Since the advent of the Internet and social media, most accommodation businesses are unprepared for that unwanted call from a reporter about something that could threaten reputations, bottom lines, and in some cases, business survival.
All it takes is an allegation on Facebook, a few bad reviews and it doesn’t even have to be true.
What should you do to be ready?
It’s vital that you are ready for this, even if you don’t think you are at risk. It’s no different from business continuity insurance. The only difference is that we’re talking about your reputation and damage that can be detrimental to your future success.
Negative news stories also stay online forever and usually appear high up on Google searches.
The answer is a Crisis Communication Plan specifically for your business.
These come in all shapes and sizes. Some are hundreds of pages long and others are literally a list of bullet points. The best ones are brief but include the essentials. The best way to put them together is either with an outside expert or in a session with your leadership team.
The first step is to brainstorm what your most likely risks are. This is important because you then need to write brief media statements on these, known as holding statements. These can then be tailored and sent to reporters quickly (you would still contact other important stakeholders first.)
The reason these are so important is that reporters will write their stories whether you are in them or not and then send them out through social media immediately.
For the sake of your reputation, you are best to say something, however brief, rather than say ‘no comment.’
For example, let’s say there’s an allegation made about one of your staff. Your holding statement may say something like:
“We take all allegations extremely seriously and are looking into this immediately.” That will give you time to get your head together and it will satisfy media audiences at the outset. You will also look far more credible in that story.
The last thing you want these stories to say is something like, “the CEO refused to comment,” which most people interpret as “guilty as charged.”
Everyone needs to know their role if something does erupt. The first is an online manager. This person should be monitoring social media as part of their daily routine, and preferably with a paid monitoring tool that lets them see what people across networks are saying about the business.
This is not only good for marketing, but can find customer concerns before they turn into a full blown crisis. This person will also play a crucial part during a major issue or crisis.
The other vital role is that of media spokesperson. It’s usually important that a spokesperson accepts interview requests. Otherwise stories will all be heavily one-sided against the business and your case will never be heard.
This is common, particularly in broadcasting media. More about the skills required by this person in the next article.
Channels and contacts
While the focus here has been on the news media, there will be other stakeholders to contact, many of whom you would not want to hear the news through the media before hearing it from you.
This is why you always need an up-to-date contact list and a variety of channels to communicate through.
A Crisis Communication Plan doesn’t have to be difficult to put together. But it’s vital. It’s too late to contact a PR company when something happens. The horse will have bolted.
You may do that, but you’ll need to get the ball rolling yourself because the success or failure of your response will be determined by the speed at which you move.
Maintaining a good reputation is vital for any business, none more so than those offering accommodation. As Warren Buffett famously said: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”
Pete Burdon prepares leaders to ace media appearances and businesses to prepare for crises that can severely damage reputations and bottom lines. He is the author of ‘Media Training for Modern Leaders” and works across New Zealand and Australia in person and remotely.