Winning in the Court of Public Opinion: Managing the Media in Hospitality Litigation

By William A. Brewer III Managing Partner, Bickel & Brewer | January 14, 2010

Mergers and acquisitions, disputes over management agreements, and fights for ownership of guest information. These are just some of the issues among today's hospitality industry headlines. As a lawyer often involved in these sorts of matters, we often must work with the news media - and manage the glare that follows high-profile hospitality issues. While many lawyers shy away from public comment on these matters, we believe that it is better to help our clients navigate the waters of public relations. In fact, we consistently recommend that our clients - whether managers, owners, investors or otherwise - work with the news media when involved in high profile hospitality disputes.

The Road Less Traveled

Proactive use of public relations in connection with litigation no doubt runs counter to the practice of many law firms and the hospitality clients they represent. Nonetheless, we welcome the public discussion of our cases and the merits of the dispute. In our view, we are hired as advocates not only to protect our clients' positions in the court of law, but to advance them in the court of public opinion. Throughout our practice, we've had the privilege of handling some of the hospitality industry's highest profile matters, lawsuits involving literally hundreds of millions of dollars. We have represented internationally known hotel franchisors, management companies, owners, developers and investors in many of the most closely watched legal disputes in the industry. These cases have been followed by leading business publications, trade magazines and investment journals, enabling us to develop the experience base that confirms winning a case in a public forum is as manageable as winning in court.

Taking Center Stage

When you work with the news media to communicate your client's point of view, you are reaching more than the reporter with whom you are working. The news media is the gateway to investors, analysts, regulators, customers, and employees. Thus, winning your case in the court of public opinion has the potential to ensure you receive fair and balanced treatment of the dispute by each of those constituents.

Taking center stage with a business publication or trade journal brings clarity and focus to your position, whether you are pursuing legal claims or defending a business or individual against them. To us, the process of trial advocacy is often bolstered when it is prefaced by the scrutiny and deliberation of intensive media inquiry.

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Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.