Cara Federici boasts over 15 years of experience in the hotel industry. As Founder of the Madison Melle Agency, she works directly with hoteliers on ideating and branding new properties. Her background at groups such as Palisociety, The Standard and Cachet Hospitality provides her with a unique perspective on the guest experience.
First off, tell us about your background.
My career in hospitality (and love for it) began over 15 years ago when I graduated from Tulane and moved to Los Angeles. I was actually pursuing a job in Broadcast Journalism hoping to be the next E! News Anchor but needed quick cash to support myself in the meantime. My sister told me about a hotel called The Standard, which she described as a hot spot with an awesome design. After an open call, I was hired… and the rest became history.
Working in various roles at The Standard, I eventually dropped journalism and made hospitality my baby. Since then, I’ve held C-level titles across multiple organizations, including Vice President, Global Hotel Brand Management and Vice President, Operations for The Americas portfolio at Cachet Hospitality.
Before that, I was the pre-opening and operating General Manager for Proper Hospitality, as well as Vice President of Room Sales and Hotel Operations for real estate developer and interior designer, Avi Brosh, at Palisociety. Working in-house at these properties and in corporate level leadership roles gives my team and I the edge of really understanding the inside of hospitality, and therefore, how to deploy successful programs. Unlike a lot of third-party consulting firms who study a company from the outside, we have the unique ability to advise clients’ firsthand how best to achieve their goals. We know how processes work in application, not just in theory - I practice theory and application. It’s a very important differentiator.
What’s a project you found challenging?
My team and I recently became engaged on a project in Denmark. During the design process we were required to source and specify products from a multitude of countries across the globe. This included a multitude of currencies, a wide array of languages and other related complexities. It was both a challenge and opportunity to identify reliable and credible partners from such a far distance, as well as coordinate the nuances of global implementation. With a strong organizational foundation and streamlined communication flow (and countless calls at 2 am), we brought it all together and exceeded the client’s expectations.
What’s your greatest advice for a hotel looking to re-brand?
Innovating is not easy. With massive mergers within the hospitality industry recently, there has been a mad dash for hotels to stake their claim in the market and make a name for themselves. Many have created a new brand identity to keep themselves afloat. Unfortunately, with that has also come an over-branding of sorts, where a lot of colors, names, storylines, and ideas have all collided and converged onto some hotel properties - and defeated the purpose of a good branding package, which is – telling a story that’s concise and effective.
In light of this, our advice is to lean on a knowledgeable and savvy firm to support and direct the process. Many clients we support start with a brilliant idea or concept - but aren’t able to bring it to life because they, or their teams, lack the specific skills and experience required to do so. Professional agencies have teams with years of experience uncovering storylines and branding narratives, understanding how to bring the most viable concepts from development to implementation.
Everyone has their own approach and method when it comes to branding. What does yours look like?
Every project begins with extensive research surrounding the properties physical and experiential history, community and local attributes in order to create a tool kit to work with as we develop a one-of-a-kind identity. We couple this with a customized stakeholder survey to identify what is most important to ownership or management and conduct elaborate QA sessions to net out our final set of brand principles, which, become the cornerstones of each project. We review almost everything inside or around the hotel that is tangible and tactical, as well as all of the intangibles such as customs, events, experiences or community history. When evaluating current physical state, we may look at the materials used to build, the horticulture local to the area, the name of a street and it's story - or the experiential - such as milestone events, marches, government history of the city, artists or arts & culture, writers, known and also unknown, competitors and competitive set hotels - their stories, what they did/or did not do. We never want to duplicate or copy another project so we look to ensure we are aware of what has been done, what is prevailing or compelling and what we think should be done better, more unique, and forward thinking - always looking to innovate. We truly prefer to take a restrained approach to branding. Focus on one strong, solid idea or reference and thoughtfully build upon that to create your brand’s narrative. Today’s guest is refined and discerning. They look forward to an experience that is one of discovery, that invites them to come back for more and surprises them along the way. This means that subtle nods to a story idea reign supreme over in-your-face creative that suggest the end user needs to have a thought shouted at them. Branding is like a good story - word of mouth and quiet reference are often more effective and appreciated.
What are you currently working on?
We have a select portfolio of projects – many are under NDA, but include a historic luxury property in Hollywood, Two Bunch Palms, Petit Ermitage, Bridgeton, Blake’s Kitchen and Bar and Walker Hotel Tribeca, to name a few.
We’re excited to be in L.A. this October. What are your must-sees in the city?
Petit Ermitage's Butterfly Sanctuary
Hauser and Wirth
Clifton's Tiki Bar
Hollywood Forever Cemetery