CAMPAIGNS: CRISIS MANAGEMENT - Floyd fails to blow out Marriott PR

Client: Marriott International

Client: Marriott International

PR Team: In-house

Campaign: Enhancement of Marriott Rewards media briefing

Timescale: September 1999

Budget: undisclosed

In mid-September, Hurricane Floyd ripped through Florida and other

states along the eastern seaboard of the US. Hundreds of thousands of

people were forced to evacuate their homes with several states declared

emergency zones.

In the midst of this chaos, Marriott International had planned a media

briefing in Washington DC for 29 travel journalists, comprising of

meetings with senior Marriott executives, including chairman JW Marriott

Jnr, a visit to the company’s test kitchens and guest rooms of its

different brands and an evening function attended by trade partners.

Poor weather conditions forced Marriott to cancel the visit of 25

US-based journalists, but the company was faced with a fresh problem of

how to deal with four UK hacks who were already on their way from



To ensure the UK journalists already en route to the briefing were taken

care of and a fresh programme was hurriedly-rearranged.

Strategy and Plan

At 12 noon US east coast time on Wednesday 15 September , Marriott

executive vice-president communications Charlotte Sterling and her

colleagues decided to cancel most of the programme in the interests of


International PR manager Maria Teresa Torruella took the lead in

rearranging the programme, aided by two consultants from Florida-based

Zimmerman Agency who were originally in Washington to look after the US


There followed a battery of internal phone calls between executives and

the PR team, including UK media consultant Elaine Ellis in London. Ellis

was adamant that her colleagues had to deliver to a demanding group of

UK journalists. The UK journalists were informed of the changes on

arrival on Wednesday evening with the PR team still working on the final


A meeting with JW Marriott Jnr could not be confirmed.

The Thursday morning Marriott Rewards briefing took place with a new

format - it became a round table discussion with questions and answers,

rather than a large media conference. A lunchtime visit to the test

kitchen and a tour of guest rooms took place as planned, with plenty of

free time left in the afternoon. Torruella hosted dinner for the

journalists at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel in Washington, replacing

the planned reception for 100 people at the Marriott Wardman Park


Measurement and Evaluation

Feedback from the journalists was positive. Despite Marriott’s

last-minute changes, the journalists managed 20 minutes of quality time

with JW Marriott Jnr who shared his thoughts about the company, industry

and trends on Friday. Meeting him was deemed crucial as the journalists

had secured commissions from various publications based on interviews

with him.

Key executive Fred Miller gave one-to-one interviews to the

international journalists. Again, with only a small group of journalists

present, quality time was set aside for individual meetings.


It turned into a hectic few days for Marriott with subsidiary

Ritz-Carlton Hotels making a product announcement earlier in the week,

Floyd causing problems affecting 25 group properties and JW Marriott Jnr

informing employees of the future of company headquarters.

However, Sterling did not perceive changes to the programme as a crisis,

but more of switching gear. The press team played a key role in changing

things around at short notice, keeping JW Marriott Jnr updated regularly

and making sure the journalists were comfortable with the arrangements.

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