PAUL HOLMES: To protect your corporate reputation, every employeemust be a member of the PR staff

Before the web became pervasive, a dissatisfied customer would

share his or her displeasure with four or five close friends. Today,

that same customer can share displeasure with four or five thousand

people, the way Tom Farmer and Shane Atchison did after arriving at the

DoubleTree Club Hotel in Houston late one night, to find that their

guaranteed rooms had been given away.



Arriving at 2am, the two travelers were informed that there was no room

at the inn by Mike the night clerk, who explained, "Most guests don't

arrive at 2am," and apparently failed to grasp the meaning of

"guaranteed reservation." They eventually found rooms six miles away at

a Shoney's Inn.



I know all this because Tom and Shane created a 17-slide PowerPoint

presentation, complete with quotes from Mike and lots of neat charts,

and because one of my PR friends e-mailed it to me.



One slide shows Mike's projected career arc, from "rude hotel clerk" to

septic tank cleaner. Another breaks hospitality providers into four

quadrants, and puts DoubleTree in the "despises and mistreats

customers/heading for collapse" quadrant. Another offers the statistical

probability of winning the UK lottery (13,983,816 to 1), which is

apparently more likely than Tom and Shane returning to the DoubleTree in

Houston.



You can find the entire presentation at

www.craphound.com/misc/doubletree.htm.



In the meantime, it's worth pondering the odds of something similar

happening to your company one day.



We live in an age when one well-placed idiot (like Mike) can cause great

damage to the reputation of an entire company.



And there are thousands of Mikes out there: Denny's used to employ

hundreds of them, it seems, until lawsuits from ill-treated

African-American customers forced the restaurant chain to change its

corporate culture.



They are the ultimate proof that public relations is too important to be

left to PR people alone.



Just as a CFO can't ensure profitability if thousands of other employees

don't realize the importance of making the company profitable, even the

best PR person can't protect the corporate reputation unless people at

every level of the company - particularly those who often interact with

customers and other external stakeholders - understand that reputation

management is their job too.



The first responsibility of a senior PR executive is counseling senior

management. The second is creating the kind of culture in which every

single employee understands the importance of a good corporate

reputation, and realizes how his or her behavior contributes to that

reputation.



In an era when information can be shared widely and freely, everyone who

works for your company is part of the PR department, like it or not.



Paul Holmes has spent the past 15 years writing about the PR business

for publications including PRWeek, Inside PR, and Reputation

Management.



He is currently president of The Holmes Group and editor of

www.holmesreport.com.



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