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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Coming up in February 2019...

Social Media: Getting Personal

There Social media platforms have revolutionized the hotel industry. Popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Tumblr now account for 2.3 billion active users, and this phenomenon has forever transformed how businesses interact with consumers. Given that social media allows for two-way communication between businesses and consumers, the emphasis of any marketing strategy must be to positively and personally engage the customer, and there are innumerable ways to accomplish that goal. One popular strategy is to encourage hotel guests to create their own personal content - typically videos and photos -which can be shared via their personal social media networks, reaching a sizeable audience. In addition, geo-locational tags and brand hashtags can be embedded in such posts which allow them to be found via metadata searches, substantially enlarging their scope. Influencer marketing is another prevalent social media strategy. Some hotels are paying popular social media stars and bloggers to endorse their brand on social media platforms. These kinds of endorsements generally elicit a strong response because the influencers are perceived as being trustworthy by their followers, and because an influencer's followers are likely to share similar psychographic and demographic traits. Travel review sites have also become vitally important in reputation management. Travelers consistently use social media to express pleasure or frustration about their guest experiences, so it is essential that every review be attended to personally. Assuming the responsibility to address and correct customer service concerns quickly is a way to mitigate complaints and to build brand loyalty. Plus, whether reviews are favorable or unfavorable, they are a vital source of information to managers about a hotel's operational performance.  The February Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to effectively incorporate social media strategies into their businesses.