Talking through to the truth
By Francine Cohen
Hosni Mubarak has an image problem. For many, after the recent revolution in Egypt, Mubarak’s legacy and reputation won’t be that of a stabilizing force in the region that Israel and the US depended upon; instead he’ll be remembered as a dictatorial leader who filled his coffers while his countrymen couldn’t fill their own.
The details of the government’s overthrow were delivered via social media outlets and journalists who were on the ground, dodging fists and interviewing anyone who could talk with them. What was to be believed as emotions ran high and rumors flew? Even respected news source CNN had conflicting reports throughout the upheaval. If your hotel or restaurant or bar finds itself in the midst of a crisis can you avoid suffering Mubarak’s fate? With the right communications game plan, you can.
Put that game plan in place before tragedy strikes. Don’t wait until the complainers are buzzing on the message boards, news hits the blogs that you’ve received a low grade from the health department, or that someone was murdered (allegedly) on premise, bedbugs were found running rampant, and certainly don’t wait until the reviewers pan you. Stephen Boggs, Director Corporate Communications The Americas IHG explains, “Understand that in a crisis everything that you do matters. Your words matter. Actions matter. Your track record or history matters. So build relationships [with the media] on the front end. Will it keep someone from writing negative story? No. But the point is that when something happens you are the first person they call to find out what’s happening and that is the place you want to be. You want to be that first call because no one else that they could call has the access to what’s happening.”
Being the point of contact means you control the message. And you can deputize the media as a partner to help disseminate the right message. Boggs continues, “It’s a two way street – a journalist thinks to themselves, ‘if I have a pr person helping me to get the story right I’ll probably give me more time to listen.’”
During the demonstrations in Egypt John Bamsey, Chief Operating Office, Middle East and Africa, IHG was prepared with the answers and was able to confidently tell the world at large, “As of February 5, we have seen some cancellations into mid-March across our Cairo hotels and Red Sea resorts. Beyond this point we haven’t seen any significant cancellations but we’re monitoring this on an ongoing basis.”
Providing an honest assessment of the situation at hand and addressing journalists’ questions only reflects well on your establishment; even if you are under fire and things are looking grim all around. Boggs advises, “Every journalist’s goal is to have that story as accurate as possible. Be as transparent and open as possible. Understand there are hurdles for that to happen.
So, next time there’s a crisis in your backyard will you be prepared for the situation? You can be.
Following are some of Bogg’s additional recommendations to ensure you are prepared for any situation:
• Designate who your media spokesperson will be – typically the GM or PR manager (this goes for
social media responses as well) Make sure the rest of your staff knows to whom media inquiries
• Don’t do anything that could be viewed by a reporter as dishonest. The relationship and your
creditability will disappear in a heartbeat and will never return. It’s that creditability you will need
during a critical time.
• Correct misinformation promptly. This is admittedly harder to do today with the online world;
however it is important to try because misinformation can spread like wildfire.
• Add a media component to your crisis plans and practice
The harder you make a drill, the better you’ll be when the real thing happens.
• Take a deep breath and collect your thoughts before returning a reporter’s call and be prepared to
answer three questions:
• What happened?
• What is the current situation?
• What are you doing to fix it?
• Social media is the new Wild West. It cannot be controlled and it cannot be contained and the
content lives forever.
It is important to monitor social media conversations during a crisis and to have a policy that
determines if and when you engage.