Above the Fold: A Master Class in Legal Public Relations

By William A. Brewer III Managing Partner, Bickel & Brewer | May 22, 2011

I wrote in this publication a few years ago about the importance of managing public relations in connection with major hospitality disputes. As a law firm that often represents owners, developers, investors and managers in high-stakes legal matters, we recognize the importance of being advocates not only in the courtroom – but in the court of public opinion as well. Mergers and acquisitions, disputes over management agreements, and fights for ownership of guest information are some of the many topics that I previously referenced as "headline-grabbing issues" in the hospitality arena.

Given the interest in that previous article, I am writing this follow-up to underscore why hospitality professionals or their representatives must not only be familiar with the process of working with the news media; they should embrace it. The news media, after all, is a gateway to customers, employees, investors, analysts and legislators – all of whom have the ability to affect your business.

It is, apparently, counter-intuitive to many hospitality professionals to discuss business or legal issues with the news media. They sometimes have concerns about how to effectively shape, control and advance their message in an arena that may be unfamiliar to them. Indeed, there is often a perceived risk in working with the news media, particularly when your organization is confronting a contentious or controversial issue. Understandably, hospitality professionals worry about "going public" – and losing an element of control in how their business disputes are portrayed.

The truth is, the news media affords you and your organization an enormous opportunity. The press can provide a forum for you to effectively communicate with key audiences cost-effectively and efficiently. Oftentimes, the news media can provide balanced, impartial analysis of your organization or the issues in which it is involved.

Making sure your viewpoint is represented in high-profile reporting is central to your responsibility as a steward of a hotel property, investment group or management team. So how do you ensure that coverage about you or your organization is balanced and, even better, favorable?

Know the Basics:

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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.