Reputation at Risk

Reputation-web.jpgIt’s a normal Friday night: Occupancy is high, the lobby bar is buzzing, and, in the ballroom, a party is just getting started. A deejay has set up his sound system at one end of the room, the F&B manager set up a portable bar at the other, and servers have started circulating among the guests with platters of appetizers.

Suddenly, one of the servers bursts out of the ballroom.

“They’re crazy!” she exclaims. “They’re taking off all their clothes!”

The server is at the front desk telling her tale to the front office manager. An off-duty policeman joins her, listening in.

Within seconds, the rest of the F&B staff begin exiting the ballroom. Two are on mobile phones, sending video taken of the party.

The police arrive, followed by the media. A local television reporter corners the shaken groups and events manager. “They seemed like normal people,” she says. “They were wearing clothes when they signed the contract…”

Is your organization crisis-prepared? The fact is that bad things happen to exemplary companies every day. Crises cannot be avoided, but the impact they have on your brand and its business can usually be mitigated if your response is adequate. When a crisis strikes – and eventually it will – are plans in place that will help management respond quickly and appropriately?

It is crucial that we know our clients. It’s vital to understand not just when and where an event will take place, but what will occur during the event. Spend a few moments on Google and ask good questions about the nature of unfamiliar companies and organizations. Knowing your client doesn’t just mean looking for red flags. It can result in anticipating needs and providing superior service as well.

Crises range between quirky news stories that cast the hotel in a less-than-flattering light to the tragic result of terrorist acts. They may be big or small, frivolous or deadly, but to the extent that they can damage your business’ reputation, they all deserve to be treated with care.  

Most large brands develop and distribute crisis manuals to each property. These notebooks are either stored online or occupy a dark corner in a crowded shelf. Find your manual, read it, and revise it regularly.

Bring your PR director into the process early and develop a media strategy. When a potentially negative event occurs, the first impulse is to close the curtains and hide. Best practices suggest, however, that proactivity pays. The general manager should issue a brief statement at the first sign of media attention. It isn’t necessary to admit fault, but an expression of concern may be appropriate. Acknowledge the issue, let the media know that you’re working on a solution or investigating, and set a time for the next update.

“The St. Supa Hotel is dismayed at the norovirus outbreak among our guests. Presently, 25 guests and four staff have been quarantined. Medical personnel are on the scene and providing assistance. We are doing everything we can to hasten their recovery and are concerned for their comfort during the illness. We are aiding the public health authorities in their investigation and refer enquiries regarding the outbreak to them. We will provide an update tomorrow at 11 a.m.”

  There can only be one spokesman, generally the CEO. Remind staff frequently that, when approached by anyone asking for information on a situation, they are not to comment, but refer enquiries to the spokesman. This is not a matter of stifling free speech or covering up: It is a matter of ensuring that the company speaks with one voice, and that information be vetted prior to release. Rumors and speculation are seldom helpful.

Finally, if the situation is dire, sensational, or involves loss of life, consider bringing in a professional crisis counselor, a public relations expert with proven crisis experience to advise management. Expensive? Possibly, but invaluable insurance when your reputation is at stake.

Scott H. Lewis is a sales and customer service coach for Signature Europe.

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