Comment: Jennifer Rodrigues on how to handle a PR disaster
19 July 2010
One of the greatest public relations challenges a hotel - or any business - will ever face is communicating in a crisis. Fortunately, the corporate world is full of examples of companies attempting to handle misfortunes of varying kinds; granted, these are often instances of what not to do, but they are examples nonetheless. Unfortunately, most companies (hotels included) rarely pay any attention to these examples, and are often ill-prepared from a communications standpoint when a mishap occurs.
This is a mistake because good PR planning and rigorous communications preparation are the first and most important steps to mitigating a crisis, and in a time of inherent uncertainty are among the few aspects of a crisis completely under the company’s control.
A good crisis communications plan can also help a hotel to reduce the amount of lag time between the onset of a crisis and its resolution. As the nature of the crisis may itself dictate a period of slow or stopped business, any reduction of this time away from generating revenue is particularly important. Take, for example, the recent Hilton Hotel closure in Chongqing
It’s true that no crisis communication plan would have prevented the hotel’s closure; the authorities’ investigation into the alleged prostitution ring determined that for them. But the right communications strategy would allow the hotel to reopen swiftly, and with less disruption to normal business levels than might be possible otherwise.
Having a crisis plan in place helps hotels to avoid succumbing to the natural, knee-jerk reactions to a crisis: stonewalling; premature, categorical denial; the withholding or censoring of pertinent information; ill-conceived, unfortunate statements made by unprepared corporate officers; and, any sentence that includes “no comment”. Almost always, corporate reactions in a crisis lead to either a continuation of the negative business repercussions or worse from a financial standpoint to long-term damage to the property’s brand image.
The elements of an effective crisis communications strategy may initially seem counterintuitive, but will in the end better position the hotel for recovery, and will limit the effect of a crisis on the brand. As a crisis is often the first time a hotel is required to focus exclusively on PR, it’s important to get the strategy right.