CMO Insights: Talk About Rising to a Challenge

an interview with
Kate Chinn CMO, Rockerfeller Center

If you ever had any doubt about the expanding role of the CMO you need look no further than Kate Chinn.  As the head of marketing for Rockefeller Center and several other properties owned by international developer Tishman Speyer, Kate covers a lot of territory and based on the recent successful relaunch of the Rainbow Room, she does it all quite well.  This particular initiative required Kate and her team to get involved with naming, experience design, uniform selection, operations and and eventually even some advertising!  This was not a departmental “land grab” but rather her way of making sure that everything about these new properties including the Rainbow Room itself, a new bar called SixtyFive and a separate event space were fully differentiated and ultimately marketable. Having done all that and more, Kate was recognized by The CMO Club with a CMO Award and in the process, earned the “honor” of an interview with yours truly.  

Drew: Can you provide some background on your marketing objectives and so forth in terms of your responsibilities?

I oversee marketing for several businesses owned and operated by Tishman Speyer. Tishman Speyer is a real estate firm, but within their portfolio is a group of businesses that doesn’t necessarily fall under a typical real estate firm’s umbrella. Included in that category would be Top of the Rock Observation Deck, Rockefeller Center, Rainbow Room and the event venue 620 Loft & Garden, for instance.

Drew: I just saw that the recently re-launched Rainbow Room made a list of top new places to visit in the city. When you’re launching a new product, or re-launching an old product like The Rainbow Room, how do you approach the marketing?

Yes – we just opened the Rainbow Room in October of this year. With this re-launch in particular, there were very high expectations, especially since the Rainbow Room is such a famous, historic, and iconic venue. For the last 2 years, the marketing team has closely worked with the operations/management team to define the business goals, in order to correctly position each segment of the new Rainbow Room in the marketplace. You can’t effectively market something until you have a solid idea of what it is going to be, how you want it to be perceived, and what the business goals are.

What made this even more challenging was the fact that it wasn’t just the Rainbow Room, it was the Rainbow Room as an event venue, the Rainbow Room as a Sunday brunch location; and the Rainbow Room as a destination for Monday night dinner and entertainment. At the same time, we launched SixtyFive, the brand new bar and cocktail lounge, with its own identity and marketing needs. Finally, there will be an executive dining club that is by invitation only, which also required us to develop a look and feel, menu covers, invitations, etcetera. With new businesses, you find yourself doing anything and everything that needs to happen in order to get that business open, regardless of whether or not it is actually “marketing”. My team was involved in everything from logo design to uniform selection to actually naming the bar “SixtyFive Bar & Cocktail Lounge”.

Drew: Can you talk specifically about your channel communication strategy and marketing mix?

It was a different strategy for each of the businesses. For the events business, we began advertising a year out because we know that many weddings book over a year in advance, and we wanted people to know that the Rainbow Room was coming back. Once we set that opening date of October 5th, we pulled the trigger on advertising in some of the larger and more upscale bridal publications in particular.

Our biggest challenge was that we had absolutely no photography assets. We created a beautiful brochure out of complete air. Our ads were very vague, but at least contained the Rainbow Room logo and we had to have something for the sales team, so it forced us to be very creative!

Sunday Brunch is a beautiful, elaborate set up with a round buffet table set up on the dance floor and every kind of food you can imagine from around the globe. It was so impressive, that we decided we really couldn’t pay to market that until we had a photo of the actual brunch. Monday night dinner and entertainment also came later and are still developing as we continue to evolve our entertainment strategy. The first performance we had was The Roots. We managed to flip a New York Times full page out right before opening that made a big splash.

Drew: How important is digital in the mix of the things that you’re doing for these various business segments?

We’ve spent the majority of digital resources up to this point developing the websites and OpenTable integration, and optimizing AdWords. Obviously search is big, so we’ve definitely put money toward that. We have a social media program in the works. We’re starting to do listings, but again, we’ve only just gotten image collateral and it’s limited.

We also have a PR group working with us specifically on F&B, and we’ve had a lot of positive press just since it opened. It’s starting to catch on by word of mouth.

Drew: Is that word of mouth a bankable, sustainable kind of thing or is it the kind of thing you get a lift from at the launch and then requires you to come up with creative ways to keep it going?

Speaking specifically to SixtyFive – the bar at the Rainbow Room… This has been my first time doing any sort of marketing surrounding a bar and we planned to do an initial push with PR. We have found that with Top of the Rock, word of mouth is so important, and keeps people coming back. In fact, according to some audience research we conducted, over 50% claim that “word of mouth” was their main reason for visiting. I have to believe the same thing would be true for a premier cocktail bar at Rockefeller Center. So I think it’s a continual effort – and really relies on a great guest experience much more so than anything paid.

Drew: What you’ve been able to do is what a lot of marketers dream of doing. In theory, you get to have an impact on a large part of the customer experience. Many times marketers are just handed the product, and handed the customer service, and handed the operations and told “go sell this”. If you picked one of these properties, what kinds of things did you have in mind as you were thinking through the customer experience?

With Rainbow Room, a lot of thought went into the logo, the design and the architecture with the goal being a fresh modern take on the classic Rainbow Room. We didn’t want to change the essence of the Rainbow Room everybody remembers. In fact, there are landmark elements that were refurbished but otherwise remain exactly the same, for instance the chandeliers, dome ceiling, revolving dance floor, brass railings, glass bollards. Generally speaking, it’s a classic, elegant experience, but it’s been refreshed so it feels fresh and modern.

Now the bar, SixtyFive, is completely new. The ceiling is dimensional with beautiful geometric patterns and finished in metallic leaf. So it has a kind of other-worldly feeling in there, it’s really cool. It also has a brand new outdoor terrace with seating and obviously, incredible views of the NYC skyline.

Drew: What steps do you have to take to build credibility with the board or the CEO in order to accomplish your marketing goals?

Because we work for a real estate company, we have to take the time to explain the necessity of marketing these non-core businesses. As long as we are very, very clear and confident on what we need and why, they tend to trust our marketing expertise, especially given the success of similar businesses such as Top of the Rock and the event venue 620 Loft & Garden.

Drew: What role of social play for one or all of these five parts of the new Rainbow Room?

Our hope is to have a social media team pushing out engaging content that will spur people to talk about it. We are trying to include our social media handles and hashtags on as many of our materials as possible so they will be known and used by our guests. We’re talking about putting them on the menus now to make sure that people have them top of mind when they’re at The Rainbow Room, because it’s a natural place for people to take photos. We’re really trying to build awareness. And by pushing out our own content, hopefully we can get conversations started and just remind people about it.

We also have a social media hub on our newly redesigned website rockefellercenter.com where we pull in and sort photos. We’ve got #rockeats, #rockshops, #rockcenter, etc. I can ultimately see Rainbow Room and SixtyFive being part of it as well.

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