Marriott Goes Glossy for Guests

Huge hotel and resort chain looks to redefine in-room reading experience

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If you’ve ever stayed at a luxury hotel chain, you might have noticed a hotel-branded magazine lying around your room. But did you actually flip through it—or even pick it up? Probably not.

JW Marriott Hotels & Resorts wants to change your mind about in-room reading. The Marriott-owned luxury hotel chain debuted its first issue of JWM this month—available to guests of JW’s 53 properties across North America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East—and this magazine isn’t just meant to be a decorative addition to the room, or one big ad for the company.

“We don’t want this to be a brochure,” says Mitzi Gaskins, vp of JW Marriott brand management and editor-in-chief of JWM. “We want this to be really rich content for our guests and a way for them to learn.”

But whether JW Marriott will be able to accomplish this is uncertain. No hotel chain’s in-room magazine wants to read like a brochure—and if you ask any of their editors, they’d probably claim to be just as concerned with journalistic quality as JWM. But with the constant need for brand emphasis hanging over writers’ heads, it’s nearly impossible to create a product free of any advertorial bent.

Indeed, the magazine—whose “culinary, culture, and wellness” focus has become a sort of mantra for everyone involved—frequently incorporates the JW Marriott brand and its content partners, like nutrition expert Keri Glassman and Christie’s auction house. But Catherine Gundersen, vp/creative director of JWM and vp of strategic content at McMurry, which handles the editorial and advertising sides of the publication, claims that rather than limiting the title’s editorial potential, these brand relationships actually broaden it.

In order to create that  expanded content, Gundersen—a veteran of Harper’s Bazaar and O, The Oprah Magazine—brought in names that you’d expect to see in a more serious editorial setting, not your average in-house branding effort. “The person who wrote our Thailand story actually wrote the Lonely Planet guide to Thailand,” Gundersen says. “And many of our writers and photographers have worked for Travel & Leisure and T: The New York Times Style Magazine.”

So far, JWM’s attempt to elevate the in-room publication beyond journalism lite has drawn some advertiser interest, says Gundersen. “It is a marketing tool, but it also stands on its own.”

@adweekemma Emma Bazilian is Adweek's features editor.