Note: This is the third article in a three-part special on how public relations can affect the way you run a bed and breakfast.
Ivy Lee is considered the “Father of Public Relations”…a hefty title, considering that today public relations has become a multi-billion dollar industry spanning the globe. As the son of a Southern minister in the late 19th century, he certainly went on to provide a pivotal role in how crisis management is handled today.
It started out simply enough. Lee became a publicity manager for the Citizens’ Union in 1903 before climbing his way up a ladder of influence with rungs that included working at the Democratic Party Headquarters, heading a presidential candidate campaign against Theodore Roosevelt, and eventually landing himself the duty of reversing the negative image the aristocratic Rockefellers had made for themselves. In serving their corporate interests, Lee relinquished the philosophy of other American socialites that, “The people be damned” (originally popularized by fellow upper-crustman William H. Vanderbilt). Instead, Lee encouraged the Rockefellers to adopt a seemingly audacious and new idea: “the public be informed.” This paradigm shifted things dramatically. As Lee saw it, the truth should be revealed rather than hidden from the public because, sooner or later, they’d find out anyways. He went on to surmise that if the public doesn’t condone something a particular business or person is doing, that specific something must be changed, adapted, and brought into line with what the public wants.
And it’s true. Hundreds of case studies exist where specific businesses have embroiled themselves in disgraceful scandals. Those businesses which attempted to cover up such offenses were rarely, if ever, successful. Ultimately, such schemes brought nothing more than dismal failure to the organization. On the flip side, businesses that promptly and contritely acknowledged their blunders in a tactful manner usually were forgiven by the general populace.
The fact of the matter is, even the most conscientious business owner can unintentionally find himself in such a debacle. The important thing to remember in such a situation is that you must alleviate public outcry to the furthest extent possible. This is called crisis communication.
Your bed and breakfast’s most potent asset is its reputation. When this reputation is called into question, your first line of defense is crisis communication. From the biggest corporations down to the smallest family run mom-and-pop-shops, this act of averting a potentially lethal crisis is essential. So, how can one avoid such a disaster with regards to running a bed and breakfast?
There are several ways. For starters, remember that honesty is always the best policy. If you genuinely seek to provide a good experience to your guests and have no intention of doing anything deceitful, chances are you will be able to ward off most circumstances that warrant crisis communication. Yet, even the most sincere and well-intentioned innkeepers find themselves plagued with a PR predicament that requires maneuverable skills in sidestepping a potentially harmful result.
For example, say the reputation of your inn is compromised by a particularly boisterous guest who simply wants to tarnish your good standing within the bed and breakfast community. Or maybe the eggs you purchased from your local market are spoiled and you inadvertently serve them to your guests who then become ill. Perhaps you make an honest mistake with your finances and you suddenly come across as a criminal money launderer.
Such misfortunes, though not your fault, must still be admitted to. Sweeping these issues under the rug will only cause more controversy in the long run. If you receive negative feedback in online forums like TripAdvisor or Google Places, counteract it in a streamlined process. If a newspaper runs a less-than-flattering article, reply to it with a letter to the editor. In any such response, online or otherwise, reply with a well thought out, precise, and honest reaction. Acknowledge mistakes that have been made on your part. Don’t try to make up excuses – people by and large don’t buy them. Assure past and future guests that such mistakes have been speedily rectified and you will do everything within your own power to ensure they never happen again.
Stay connected with the audience. Never retreat. If it gets to the point that the news media get involved, make yourself accessible to them. Saying “no comment” is as good as admitting guilt. And if you aren’t willing to provide legitimate reactions, chances are reporters will get their information from less reliable sources.
In most instances though, the extent of damage done to your reputation will be through negative reviews. As mentioned earlier, acknowledge the negativity addressed rather than ignore it. Pacify the audience by assuring the individual harboring the negative views that you apologize for any inconveniences caused.
As you come to understand and apply the finer aspects of handling crisis communication, what may initially appear to be a major obstacle can instead be scaled down to a minor hurdle. Hopefully, such crises never manifest themselves, but in the event they do, it’s best to prepare for them now to alleviate unrelenting frustration later.