Every hotel has one goal in common: to satisfy their guests’ requests no matter how odd, peculiar or demanding. If you re a luxury hotel, the number of requests increases and their nature becomes even more complex.
In the midst of daily operations like preparation for arrivals, room inspections, hosting private events, and countless other details, there is a small department that devotes its efforts solely in establishing and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships between the hotel and all its publics. The term ‘publics’ generally refers to any group attempting to influence an organisation, and within hospitality, examples of publics include course guests, VIPs, unions, activists, the government, community leaders and employees, only to name a few. The PR team or an individual professional leverages the hotel’s mission and goals to reflect its interests to these publics and acts as a communications liaison. But a PR manager’s time is more often than not occupied with a certain genre of people known as media.
Choosing the right people to liaison with the press is crucial. Many hotels are torn between spending the extra thousands to hire agencies, which outsource their professional services or to employ a trained professional within the organisation.
For the most part they have experience within the industry and know a larger number of influential people. They have established relationships and have worked with many different persons from the media in the past, and therefore are confident to leave voicemails knowing that they will get a call back.
In addition, agents are able to act as seasoned representatives for their clients in events, fundraisers, networking parties and can participate in all the glitz and media glamour in order to get their message out to everyone. Agencies also usually have all the tools necessary to create appropriate messages. Typically, they have a graphic designer on staff responsible for updating and maintaining the client’s website, designing collateral material such as brochures, fliers, promotions and advertisements, among other things. Agencies are also experts in preparing general managers and/or executives to handle reporters in public appearances, press conferences and other types of interviews.
But this elite service will cost you plenty, as most agencies work on a monthly retainer fee. Depending on the nature of the hotel, there are some months that are ‘dead’ from a press perspective. For example, Mumbai is very slow in the rainy season, which makes publicity during those months highly competitive. Agencies will still charge the retainer fee during those months, since they are tapping their media contacts regardless of results.
What is the difference between having your own gourmet kitchen and going to a fine dining restaurant? Along with price and service, there is another variable to consider: You can prepare meals in the kitchen, the way you want, whenever you need to and at any time. Most factors are flexible. A similar philosophy applies to in-house PR staff. More often than not, especially for small hotels, this is a more economical alternative. The on-site PR professional works from an office in the hotel and manages media requests and pop-ups fast. While the agency handles multiple accounts, the in-house person has only one focus, and therefore outreach can be far greater and more customised. Also, there is more time to develop editorial relationships like the ones the agency has and focus on pitching various story ideas.
What is more, the in-house professional is always available to provide walk-in press tours (agencies work with appointments only), therefore maximising publicity potential. Since the on-site professionals are hotel employees, they tend to know the property and its functions in greater detail than an agency would. This fact provides an additional advantage when exploring new editorial angles. Simply because a relationship is established does not always guarantee placement in an issue. The pitch is definitely essential, but it is the quality and timing that need to match the outlet’s editorial focus and audience.
However, the image, reputation, and the foundation of all hotel relationships lie in the formulation of one key factor: the message. What are you telling the media that is newsworthy, and why should they talk about your hotel? What makes your establishment unique? These questions will be answered differently when you ask an agency, which is specialised, and a hotel employee who manages PR on-site. The main difference lies in the method of approach, strategy and tactics. And the tricky part is that both approaches may be equally effective.
Furthermore, the on-site manager most likely lacks the printing, design and web tools and has to work with freelance designers and printing houses to get the message properly planned and executed. Although this situation is not ideal, you may even get someone who is multi-skilled and can easily handle the above tools on his own, which will save the hotel a lot of money. The hotel will also gain from the fact that there is someone on staff, who can handle media-related episodes, which arise quite often.
If anything, a communications plan is non-existent without a clear and concise crisis plan. Few questions that should be asked when outlining a crisis plan are: How does the hotel respond when a story is leaked? How is executive management handling the crisis? Is there a complete statement drafted? Have you prepared a list of media outlets that need to be contacted first? Who is the point of contact for updated information? What tools will be used, and how will they prove to be effective to contain the media?
The agency is experienced to writing strategy plans, although some may lack the inclusion of internal response during a crisis, for example, ‘How will the employees be notified? What will they be allowed to discuss?’ Regardless, agencies can be beneficial in pinpointing the right avenues to take during a media response. They may have a better edge in identifying speaker opportunities and may be more effective in leveraging the media during a crisis. Meanwhile, for an on-site manager, this amount of responsibility may become overwhelming in spite of how well prepared and proactive they may be.
Here are some factors to consider before hiring an in-house professional or choosing to outsource:
- Size – The smaller the property, the more branding and relationship-building it requires. You should evaluate if you need someone who is willing to take the project on-site and put in 100 percent effort, or if you should trust your property into the hands of an experienced agency who will agree to convey the image what you are looking for.
- Time and money – Cutting costs is essential but maintaining quality is always the challenge. Find a balanced solution that will not set back your outreach efforts, but not exaggerate them either.
- Quality of people – As per our earlier analogy, investing in a gourmet kitchen versus always going to a fine dining restaurant certainly has advantages. Searching for the right people is imperative and directly affects your bottom line.
- Inside Out: A balanced approach – Even with all this advice, some properties may still find themselves caught in the middle. In many cases, it is healthy to have a strong in-house presence that directs all public relations and simultaneously have an agency on a project-based fee, ‘on call’, to supplement outreach efforts, issues and crisis management and assist with media person who may at times not return calls or respond to emails. Over time, you might find one or the other to be more cost-effective and choose the best alternative.
Finally, it is essential to recognise the importance of this specialised group of professionals whose success lies in making everyone else look good and thrive by working in the background. All else cast aside, these are the people who have experienced and appreciate the unparalleled feeling of earning positive publicity for their organisations and smile when their executive’s name makes it in print or on TV. Knowing that their name will not be in the credits.