Worldwide: BHN speaks to four PR experts in the travel industry to understand how travel and hospitality brands should craft their PR strategies at the time of a crisis, following the backlash to Center Parcs’ initial announcement about closing its UK sites on the day of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral.
Jessica Gillingham, founder, Abode PR:
“Dealing with a reputational crisis, even one that is self-imposed, can also be an opportunity to grow the reputation of your brand in a positive way. However, this is only ever the case if the brand handles the issue well and with humility. This means not pretending the mistake didn’t happen but communicating that it has understood what it did wrong and what steps it is putting in place to rectify the situation.
“Pretending that there hasn’t been a problem is rarely wise. Swift, consistent and clear communication is key. There is a surprising amount of goodwill around and a brand that can show humility and take positive action is often well regarded and easily forgiven.”
Emily Newman, co-founder, NewDog PR:
“Whilst the exact nature of crisis management, be it a global pandemic, technology breach or disruption to operations, can never be foreseen, scenario planning for these circumstances is achievable.
“As firm believers in the power of communications we would advise:
• Preparing a statement, ideally using a human tone of voice – use the opportunity to consider how a calm and rational human might respond
• Creating a simple communication plan that covers all channels
• Agreeing who the key contact points are within the organisation and their responsibilities
• Drafting a comprehensive Q&A, including responses to the most awkward questions – they are likely to be asked first!
“It may help to enlist an agency to help with this and to shoulder the bulk of the enquiries through their relationships with the media.
“Managing crisis communications is never top of anyone’s list of fun things to do but if it’s planned well and in advance it takes the stress, panic and chaos out of a situation that is likely to be teeming with these elements by its very nature.
“Poor Amy at Center Parcs – do refer to Twitter for further details on how Amy is shouldering an entire organisation’s PR catastrophe – seems to be swimming upstream with all manner of flotsam and jetsam being hurled her way.
“At this stage, it would probably be wise to come off Twitter, contact the affected guests directly and then in a few days issue a statement that is humble in tone, perhaps with an acknowledgement that they got it wrong, are revising their response to unforeseen occasions and an apology.
“With the right approach, a positive response can come from a negative scenario.”
Eva Fayemi, co-founder, Bond Agency:
“How you deal with a crisis as a business can have a positive or negative impact to your brand.
“In advertising, a saying says “there is no such thing as bad PR”. It’s become a cornerstone of marketing, it’s built the foundations for advertising campaigns across the globe.
“Unfortunately there is no way to predict how people will react, especially in uncertain times. So my first advice would be not to overreact when facing a crisis. There needs to be crucial planning and assertion of the situation about the impact of the crisis on the overall performance and reputation of your company.
“Hospitality brands have a responsibility towards guests and the public but also towards the staff. Assert with your team the actions that need to be taken, craft your message, plan the right time and how you’re going to distribute it and finally, monitor. The message sent to the world must reflect the current situation, potential risks and planned actions. The message towards staff needs to be as transparent as possible to inspire trust.
“My second advice would be to speak the truth. If you make a mistake [and lots of companies have], honesty is probably your best asset to restore loyalty.
“Only time will tell! In the world we live in today, fortunately or unfortunately, the news goes fast, crisis come and go. Be patient whilst monitoring the evolution of the crisis and embrace the next one with control.”
Roman Townsend, managing director, Belvera Partners:
“Whoever made this decision it almost certainly wasn’t the PR team, but sadly they or their PR agency [or both] will get the blame. I’ve been in situations like this many times and, to some extent, you’re damned if you do and your damned if you don’t. It’s quite possible they’d have been slammed, but almost not quite so publicly I’d say, if they’d not allowed staff the time off – or had allowed staff time off but as a result neglected paying customers.
“Very public U-turns are often not so great either, they can make you look indecisive and lead to more confusion. But if you’re going to rethink things, then at the very least the second time round you better make sure the new plan is 100 per cent foolproof and clearly communicated. So the confusion around ‘staying in your lodge’ followed by ‘you can walk around but facilities will be closed’ is shambolic really.
“How can organisations avoid PR disasters? Very likely the PR team at Center Parcs weren’t in the room or consulted properly until too late on the first phase and possibly even the U-turn. Until companies everywhere – including B2B companies – learn that the PR director should sit on the executive committee and have real authority to push back on bad decisions we’ll keep seeing gaffes like this. Reputations arrive on foot but leave on horseback, but too often CEOs don’t realise that the company’s reputation is its most important asset until its gone.”