PR: The Exterminator?

Creating a proactive (not reactive) plan often determines whether a company can survive the negative attention created by an unexpected crisis. But in many cases, proactive plans are generally not implemented because the company’s attitude errs toward, “that will never happen to us.”

But what happens when something extremely unexpected occurs? Could even the best PR plan falter? In the last few weeks an outbreak of bed bugs has been reported in a number of large U.S. cities. A crisis? Not likely. A PR challenge? Most definitely. Blogs and news sites are buzzing with how hotel chains, hospitals, universities and clothing stores are responding to the issue.

In researching their responses, hotels in particular, it was alarming to see the lack of communication. Most of the major hotel chains did not mention the outbreak on their websites. Even if the hotel is free of an infestation problem, it would seem appropriate to reassure customers that management is doing everything in their power to keep the critters away.

There was, however, a steady flow of comments from angry customers and shoppers. The public did not delay in calling out the names of businesses who suffer an infestation of bed bugs. News sites, discussion boards and even a bed bug registry are among the more popular venting sites.

In New York City, where the outbreak was considerably worse, city government stepped in to mend the lines of communication. A central information website was established to educate people about the outbreak, and how to prevent the bud bugs from spreading. At Wake Forest University in North Carolina, the administration was prepared with a solid extermination plan if students reported bed bugs in their dorm rooms. University health officials spread their message through the student newspaper and website.

Although an outbreak of bed bugs was quite unexpected, it appears as though most businesses who were affected did not address the issue in an appropriate fashion. There were no policies in place for dissatisfied customers, or even an forum for them to voice their concerns. Because of this, people went to the Internet to share their feelings, thus spreading the issue further. It took the work of the government and major institutions to send out a comprehensive reaction message.

Were PR professionals successful in exterminating this pesky issue? What could have been done to help the public understand the outbreak?

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4 Responses to PR: The Exterminator?

  1. cbaumgar says:

    After reading this informative post, all I know is I would want some way to be able to complain if I found bed bugs in my hotel room or dorm room!

    I agree that Wake Forest University took the best precautions and planned execution when it came to PR tactics. The article linked to its site provided great information about what exactly the pest control companies were doing and the processes used. I think this gives students and parents a peace of mind that hotels and other entities fail to.

    Hotels, especially chains, should be doing more than explaining. For example, if word gets out that one hotel in a city has bed bugs and does not have solid communication throughout the entire nation, do you think someone is going to stay in your hotel in a different state? No way! Hotel PR practitioners are failing here if they want to retain a sterling reputation. People want to know what you are doing to make his or her stay more comfortable. Failing to state the precautions your company is taking creates a barrier to communication — something PR people never want to do. And I agree with you Infinity Communication Solutions that even if your hotel or entity has not had a bed bug incident, it is important to address that somewhere on the website or in another medium. If you tell customers that you are taking the best measures to ensure the quality in your service, they will be happy and will want to return.

  2. rmmoore5 says:

    I agree with Callie that hospitality public relations practitioners are failing to communicate with the public in this situation. Hotels reputations will easily plummet if they seem like they are hiding something and not being truthful to its guests and even staff. I don’t think it really matters as to how these hotels or entities relay the information but I do think it is necessary in able to sustain a good reputation. Why wouldn’t a business address an issue that could potential affect their business? Customer service is so important especially in hospitality that it doesn’t make sense to ignore or hide the issue. So like Callie mentioned, as long as you tell your customers that the company is taking the best steps to ensure that the problem is fixed and under control, then they will be happier than if there is lack of communication.

  3. bajohn10 says:

    Both of you bring up a great point: the hospitality industry has a high standard to uphold. When you think or hotels, you imagine beautiful, clean places to spend your vacation. Their entire business relies on the experience of their guests.

    I agree with both of you in that the hotel chains are not doing nearly enough to acknowledge this issue. Although there are major chains involved, it is not to say that their reputations cannot be damaged as well.

    In writing this post, it is apparent that customer service IS the most important aspect of that industry, and people WILL share their feelings about it. Hopefully the hotels can improve their PR plan (and hopefully soon).

  4. lrstarr says:

    I believe there is a fine line between the honest disclosure and reputation damage of this situation. Companies should weigh their choices and determine which route causes the least damage. Hotels need to be open and address the bed bugs to current guests and those making reservations. However, posting the news on their company Website is, I believe, agitating the situation. Perhaps a hotel news blog could post new developments in the situation, but, posting to the website and drawing attention to the bugs would be repellent to guests.

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