by L. Aruna Dhir, Featured Contributor
PART I OF THIS ARTICLE introduced my Communications Checklist. In Part Two of my Communications’ Checklist follow the remainder of the alphabets each hoping to enjoy a place in your mind space and get reflected upon on several thought-provoked occasions. Read on –
I mentioned this briefly in the FOOD head, but you need to have a big yen for photography. That a picture says more than a thousand words is so much more pertinent for hotels. There are guest room, Lobby, Spa, Pool, Banqueting, restaurant images to be shot for use in brochures and other collateral, food shots to be organized for marketing literature and the press and images to be developed for the virtual tours on the website.
Not only do you need to have a good panel of photographers you work with but you must also have a keen eye for angles, lighting, subjects, props, backgrounds, image size, clarity etc. and most of all a strong focus on the fact that the images define your brand personality and they must be within those boundaries.
Like for any other creative part of your portfolio, surf around for inspiration and do a competition check. You can also learn a great deal – at least where food photos are concerned – from your Kitchen’s and F&B teams.
LORD OF THE LISTS
It is often said that a PR person is as good as his or her lists. And this is largely true. You need lists to work through for a large chunk of your portfolio. Media lists being the most prime amongst the lot. And within Media there is the Top Editors list, Electronic Media List, Lifestyle Media, General Media, Food Critics, Restaurant Reviewers, Hotel Specialists, Travel Media, Business Media, Features Writers, Art Critics………….it is as wide as the network you wish to ensnare and work with.
Then there are the other lists that you need to keep in your top drawer at all times – List of local and international celebrities you invite to your events, list of PR Agencies, Event Management Agencies, Printers, Graphic Designers, Photographers, Merchandisers……….again the extent covers the scope of your work.
Keep your lists updated, weeded out and dynamic. Moreover, from a purely professional perspective, there should be a synergy between the key agenda and structure of your Social Media Lists be it your professional Facebook Friends, LinkedIn contacts, Blog Followers, Fans or Group Members.
As a Hotel PR Head you end up handling a large part of the Marketing pie too. This may not be true with large FMCG firms or big Real Estate companies or some other sectors where there are designated departments handling collateral design and production, direct marketing, direct mail etc. But in hotels, it is you who are responsible for a lot of this work.
So, please understand the 4 Ps of Marketing and 7 Cs of Communication and all that lies in between rather well and in the soundest manner.
As a PR & Communications Head of your hotel, you are also the Head of Marketing Communications. Therefore, you are responsible for devising a lot of marketing strategies in tandem with the Head of Sales & Marketing, initiating many a marketing alliances with like-minded companies such as Credit card companies, travel companies, Airlines, Car Rental companies etc. You also have to develop a lot of promotional material and at times represent your hotel in the international travel & trade shows such as WTM, ITB, ILTM, ATM to name a select few.
With Marcom as a significant part of your portfolio, you are the person who has to plan, visualize and create all the Sales and Marketing Communications collateral required by the Hotel at large and by the Sales & Marketing, Front Office and Food & Beverage departments in particular.
Of course you will have the advantage of working with a panel of creative people ranging from graphic designers to printers to even paper companies but always remember that you are the TEAM LEAD.
I cannot lay enough stress on the importance, depth and broad spectrum of your media relationship. Sadly, even now, a PR person’s job is often thought to be limited to media relations, press release writing and dissemination and coverage in the press and electronic medium. Of course, you and I know that the scope of your work is much more than this and is consummately communications driven in all its aspects. But because media relations is the most important, result oriented and visible work that brings in the hugely important Third Party Endorsement, people often mistake your role for just that.
On the positive side, you are the one who gets your company in the news. You are the one who ensures that there is positive coverage of your hotel and its products – be it rooms, spa or restaurants. And what an important role this is, as you go about getting noteworthy column-cm space or sound bites on the media platforms as against paid advertising which is really bought over publicity.
Given the importance of this part of the overall communications cake, it is imperative that you know the media well. And this entails national, international, regional and local media. You need to know the senior editors and international journalists just as well as you know the beat correspondents. Your media list should span the range from business, corporate and news media to features, food, lifestyle and the arts. For you, both print and electronic media hold a lot of importance and you bring them into play depending on the assignment at hand.
In the dynamic world of breaking news and news-by-the-second, you must be absolutely adept at and familiar with the vehicles that have bridged geographical boundaries, crossed over timelines and created new avenues of making and putting up news. With this kind of big opportunity available, you must be a social media expert too and use it to the optimum benefit of putting the good word out about your establishment, keeping the machinery of your organizational news mills well oiled and the large chunk of new audience interested in what you wish to share.
And since media is one of your strongest allies, you must develop a long term and strong relationship with them that is based on mutual trust, respect and two-way information sharing. You must also be accessible at most times, even the odd hours. You must understand how media works, how they work on steep deadlines and the demands of ‘here and now;’ more importantly because you don’t want your prize press releases to be linings of the News office bin.
Finally, knowing the Foreign Correspondents based in your region is also as important. As a hotel, your establishment may not churn out newsworthy piece of information, but there are times when the Foreign Correspondent will be working on a feature piece and your hotel will have a top of the mind recall.
This is a very interesting part of your portfolio. I have had the privilege of not just working with an exciting lot of merchandise manufacturers and suppliers but have also had the opportunity to develop some of the nicest hotel merchandise by myself. From picture postcards, note cards, Seasons’ Greeting cards to golf balls, match box sets and silver cuff links, it has been highly satisfying to see the self-developed product range in the Hotel’s Boutique collection, guest give-aways list or the guest catalogue.
This forms the core of what you do and how you are supposed to be. As a PR Expert, you must be a people’s person. You must have good internal and external relationships. You must be able to communicate with and relate to a wide gamut of people ranging from the doorman to the hotel owner, from a socialite to a social activist, from an editor from the Fleet Street to a printer from the old world of papers and related paraphernalia.
As the Public Relations Officer, you meet an interesting array of publics, all in a day’s work – from artists, dancers, musicians, film stars to activists, scientists and sports stars. It adds a lot of spice, glamour, drama and high energy to your role and provides you with a lot of staple for interesting anecdotes, stories and pieces of information that could be used in your PR communication at times.
Yours is a very visible role. You organize and attend press conferences. You give interviews. You wine and dine with the media, guests and other important hotel contacts. More importantly, with a strong focus on the external publics and your relationship with them, you are one of the most significant brand ambassadors of your organization along with being the chief guardian of the brand. With all this observable performance at play, you must have a pleasing personality both in terms of demeanour and the picture perfectness of the outward look.
You don’t need to be a high street brands slave or overly conscious of your look but you must carry yourself well, be perfectly groomed and embody the personality of your hotel brand.
There is something particularly distasteful about clothes horses that are flashy and show off their collection. Be understated like the quintessential hotelier who is a global citizen representing his brand within the cultural sensitivity of the local region his brand is situated in.
Be proper, perfect in your mannerisms and personable in your appearance and you are onto a winning start every time you need to make an introduction for yourself or your brand.
Public Relations need not only be a spending department – spending on collateral, events, media, merchandise, give-aways, advertising, coverage and so on. If you are a smart PR person with S.M.A.R.T tactical objectives and well thought out strategy, then you do not stress on a lot of monetary outlay to justify your work. Even when you handle a big PR budget, profit protection keeps at the core of your planning. While advertising is important and more focused, media coverage is more feel-good, believable and notable. Since yours is a Hotel, it is not always important to hire an event management agency. Your banqueting team is also quite qualified to organize the hotel events along with you.
With your years of experience in working with designers and getting collateral developed, at one stage you become extremely adept at doing things on your own, especially if you have a creative bent and have a penchant for designing. The same applies to all the writing work that you must do for the organization.
As part of your profit protection plan, get your website to do a lot of work for you in terms of publicity, newsletter dissemination and getting the favourable / promising / enticing news out about your company.
RESEARCH RACE HORSE
You will find that the nature of your work relies heavily on research. You need to search for information each time you want to make your press release and backgrounders loaded.
You also want to be a research expert if you present reports to your Company’s Board, write manuals, conduct focus groups and surveys for specifically Communications or general hotel assignments.
I once had to work on an “Image Study and Positioning Analysis” for the New Delhi unit of the Oberoi hotel. It involved spot interviews, broad questionnaire based surveys, focus groups, guest interaction and a whole lot of research to make the Study composite and benchmarked.
As a Hotel PR person you are part of the Hospitality and Travel Trade. Hence know the Travel industry, its people and its workings well. Learn about Trade events and explore widely what is required from the PR front for representing your Hotel brand in these trade shows. Is there a Media Cell which has worked out a charter of things required to keep the publicity machinery actively pumping pre, during and post the event? Are there customized collateral required for certain markets? How much stock is needed of the standard collateral? Are you in a position to organize interviews and Press meets of your General Manager with the international media at these Travel Marts? The opportunities are endless.
A French boss I once worked with, certainly one of my mentors, urged me to acquire wings and travel to see the world. He said that as a Hospitality professional I should love travelling and have an inclination towards exploring other hotel brands during my stays abroad. What a fine and practical lesson there! You can’t get a more real and useful tutorial than experiencing places and hotels first hand.
The Hotel website is your baby, you know that. You have helped develop it or are responsible for keeping it clean and dynamic with up to date information. You are the one that feeds it with new information streaming in from other departments or the Company per se. You work with the IT admin, the SEO consultants and Web designers to make sure that your website remains the best selling tool for the Company and materializes real time sale for it.
In today’s world of Social Media deluge you have to be on top of the game of internet PR, Web 2.0 and Viral Marketing. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube are then your new friends on the technology driven media block. Keep abreast of the latest trends and developments and employ them effectively and optimally.
A PR person’s professional life, if it is really filled with something concrete and tangible then it is words – written, spoken, said, unsaid. As the PR expert you write releases, reports, newsletters, backgrounders, briefing notes. You speak at events, training sessions, interviews, conferences.
With such a large portion of your portfolio relying on words – in all their elements – you have to be a wordsmith who can spin the magic with your language and not only grab attention but also garner sales with your writing. A tall order that. But something that you need to master.
One of the most visible and significant part of my work across the various hotel brands I have worked with have been the body of writing I have left behind. It has been ego boosting to see the Press Releases I wrote appear again and again, each time with minor tweaking. It has also been highly satisfying to create and leave behind a rich resource of documentation, reports, manuals and other reference material that has proved to be a great bank of archival data and training material for those who have followed.
The Hyatts had ‘Feel The Hyatt Touch’ for a long time. And who has not heard of Mandarin Oriental’s ‘I am a Fan.’ During my tenure at The Imperial I had the unique distinction and first time honour to create these, I would like to think, immortal and unmatched marketing buzz lines– ‘The Imperial Experience,’ AND ‘The Imperial – Elegant, Exclusive, Exceptional.’
As a Hotel PRO, because you are part of an international Hospitality and Travel industry, because your guests come from all over the globe and because you work in a multicultural / multinational environment, it is imperative that you have an international outlook, be in step with the international PR agencies & the Foreign Media and be abreast with the global trends.
Global approach with the local essence should be your method of work and process of thought and you should be glocally savvy. Have a comprehensive world view and broad outside-in thinking.
Finally, with a juggler like task with several elemental balls up in the air that you must not drop at any time, you have to a JACK OR JILL OF ALLTRADES and perhaps a master of few.
Enjoy the professional roller coaster ride!