Is Your PR Strategy Like Nero's?
By Bonnie Knutson Professor, The School of Hospitality Business/MSU | September 28, 2014
One of the worst jobs in history had to have been Nero's Public Relations (PR) Officer. Can you imagine trying to put a spin on an image of the emperor serenely playing his fiddle against the backdrop of raging flames shooting skyward from a burning Rome? Ouch! The bizarre part of this story is that historians tell us Nero actually tried to help his people in the midst of the tragic conflagration. When he heard about the tragedy, he rush back to the city from his palace on the outskirts of Rome to coordinate fire-fighting efforts, established temporary shelters for homeless residents in public buildings along with his own gardens, and brought in grains from other cities to feed his citizens. But, none of that ever made the front page of the papyrus scroll. The only image that circulated was that of Nero fiddling while Rome burned. It persists to this day. Why? Because he didn't have a good public relations strategy.
Nero apparently thought of himself as a gifted musician and liked to compete in musical festivals throughout the empire. This apparently bothered several of the Roman Senators who didn't think it was proper for the emperor to participate with ordinary musicians. Great fodder for the Roman Senate's rumor mills! How fast do you think his political enemies could spread the negative fiddling story? Now, imagine that scenario set in today's social media world.
Fast forward to February 2014. Would you like to have been President Obama's PR Strategist at that time? If you recall, the early months of the year were dominated by the winter that wouldn't quit for the eastern part of the country, and the drought that wouldn't stop for the west. To highlight his administration's stance on climate change (note that it is no longer called global warming – a definite PR move), the President flew to California for a photo-op to call for "shared sacrifices" to manage a record-breaking water shortage. He then spent the rest of his time there playing golf at two private courses in the Coachella Valley desert. Oooops! For environmentalists, desert golf courses are considered water hogs. The Coachella Valley's 124 courses are estimated to use about 17% of the valley's water and about 25% of the water pumped from the region's groundwater aquifer. It didn't take long for the pundits to quip that the President's soap box was really a tee box. Not a good public relations strategy there either.
So what do Nero and the President have to do with you and your hotel? Simple. In today's 24/7 interconnected media world, sustainability (or conservation or greening) and public relations go hand-in-hand. In recent years, environmentalism has move from a being fringe issue to becoming a mainstream issue. Whether driven by the bottom-line, government policy, or consumer sentiment, sustainability is at the forefront of most – if not all -- our collective business decisions. And it has moved from being desirable to being necessary for successful property management too.
Thus, enters the need for your hotel to have a good green PR strategy. With such a growth in importance, more and more businesses are looking to hype their sustainability efforts. They want to tout their LEEDS certification, their recycling efforts, and their conservation of water, electricity, natural gas, petroleum, ad infinitum. In other words, they want to be seen as good corporate citizens. They also want to keep government regulators at bay. And, most of all, they want to enhance their bottom lines. This must be true for everyone in the lodging sector. And that means more than a little "please reuse your towels" sign in the guest rooms.
The proliferation of media-channels over the past decade has given people easy access to information about what organizations are doing in all areas of their businesses – including sustainability efforts. The growth of NGOs, blogs, tweets, YouTube uploads, and other environmental watchdog-type websites has encouraged organizations to rise above minimum standards and be up front about what they are doing. All the information that is "out there" affects the brand's image – i.e. its reputation. Again, the same is true for your property, your brand, your image, your reputation.
I've often said that being green is a positioning tool for hotels. Research by the American Marketing Association shows that the primary reason for any business to go green is to generate good Public Relations; the second reason is to reach specific target markets. Both of these motives apply to your property as well as butchers, bankers, and candlestick makers. As sustainability and transparency grow in guests' and prospective guests' consciousness, what is your PR role in affecting revenues and not just being a supplier of what some might call "greenwash?" Andrew Last, with over 20 years' experience in green PR, offers three tips for getting it right: