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earlier discussion

The latest marketing campaign for Delta Hotels and Resorts doesn't mention anything about room rates or special features.

Instead, it's all about community outreach and corporate citizenship, as the company launches the Delta Community Cruiser Tour. Employees are travelling the country, outfitted in a 2010 Toyota Prius, to promote Delta Helps.

"We see three benefits from Delta Helps," says president and CEO Hank Stackhouse. "Employee engagement, national and local advocacy for Habitat for Humanity and investing in making our hotels and their surrounding communities greener and more sustainable.

"The most important part of this, in my opinion, is creating the opportunities for our employees to connect to their local communities. We want to do more than just write a cheque for financial support and walk away - our employees want to literally roll up their sleeves and pitch in to help in the communities in which they live and work."

Join Mr. Stackhouse at noon Friday for a discussion about marketing, the evolving roles for companies, and the challenge of sustaining employee and customer engagement.

"I think that, like Delta, many companies are realizing that the ways we used to try and differentiate ourselves doesn't mean as much to people any more," he said.

"Hotels can tell you that they have fancy beds (and we have great beds at Delta!) but that doesn't give you a sense of who we are and what kind of service we're going to receive. Our guests tell us that they choose Delta because they appreciate the sense of community we create in our hotels, and between our hotel and the local city or town. It's not enough to just tell people that you're a company that cares; you have to actually walk the talk, which is what we're trying to do."

Mr. Stackhouse has been with Delta for more than 25 years, beginning his career in Vancouver, B.C., as a front desk clerk at Delta's first hotel, the Delta Airport Inn. He was appointed Senior Vice President of Operations at the company's corporate office in November, 2000, and became president in 2006, and CEO in 2009.

The company has more than 7,000 employees and a portfolio of 44 hotels and resorts with more than 12,000 guest rooms across Canada.

Mr. Stackhouse is passionate about community involvement, and has also been instrumental in creating Delta's new national partnership with Habitat for Humanity.

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Cathryn Motherwell, Deputy Editor, Report on Business: Welcome Mr. Stackhouse, and thanks for joining us today. Could we start please by summarizing a couple of the company's recent ventures?

Hank Stackhouse: I just returned from Victoria, where we were launching the Delta Community Cruiser Tour. Actual Delta employees are traveling across the country in a new 2010 Toyota Prius, stopping off at our hotels along the way to participate in a series of local charitable or volunteer events.

In the past week, we have been involved in building two houses with Habitat for Humanity, one right in downtown Winnipeg and one in Burnaby, BC. Next week the team will be cleaning up a stretch of highway in Kananaskis, AB.

I think now, more than ever, it's important for all of us to lend a helping hand in our communities and support one another. That doesn't have to mean fancy fundraisers, but just people getting out and making a difference for families and people in need. I think that companies that don't turn their backs on their charitable partners during these tough economic times are the ones that customers will recognize as having a real commitment, not just a commitment on paper.

The Cruiser tour in particular has been an incredibly exciting way to launch Delta Helps to Canadians, and I'm really looking forward to seeing the results of everyone's combined efforts from coast to coast.

Charles Eddie asks: Mr. Stackhouse, what sort of programs does Delta have to help drive employee wellness ?

Hank Stackhouse: Thank you for your question Charles.

We have a wide range of programs that promote employee well being, as do many companies, but let me focus a new initiative that we are introducing this year. It's what we call the "heartland". It is a complete redesign of our employee lunch rooms. Our industry would typically update our lunch rooms with a small budget and handed down furniture. We wanted to create a space where our employees felt as important and as comfortable as our guests, so I commissioned a Design firm to create three themes that would transform these spaces into an area where our employees could truly recharge their batteries. The product needed to be fresh, environmentally friendly, and fun spirited.

Wooden floors, earth tone colours, improved lighting, soft seating, Imac computers with direct access to the internet (not restricted by a company intranet) where they can communicate through social medias.

So far our hotels that have launched their heartlands have had an overwhelmingly positive response from employees… I have personally had the opportunity to hear from our employees on how much this new space meant to them.

Cathryn Motherwell: Consumers are conditioned to be skeptical of corporate claims, whether it is that the cereal won't get soggy in milk or that the vehicle will really deliver tremendous mileage. How do marketers cut through this skepticism with messages about corporate citizenship?

Hank Stackhouse: I think that a company's CSR platform tells you a lot about that company, and that more and more, Canadians are learning about how "real" a brand's reputation is by the type of CSR work they do.

If you say you're green, what are you doing to demonstrate it? If you say that you're proud to be a Canadian company, what are you doing to live that commitment every day?

That's what we're trying to - we want our guests and employees to know that our communities are incredibly important to us and that we value them by committing time, resources and passion to make them stronger.

Cathryn Motherwell: In the midst of a recession, companies are struggling with employee engagement. I like your lunchroom example - it speaks to workers as people, who need a break from the front desk or the hotel kitchen. The community involvement campaign takes the focus in a different direction - while still designed to leverage goodwill towards the company. What kinds of things to you believe the smart managers should focus on to strengthen these kinds of bonds, when money is tight?

Hank Stackhouse: Some of the things that can be done to strengthen these bonds when money is tight is to find partners that share the same values. Our partnership with Habitat Humanity Canada (our National Charitable partner) and Toyota Canada (our National partner for our Delta Community Cruiser) are two great examples. Building strong communities and being environmentally responsible are priorities that we share as partners and definitely resonated well with our employees.

Lyle Goodis asks: As someone who has worked in marketing for a few small and large resorts operators for many years, I am curious for you to comment on how to motivate "service excellence" long term through programs such as your national tour as described? Can these really be a solid motivating force that live beyond a few days or weeks, and how?

Hank Stackhouse: Great question Lyle.

This is about building our culture or internal community. We are in this for the long haul, this is not just about a summer long tour…this tour has created a sense of momentum that we now have to continue. Our hotels have always been involved in giving back to their communities and our employees told us that we don't celebrate this across the country. Now all 7,000 of our employees understand the commitment that is being made not only in their own back yard but from Victoria to St. John's.

Now our job is keep this momentum going and I truly believe that this will help better define us a brand that lives its values.

Cathryn Motherwell: Where is the Delta/Prius team now, and what are they doing? How are you tracking them, and relaying all of the news to everyone who works for the company?

Hank Stackhouse: I just checked in on Brianna and the cruiser via Google latitude linked to her blackberry and I can report that she arrived safely in Whistler and is getting ready for their big event "Raise the roof" which is a fund raiser in support of Habitat for Humanity (Whistler affiliate) and Whistler adaptive sports.

You can follow her on tour through her blog, twitter or Facebook all of which can be accessed here.

David DeHoey asks: What strategies is Delta using to show employees they are valued by the corporation (aside from the great idea to improve lunch rooms!)?

Hank Stackhouse: David,

We have a host of things that show how we value our employees, from our employee travel program where they and families can stay at our hotels at very reduced prices (we just lowered the cost to make it even easier for them), to our celebrate program that was newly launched this year. Let me explain this one: We have an electronic platform that enables our employees to recognize each other for ways in which they contribute to our three communities...1. Guests 2. Each other 3. Cities where they live This ensures that we track their accomplishments and that they are in return rewarded through a host of redeemable thank you gifts such an ipod for example.

We then are able to better celebrate their roles as community builders at the hotel, in their regions and across the entire chain.

Cathryn Motherwell: Thanks greatly for taking questions today. In closing, what key elements should managers consider when they undertake brand campaigns that talk about values, rather than the product itself?

Hank Stackhouse: It has been my pleasure…

First and foremost, is be sure to listen to your key stakeholders. Values aren't imposed from the top down…they have to live at all levels of the organization. They have to be real! When we shared our redefined vision, mission and values with our employees the first thing we heard was how well they described our culture. From there it was an easy step to develop a CSR strategy that would be aligned with those values and demonstrate our commitment to our communities.

Thank you for your great questions. I have really enjoyed our conversations.

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