If the greeting is not friendly, kiss your PR hopes good-bye
On a recent trip from New York to Florida, I stayed at a gorgeous hotel in Charleston, SC, where I was reminded of something that many businesses too often neglect: The first, and perhaps most vital, detail of retail PR begins with the person who initially greets you, answers the phone, or takes your reservation. Collateral materials, media placements, and community outreach won't count for peanuts if the folks on the customer/client frontlines leave unfavorable impressions.
Which is why people like Abby, the delightfully bright and helpful receptionist who checked me into the Planters Inn, are often the best and least-known friends of hospitality PR firms. Which, in Planters' case, is Lou Hammond & Associates (LHA) of New York. With a big assist from Abby and other hotel staffers, LHA has successfully positioned Planters Inn as the region's most charming and hospitable hotel, where cozy hospitality is served in heaping quantities - along with some of the tastiest food in the country. The Mobil four-star Planters Grill is rated one of the top restaurants in the entire Southeast.
Tasteful luxury, attention to guest experience, and fine dining are the "three messages we consistently deliver in our PR campaign," says LHA VP Shelley Clark. "The Inn offers guests an authentic sense of Charleston; it feels and looks like Charleston, as opposed to a number of its competitors that could be up-market hotels anywhere in the world."
To promote the dining experience, Clarke and the LHA team "took the restaurant's Ultimate Coconut Cake to market, which is now sold nationally on the internet and has garnered an enormous amount of press." (In the interests of accurate reporting, I tried a slice or two or five. But calories only count as half down here. Something to do with the humidity, I believe.)
Planters Inn is the only hotel property in Charleston run by Relais & Chateaux, an international association of exclusive and intimate hotels and restaurants.
The two days I spent there were highlights of my trip. Indeed, Charleston itself is an alluring PR boost for the south, which is attracting large numbers of tourists again, owing partly to the euro's strong exchange rate.
Although the disorganized, lackluster effort by the Charleston Convention and Visitor's Bureau (CVB) to coordinate my visit was disappointing, the Planters staff made up for it. Maps, suggestions, insider tips, you name it. Perhaps the CVB needs an Abby of its own.
Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer