Crisis communications guide

01 June 2006
Crisis communications guide

The Problem
A Premiership football team staying at your hotel fall ill with suspected food poisoning the day before a crucial game. They lose the match and media attention focuses on your hotel. It later turns out that the players were suffering from a form of gastroenteritis.

Expert Advice Reputation is vitally important to every hotel. It can take years to build, but can be lost in a flash. Luckily, the Marriott West India Quay, the London hotel at the centre of the recent Tottenham Hotspur "food poisoning" mystery, had the mechanics in place to react to the incident quickly when the story broke. Marriott's experience illustrates the importance of having guidelines for dealing with the media as part of an overall crisis management strategy.

Original research by Davies Tanner has found that while 94% of the companies we contacted in the hospitality industry had crisis management plans to deal with incidents such as terrorist attacks, fire and food poisoning, only 12% of these included a procedure to deal with the media - in other words, a crisis communications guide.

The implications for a hotel if a negative story surfaces, especially one involving celebrities or high-profile guests, can be catastrophic. If the incident is then managed badly, it could have a further detrimental effect on the hotel's image and reputation. This is why a crisis communications guide is vital whatever the size of your operation.

A crisis communications guide sets out processes and procedures that can help the business move quickly in the face of media scrutiny. It will include phone numbers, land and mobile, of those who will act as your PR team, be they internal or external, and lines of communication to ensure that only people with the correct information and authority are speaking to the media.

You will want your facts to reach particular audiences - such as Caterer and Hotelkeeper - as quickly as possible; and these will also need to be clearly identified. Your crisis communications guide will identify personnel who have been media-trained to deal with these events. It will have key messages and procedures for managing interviews under different scenarios from a fire in the hotel to a celebrity exposé.

Media training is necessary to give key members of staff the confidence to handle press enquiries, and can also highlight areas of weakness within your organisation. Media training will teach staff how to get key messages across in an interview, and body language skills.

Check list

  • Do prepare. Make sure you have a communications guide as part of your overall crisis management plan and ensure it's regularly updated and rehearsed.

  • Don't bury your head in the sand and hope a problem never occurs. The way you handle a crisis can say a lot about you and your company.

  • Do ensure a clear chain of command is in place, and that each key member has media training.

  • Don't rely on just one person - inevitably they will be on holiday when disaster strikes.

  • Do keep members of your staff informed at every stage of a crisis. This will ensure that they know what they can and can't say following an incident.

  • Don't keep members of your staff in the dark during any incident. You will need the support of all your staff throughout a crisis.

  • Do always tell the truth, once you're in possession of all the facts. Admit when you've made a mistake, and explain how you will investigate what happened to ensure that you look proactive.

  • Don't try to mislead the media. You'll be found out, and could be made to look incompetent.

  • Do keep the media informed and tell them when you will go back to them with further information.

Beware! Don't keep the media in the dark and fail to return phone calls. The media hate an information vacuum, and if you create one, they might fill it with their own interpretation of the story.

ContactsRobert Wright
Davies Tanner
01892 619100

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