I don’t consider myself much of a TV snob, but I do take pride in the fact that I watched the very first airing of AMC’s “Mad Men.” Mind you, this is before the drama earned critical acclaim, countless Emmys and emerged as a pop culture lightning rod.
For those of you who haven’t seen it, “Mad Men” details the trials and tribulations of 1960s-era advertising executives on Madison Avenue. And it does so exceptionally, I might add. Everything about the series is top-notch—the acting, writing, production values. I urge you to go out and rent the DVDs. It’s like watching a 60-minute feature film every week from the comfort of your own living room.
If the sheer quality isn’t enough to sway you, know this: “Mad Men” draws much of its inspiration and story arcs from real historical events and products—the hotel industry included.
This week, for example, the series featured Wyndham’s iconic Howard Johnson brand.
|Much of last week’s episode of AMC’s “Mad Men” took place in a New York Howard Johnson hotel and restaurant. (Credit: AMC)
After landing the HoJo account at the ad agency, protagonist Don Draper and his newly betrothed wife, Megan, took a road trip to visit a property in Plattsburgh, New York. (There’s no Plattsburgh HoJo at present.) Don was fascinated with the concept—everything from the orange roof to the orange sherbet. And while sitting in a restaurant booth, a piping hot order of clams on the way, he tried to discern what made the travelers around him tick.
I suppose hoteliers and ad reps aren’t that different, after all.
Curious about how the story line came about, I touched base with Wyndham public relations extraordinaire, Rob Myers. It was a “complete surprise,” he told me, albeit a “pleasant surprise nonetheless.”
(Wyndham has since jumped on the opportunity. In a clever marketing stunt, the group is now offering a free stay at select Howard Johnson properties to anyone named Don Draper.)
Hilton goes ‘Mad’
HoJo isn’t the first hotel brand to get the “Mad Men” treatment. In season three of the series, the show depicted a multi-episode story arc in which Don attempted to create a campaign that captured the unbridled vision of legendary hotelier and Hilton founder Conrad Hilton.
The idea emerged during a luncheon with series creator Matthew Weiner and an unnamed Hilton executive. During the meeting, the Hilton exec discussed the storied history of the chain. He also shared with Weiner a dummied mock up of a Hilton reservation form for the Lunar Hilton—a make-believe hotel on the moon that Barron Hilton (son of Conrad) unveiled during a speech in Texas to express the chain’s optimism and ambition.
Fans of the show will recognize the concept. The Conrad character on “Mad Men” seems obsessed with the idea; whether the obsession is literal or figurative is not as clear.
Besides that historical oversight, the show’s portrayal of Conrad Hilton was pretty spot on, according to Mark E. Young, director of the Hospitality Industry Archives at the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotels and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston, who consulted with the show’s creators to ensure the veracity of the characterization. (He was the one who shared the above luncheon anecdote.)
Young wasn’t always as comfortable with the idea of featuring the hotelier on TV, however. When he first got the call from Weiner, he was skeptical.
“My first thought was, ‘Oh my God, this is going to be awful because they’re just going to do a typical Hollywood version.’ But they then started asking very specific questions.”
Questions about Hilton’s advertising budget in 1960, Conrad’s upbringing, the chain’s hotel portfolio, its property footprints, individual hotel’s looks and feels.
“I was very impressed with the detail that they wanted, and they wanted images of hotel interiors and exteriors,” Young told me.
For the most part, the pictures accurately mirrored real life. Young highlighted a scene in which Don and his first wife, Betty, sojourn to Rome. The view from their hotel window is almost identical to what guests would see today if they stayed in the Rome Cavalieri, a Waldorf Astoria hotel.
As for actor Chelcie Ross, who portrayed “Connie,” he gets a “nine out of 10,” Young said. He had the look, speech and mannerisms down pat—although Young says the real Conrad was a tad bit heavier. He was also a tad less assertive. The scene in which Don walks into his office to find an intrusive Conrad sitting impatiently behind Don’s desk? The real Conrad would never have been so brash, Young said.
|Conrad Hilton (left) was portrayed fairly accurately by actor Chelcie Ross, according to Mark E. Young, director of the Hospitality Industry Archives at the Conrad N. Hilton College, who consulted with “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner. (Credit: Hospitality Industry Archives, Hilton College, University of Houston; and AMC.)
Minus those small details, I was relieved the series creators didn’t dramatize the character. I’m a bit of a stickler for historical accuracy, and I found it exciting to get into the head of one of the founding fathers of our industry. More importantly, the characterization allowed viewers outside of our industry to see the dedication and selflessness and guest-centric thinking that often drives the most influential leaders in the hotel business.
Often, as was the case with Conrad, that passion might seem a little obsessive. But when it comes to serving the guest, there’s nothing “Mad” about it.
Now on to the usual goodies …
Travel note of the week
Had a wonderful trip down to State College, Pennsylvania, last weekend—my first. In addition to seeing Happy Valley and the Penn State campus, I attended a phenomenal dinner honoring the university’s School of Hospitality Management’s 75th anniversary, as well as Penn State alum and hotel veteran Edward R. Book.
Everything about the event, which was hosted at the beautiful Nittany Lion Inn, was outstanding: the mouth-watering food, the attentive service (provided by many of the school’s own students), the gut-bustingly funny stories about Book as told by his friends and family. It made for a truly memorable evening—one that undoubtedly sent the school down the road to 75 more years of success.
Stat of the week
$67,000: Difference in average price per room paid in single-asset transactions during the first quarter of 2012 compared to the first quarter of 2011, according to an analysis from LW Hospitality Advisors LLC.
What’s interesting, however, is that during the same time average price per room went up, total transaction volume for Q1 2012 went down. Last year, there were 36 deals representing a deal volume of more than $2.8 billion. This year there were only 25 deals representing total deal volume of $1.9 billion.
Dan Lesser, president and CEO of LW Hospitality Advisors, attributed the slowdown in deal volume to the state of the lending market. “The availability of debt is oscillating,” he said. “The spigot is not wide open just yet. That’s what’s been holding it back.”
Quote of the week
“It’s starting to broaden out. Folks are definitely seeing opportunities in the middle of the country. … There are tremendous opportunities in the middle of the country.”
—Dan Lesser, president and CEO of LW Hospitality Advisors LLC, discussing the migration of U.S. single-asset deal activity away from the coasts and into the heartland, as reported in “Q1 hotel deals show US heartland shift.”
Comment of the week
“It is not hard to increase badwidth. (sic) Just expect you will then be paying $30 a night for internet.”
—Commenter “ac” on the ramifications of meeting guests for more bandwidth, as reported in “Broadband, mag stripes and a big headache.”
My fellow editors and I are on the road quite a bit at various industry conferences and tradeshows, and bandwidth is a topic we’re beginning to hear with alarming frequency. We’re quickly approaching the point where the all the talk needs to give way to action. Anyone want to take the lead?
Email Patrick Mayock or find him on Twitter.
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