Some people think that working in a hotel is a glamorous job. Many kids aspire to become chefs when they grow up, as they watch celebrity chefs on television, Netflix and social media, and think that it’s an easy role to play. Others aspire to be in the hotel industry as part of its communications team, perceiving it to be a job of utter luxury, as their workplace would be the hotel and every dish you have would be Instagram-worthy.
I spoke with Margaux Hontiveros, who has just been promoted to the world of international communication directors as incoming Director of Marketing Communications of Raffles Cambodia, to find out what it’s really like to be a hotel / F&B publicist. Here are her revelations:
1. Working in a hotel is not all glamour and glitz
As glamorous as it appears, Margaux confesses with a smile, “It is not all glamour. It has perks but there’s a lot of hard work involved. Over the years I’ve been no stranger to getting my hands dirty and finding myself in various situations where I’ve literally had to get down in the grime and grit.” Although, she is quick to add, “How quickly we can vacillate from glamour to grit is one of the things I love about this job.”
2. You may work 26 hours a day (yes, more than 24!)
There are 8:30 am briefings, a ton of errands including writing or approving press releases, photo shoots, “a never-ending cascade of meetings to attend” during the day, media to entertain at 8:30 in the evening with frivolities that can last til the wee hours of the morning. Then repeat the next day.
3. You don’t need to be stiff
“Definitely there’s a certain sense of decorum that we have to follow. But what was proper 20 years ago may seem extremely outdated and cold these days,” Margaux explains. Instead, she emphasizes the importance of manners but says that the level of formality will depend on what is being promoted and who the audience is.
4. You don’t need to undercut the competition
One would think that hotel publicists would hate each other, viewing each other as competition, but the Makati hotel PRs have gone the exact opposite direction and straight up support each other, hang out, and appear to have a genuine love for each other. It seems like in the PR world, they are all one happy family.
Margaux confirms this: “It is competitive, but extremely friendly and supportive. I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but at least in our circle (Raffles, Shangri-la, Peninsula, Primea, Holiday Inn and Dusit), we keep up with what each other is doing and are extremely supportive of each other. It’s a great camaraderie. It completely dispels the theory that to get ahead, you must be ruthless. I am deeply grateful for these friends, and most of them I consider to be my mentors.”
5. You don’t need a hospitality degree
Margaux did not go to a hospitality school. She is an artist. She recalls distinctly, “During one of my (first) interviews, it was brought up that I didn’t have any hospitality experience, to which I cheekily answered, ‘No one goes to art school to work in a hotel.’” She still got the job anyway but started out as a Graphic Designer under Joy Wassmer, then Communications Director of Shangri-la Makati. Then Erica Sotto, also with Shang, saw Margaux’s potential not only for visuals but also for writing. After testing her with captions, she promoted Margaux to copywriter until she became Communications Coordinator and eventually Communcations Executive.
From Shang, Margaux joined the opening team of Lind Boracay and a few years later joined Monique Toda for Raffles & Fairmont Makati. “My time at Raffles and Fairmont Makati was where I truly grew up. Monique (Communications Director of Raffles Makati) really took me under her wing, and supported me in figuring out what kind of MarComm person I wanted to be,” Margaux reminisces.
After graduating from the Monique Toda school of PR, she felt confident enough to take on the role of Communications Director at Discovery Primea under General Manager David Pardo de Ayala, whom she considers another mentor. And for the next few years, she will be Communications Director of Raffles in Cambodia.
Not bad for someone who never went to hospitality school!
I also asked Margaux for some tips for F&B or hotel PR. Here are her suggestions:
1. You need a good product.
While branding is king, you also need a good product to begin with. When the competition is fierce, you up your game not only through promotions but by having better products, i.e., better services, better menus, better music, better chocolate. “Any hotel or company that’s worth its salt must have a strong brand to back up everything they do and say,” Margaux stresses. “If you can deliver an experience that is genuine and true to your brand promise, there is no doubt you’ll stand out.”
2. Highlight personalities.
Let’s face it, there are occasions where all hotels have the same products and promotions: Easter, Christmas, Chinese New Year. What to do then? Margaux suggests to highlight the personality of your chefs. “Every chef has his or her own personality, and it’s important that the Executive Chef has the freedom to create as he or she wishes. I’ve been fortunate to work collaboratively with some of the best F&B people and chefs, and perhaps it’s also due to my own love of food and awe of what they do, but I’ve always been inspired by their creativity,” she says.
3. Tell a story
At the core of marketing and communications is the task of telling stories. Margaux explains: “Whether it’s a brand story, or why we do a certain promotion, or the profile of an individual, we have to tell a story through copy, through design, through experiences.”
In fact, this is what she loves most about the job. “From the unique features of each property, to the philosophies of the brands, and the people who work tirelessly to ensure that the guests are comfortable, secure and delighted at every turn, the opportunities to flex your creative muscles are endless.”
4. Create an experience
Margaux fell in love with gin at Raffles Makati, after having a sip of their signature Sipsmith gin. But it was at Primea that she was given the freedom to launch a real gin experience. She created the concept of a “gin buffet”. “I wanted to create an environment where people could come and feed their curiosity about gin and the many different brands,” she recalls. Thankfully, Primea F&B Director Rhea Sycip and head bartender Lennon Aguilar were just as excited about the concept and immediately got on board so today, Primea has over a hundred different bottles available at the Gilarmi Lounge’s Gin Library and the gin buffet is now one of the hotel’s most celebrated F&B attractions.
5. Genuinely care
This is something she learned from Lui Parungao, whom Margaux describes as “the heart and soul of the Shangrila Makati Marcomm team for over 25 years” and whom she considers to have been her “constant mentor” from the beginning of her career: You can remember everyone’s names, birthdays, what they like and don’t like, who they are connected with, if you have a genuine care and interest in people. Lui also taught her, “Above all, take the time to be kind. Be humble. And always grow.”
Finally, she shares a lesson from her father: “Whatever you do, find the joy in it.”
No doubt this Filipina will shine as she flexes her communication muscles once again, this time in Cambodia.