ANALYSIS: Intelligent PR people will welcome criticism for all thecrucial lessons it can teach them

I owe Mike an apology. Mike, you may recall from a previous column,

was the night clerk at the DoubleTree Club Hotel in Houston. He gave two

customers a hard time after they showed up late one night and found

their "guaranteed" room had been given away. This prompted the creation

of a very entertaining website denouncing DoubleTree's customer

relations competence.



I had suggested that Mike personified a serious issue, the fact that in

the digital age "one well-placed idiot ... can cause great damage to the

reputation of an entire company." But it turns out Mike was not the only

idiot. He seems to be the product of a carefully cultivated culture of

idiocy.



For if you visit the website where the original presentation used to

reside (www.craphound. com/misc/doubletree.htm), you'll find it has been

removed at the authors' request, after they received a stern letter from

the hotel manager. The same manager also threatened the site itself,

insisting that his and the hotel's name be removed "as you do not have

my permission to use either."



(The presentation can still be found at

www.hyperorg.com/misc/DoubleTreeShow_file/frame.html, and hopefully will

soon be available at my site, www. holmesreport.com.)



DoubleTree's response illustrates the difference between being concerned

with image, which the hotel clearly is, and being concerned about your

PR, which it clearly is not.



Image is about perception. It's about the face you show to the

world.



PR, on the other hand, is about reality. It's about character, the way

you conduct business, and how you behave toward your stake-holders.

Companies that care primarily about image want to hide their blemishes.

Those that care about their PR want to know when customers spot a flaw,

because only then can they correct it.



The Cluetrain Manifesto, one of the best business books of the internet

age, explains why smart companies listen to dissatisfied customers

rather than attempting to silence them: "Paranoia kills conversation,"

it says. "And lack of open conversation kills companies."



This begs the question of what the company's PR professionals were doing

while the company was demanding removal of the presentation.



One possibility is that they knew nothing of the manager's decision to

resort to threats, in which case they need to pay more attention to

what's going on inside their company. Or perhaps they knew what was

going on, understood how stupid it was, but were powerless to act

because the lawyers had taken charge, in which case they are working for

a company that has no regard for PR and would be wise to seek

professional fulfillment elsewhere.



The final possibility is the most disheartening: that they knew of the

company's response and went along with it, in which case they have sold

their profession short.



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