEL REY, CA — For Murray Lowe, GM of the Marriott’s Marina del Rey hotel, the stretch of “Silicon Beach” that surrounds his West Los Angeles property presents a business opportunity that he’s hired a PR agency to help crack.

Lowe, who has been GM of the property for six years, wants the Marriott Marina del Rey’s lobby to become a destination for nearby tech workers to do business and host events.

“Lobbies are places where people meet and then go elsewhere,” he said. “But I want ours to be a place where people want to stay.” But unlike, for example W Hotels, Lowe knows that Marriotts are still better known for their rooms than their lobbies.

Last October, he hired Blaze PR  -- a $1.5 million shop based in Los Angeles -- after working with the firm via the Marina del Rey Conventions & Visitors Bureau where he sits on the board. At the time, Marriott corporate was gun shy on social media, but an internal study on Millennials’ travel habits was a wake-up call for Lowe on how much audience engagement was shifting.

“[Our bar] Glow was ranked as a hottest bar in Playboy but what if you didn’t read that magazine?” Murray said. “We needed a more involved communications approach. We needed to speak to the local audience.”

Blaze ousted an existing PR firm and built the Marina del Rey hotel’s persona on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, in addition to facilitating responses on travel review sites like TripAdvisor. In June, the firm hosted a social media event at the hotel’s rooftop bar to get the attention of the surrounding tech community. 

“At a macro level, Murray understood that traditional PR didn’t make sense for what they were trying to do,” said Matt Kovacs, EVP/GM at Blaze. “It was too limiting.”  

Earlier this year, Blaze was hired to replicate its social media build at several other California Marriott properties: Anaheim, Manhattan Beach, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and Monterrey.      

While every property has a different need -- for instance, Anaheim and Monterrey are geared towards tourists and Manhattan Beach and LAX are mostly business hotels -- Kovacs says social, not media relations, is at the center. 

Ultimately, this had a ripple effect on Marriott corporate. After laying low on social, Marriott corporate took a more proactive stance this year and even headlined its marketing retreat in June with social media.

“Social has become a big initiative,” said Amy Peterson, Marriott’s manager of marketing for the Western Region. The Marina del Rey, Anaheim and LAX hotel properties have seen the most annual growth among its hotels -- which corporate correlates with its social media activity, she added.

But building a social media voice is just one part of equation. The ultimate success factor will be longevity, especially for a company like Marriott that was a long-time social skeptic.

“Now it’s about continuing the traffic,” Kovacs said. “And asking ourselves, what’s next? We see that Instagram is growing in popularity, so we have to decide whether to put resources into that channel. It’s constantly evolving.”