Eric Ziegenhagen, The Langham Chicago

Engineers / June 4, 2014

“No single day ever delivers the definitive performance—each day is its own.” Eric Ziegenhagen

Eric Ziegenhagen is the Social Media Manager for The Langham, Chicago (opened in 2013) and Langham Place Fifth Avenue. He previously managed social media for Chicago’s Elysian Hotel as well as the restaurants Trenchermen and RIA. He has also directed more than a dozen plays in the past decade. In 2012, he staged and adapted An Interrogation Primer, a one-actor performance based on the writings of a former U.S. military interrogator, which was produced in Chicago and New York.

THC: What inspires you and why?
Eric: Elements that are always changing and always in the present tense: light, shape, and conversation. My background is as a playwright and stage director, and now I spend every day in hotels. What these fields have in common is that each day is never the same as the last or the next. No single day ever delivers the definitive performance—each day is its own.

THC: How did you get into your business?
Eric: Early on with Twitter (2009 or so), I was aware of its service potential. Type the name of any restaurant or hotel or museum into Twitter’s search box, and you’ll find conversation and photos from people at these places. You’ll see the experience captured through the eyes and words of its guests—and when these guests receive a thank you at the right moment, the relationship goes beyond their visit. I was looking for somewhere to swim in late 2010 and found a deal at the spa at Chicago’s Elysian Hotel. After spending a month swimming there, I sent an email to the hotel’s CEO mentioning that every week guests were saying complimentary, positive things about his hotel and spa, and that there would be value in conversing with these guests. We decided that I would cover social media for the spa and health club in exchange for a membership—and that’s how the work began. Within weeks, conversation with past, present, and future guests led to word-of-mouth, public kudos from VIPs, and returning guests. And things moved forward from there. If social media existed in the last century, Hemingway would have been the ideal voice for a Paris hotel in the 1920s; Truman Capote for the Plaza in the 1960s. That’s a steep standard to match, but the hotels I represent have equally steep standards for design and service.

THC: What are you working on right now?
Eric: My time and energy is focused on being the digital voice for two Langham Hotel Group properties: The Langham, Chicago—located in a landmark building designed by Mies van der Rohe for IBM—and its New York City counterpart, Langham Place Fifth Avenue.

THC: How do you see your space evolving?
Eric: Hotel social media is still in its infancy as far as having service and elegance that effectively match the in-person guest experience—social media as part of the hotel experience rather than back-office marketing. It’s like the first decade of the telephone. All of us are just learning how to have a real conversation digitally, what the protocols are, and what a five-star standard would be. Given how the invention of the switchboard forever changed and improved the hotel experience early in the 20th century, I think we’ll see an equivalent change in the next decade or two.

THC: Who’s your Hero or Icon?
Eric: For capturing the everyday with intuition and craft, William Eggleston and Bill Cunningham. For their precision in language, image, and metaphor, Leonard Cohen and Marilynne Robinson. For social media, Damien Neva of Next Models sets the gold standard. He delivers delight and handmade precision in real time when representing a business of world-class quality and integrity. And Scarlett Johannson’s character in Her—that’s close to what “talking to a hotel” will feel like in the coming years.

THC: Where’s your favourite spot around the world?
Eric: Northern Sonoma County in California has so many microclimates in such a small area that each visit delivers new scents, landscapes, and experiences. Toronto is a favourite city, in its approachability and the amazing local music, art, and culture. Arbois, France, is another place I daydream of disappearing back to—a favorite combination of walking trails, history, and local culture.

THC: What’s your favourite injection of culture into a brand?
Eric: I love how short videos from fashion brands—along with documentary shorts on sites like Nowness—are becoming as inventive as music videos were in the 1980s. Alfred Dunhill’s video series Voice and Portraits of Achievement in particular match the quality, integrity, and emotional impact of the clothes and goods they represent.


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