|by Michael G. Frenkel, October 2001
In these uncertain times, hotel properties, management companies and
brand marketing teams are well advised to examine their procedures for
responding to the media and other key audiences should a crisis situation
arise on property. If no crisis communications program is in place, there
is no better time to create and implement one.
Crisis preparedness is essential for protecting a property or brand’s
image and safeguarding its reputation as a safe and welcoming travel destination.
Although terrorist incidents have dominated the recent news, there are
many kinds of crisis that can impact a property’s ability to service guests
and conduct or build business.
The following guidelines should get you started on the road to adequate
Labor strikes or unrest
Kidnapping or hostage-taking
Assault or other crimes committed on, or by, hotel personnel or line staff
Natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes or floods
The Importance of a Plan
Crisis management is a field endeavor unto itself, and the surest way
to stay prepared is to work with a specialist to create a program that
meets your needs.
Short of that, start by creating a communications plan that enables
your team to respond in a rational, systematic and effective way should
a crisis situation arise.
Here are some elements that such a plan should include:
|A clear chain of command among responsible management and staff
In the event of a crisis, it should be clear who is designated to investigate
and gather the facts, who will report to whom, and who will serve as the
property’s liaison to guests, employees and the media. Participants in
this group may include the property’s general manager, marketing personnel,
human resources and department heads.
|Lists of critical phone numbers, fax and e-mail contact information
Every member of the group should be able to reach and talk to any other
member at a moment’s notice, including in the event of a power outage.
Relevant members of the group should also have direct contact information
for important off-property individuals who may become important players,
such as property owners, police and fire authorities, federal authorities,
lawyers and key vendors.
|Designation of a spokesperson to handle media inquiries – and media
Hotels are diffuse operations, with dozens, hundreds or even thousands
of individuals working on property at any given time. Every hotel or corporate
brand management team should have one or two individuals who are solely
responsible for speaking to the media on the property’s behalf at a time
of crisis. The most important point is making sure that the property speaks
to the public with a single voice – and that the voice is one of calm,
reason and reassurance.
The best way of assuring reasoned, effective communication with the
media is to provide training for your spokespeople from professionals who
perform “media relations” for a living.
|Understanding your audiences
While communicating with the media is important – and can be the “make
or break” factor in managing a crisis successfully –, there are many other
critical actors with whom you will want to communicate effectively at a
time of crisis. These may include current and future guests, line staff
and management personnel, stockholders or shareholders, local public officials
and authorities, key vendors and families/associates of victims of a crisis.
In planning to confront a potential crisis in the future, make lists
of these key audiences now, and update them regularly.
Understanding the media
PR professionals earn their livelihood working with the media. Responding
effectively in a crisis situation can be the most challenging task of all.
While elaborating a comprehensive crisis media relations program could
fill an entire book, here are a few basic principles:
|Know your local media contacts personally
A crisis situation is no time to start winning friends and influencing
people. By establishing good relationships with key media in your community
– a sound and valuable practice for any hotel at any time –, you create
an environment of trust and open communication should a crisis arise. This
is key for assuring that the right facts are communicated to the public
via the media, quickly, efficiently and comprehensively.
|Let your lawyer, designated crisis team leader and/or spokesperson
do the talking
Again, the principle is to speak with one voice – and make that voice
the right one. Depending on the situation, it may be appropriate to prepare
written statements to guide spokespersons and to issue written statements
to the press. Such statements should be drafted and carefully reviewed
with legal, financial and other experts.
|Cooperate with the media, as with all investigating authorities
– and never say “no comment”
The media has a job to do, and that job is reporting the facts and the
news to the public. In a crisis situation, returning media calls promptly
and being forthcoming will let reporters know that you want to help them
do their job – and the likely result of that is balanced, fair coverage.
In a crisis situation, designated spokespersons with a clear understanding
of the facts and the important messages to be conveyed should share information
with reporters in a prudent but timely way, and should keep clear and concise
records of what they say.
If the facts of the situation are not clear, journalists should be assured
that all efforts are being made to get all the facts on table, and should
be kept updated regularly. Saying “no comment” conveys a sense of arrogance
or ignorance and prevents you from framing your story and getting the facts
out as fully as possible. In contacts with the media, that phrase should
be avoided at all costs.
These times demand vigilance, not only for our country but for your
business. Whereas for a nation the price of lax preparedness can be compromised
security, for a hotel it can be jeopardizing your ability to communicate
and market effectively to guests, potential guests and other sources of
Thinking about crisis preparedness now could save you time, energy –
and lots of money – in the future.
|M FRENKEL COMMUNICATIONS (MFC) provides
strategic communications and public relations for
companies in travel and hospitality, real estate, retail
and consumer brands, and the not-for-profit arenas. We have counseled
Fortune 500 companies and start-ups, and built some of the world’s most
prestigious and well-known brands, with one goal: differentiating our client’s
business from the competition, in today’s noisy, crowded marketplace –
to achieve competitive advantage in your market.