Detailed Discussion and Analysis of Public Relation
Public relations refers to the process of maintaining favourable or desired public image by an organisation professionally for cultivating positive relationship and reputation with the public at large. The process, which involves several unpaid or earned communication channels, including social media, traditional media and in-person engagements, is important for organisations for defending their reputation while enhancing credibility of operations (Theaker 2017). As profitability and continued professional growth of an organisation fundamentally steered by public relations, it serves as a significant driver for any guest-facing industry, especially the hospitality industry due to its closer functionality with customers, i.e. guests. This particular essay, therefore, attempts to discuss various approaches associated with public relations while developing arguments regarding importance of the process on accommodation sector. As part of the process, the paper, from the context of accommodation sector, defines positive, as well as negative implications of public relations on hotels and other accommodation facilities. Most importantly, the assessment intends to determine the effects of public relations on overall customer experience to identify existing gap and explain relevance from the perspective of service recovery in the particular sector.
Given the definition of Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), public relations can be explained as a strategic communication process, which attempts to form a mutually advantageous relationship between an organisation and its public. The underlying idea behind public relations (PR) is promoting the idea, product, position or accomplishments of the business outside the usual sphere to persuade or influence chosen groups of audience (Ferguson 2018). PR people are often referred to as storytellers who create narratives to advance their agenda, i.e. building, protecting and enhancing reputations through social media, traditional media and self-made communications. As suggested by Jones, Hillier and Comfort (2016), PR professionals play the role of storytellers by working with the chosen organisation or individual for cultivating stories that highlight a specific idea, product, position or accomplishment in a positive manner. PR, which highlights stories through unpaid or earned media, is different from advertisers who broadcast stories to paid mediums. From the context of tourism and hospitality industries, PR professionals essentially help to provide relevant information about accolades of the organisation apart from assisting in developing a credible reputation of the business. However, the use of PR not only aims at telling stories but also purposed with curbing any damaging impact to the client’s reputation. Skogrand PR (2017) uses the example of Johnson & Johnson, which, in a mean to mitigate the damaging impact caused by its Tylenol products, had used aggressive PR measures in the early 1980s to reinforce the company’s sales and share price. The Tylenol products, which were laced with cyanide to kill seven people, created widespread panic among public while pressuring the company to postpone such offerings. Eventually, the use of an effective PR strategy saved the company’s reputation, as well as its product line almost immediately after the cyanide crisis. Based on the particular discussion, it is clear that PR is necessary due to ability to deal with both favourable and unfavourable circumstances, where a simple advertising strategy would have proved ineffective.
It has become almost necessary for businesses to design and introduce effective PR strategy in a world, where every organisation is clamouring for attention. Accommodation sector, hotels, in particular, operate using an entirely service-oriented framework, suggesting significant dependence on a good PR strategy for building positive impact and shaping desired story. More than drafting press releases and interacting with media personnel, PR professionals essentially familiarise with concerns and attitudes of the organisations’ customers, employees and other interest groups such as vendors, suppliers and the community in general (Morris & Goldsworthy 2016). Activities of PR professionals, therefore, are designed with the intention of forming and maintaining a constructive working relationship between all the interest groups involved. For a luxury accommodation facility, for example, PR attempts to develop an image for public consumption, indicating the portrayal of a luxurious lifestyle filled with comforts. As accommodation section depends heavily on perception and appreciation of public, the duty of PR officers and experts, in this case, is highly important, suggesting the need for managing, controlling and influencing public perception of an accommodation facility as a business and institution. The role of PR is based on building reputation of hotels and protecting it from damage. Su, Swanson and Chen (2016) indicate the positive impact of PR helping the accommodation sector to lay foundation to successful marketing and sales for achieving desired targets while minimising and managing whims of an online world. Due to the emergence of social media, PR is fundamental for accommodation sector to locate and identify target audience. As every hotel owns its unique advantage, PR, unlike traditional marketing, extracts such positive attribute and uses the targeted storytelling to interested categories of the interested customers or guests. As coming up with timely and newsworthy information to the public are one of the major goals of a PR campaign, Sparks, So and Bradley (2016) notice that hotel businesses often find it hard to issue press releases related to service launches, grand openings or employee recruitment in line with the PR storytelling. While coming up with an interesting press release grabbing attention of interested guests is not easy, it is also difficult for accommodation businesses for measuring success of PR campaigns due to subjective approaches. Apart from suggesting the necessity of PR campaigns alongside advertising and sales for hospitality businesses to build and protect its public image, the discussion importantly highlights negative implications associated with process that could have a damaging impact on corporate identity or reputation. Negative PR campaigns, as a result, noticeably creates the scenario of generating and broadcasting misleading information, with the intention of discrediting someone, such as the competitors.
In order to develop effective PR strategy in the context of accommodation sector, understanding of good and poor PR campaigns should be developed based on available examples in the practical environment. The example of Warner Leisure Hotels, the hotelier in UK, can be used where it used a PR campaign perfectly aligned with sensibility of a targeted group of travellers, thereby gaining a thousand mentions in the global press. Hilton’s multi-pronged PR strategy by teaming up with a long-running satire publication firm is another example, where the hotelier, which primarily associates with business travel, wanted to attract more leisure traffic to its properties. As part of the promotional campaign, Hilton used the abstract concept to encourage potential guests taking a break from work and visiting its accommodation facilities in the exotic locales (Tran et al. 2017). The PR campaign was highly successful, garnering more than half a million likes on Facebook to enable issue of more than a hundred publications, 50,000 visits and 7,000 new subscribers. However, there are certain examples of poor PR strategies or campaigns, which tarnished the position of hospitality and tourism service providers. The likes of Beverly Hills Hotel is one of the examples, where the decision of its owner to introduce Shariah law in the country had created a massive outrage to boycott its property, cancel events and demand repayment of deposits. The scenario is a reflection of the damaging impact of poor press releases, which can destabilise even the glamourous image of an accommodation provider, such as Beverly Hills Hotel (Rodriguez 2016). With the help of such examples, it can be argued that media can be either a most valuable ally or major anxiety for a PR campaign, necessitating the need for developing a working relationship. It can be argued that poorly handled PR campaigns can have practical and longstanding damage to the brand of different accommodation operators.
It has become a monumental task for organisations to organise a controlled response in the heart of controversies, indicating the need for a clear plan from the PR perspective to develop proper responses to the negative scenarios. Peirson-Smith and Evans (2017), in this case, finds out that perception gap is one of the important factors causing failure of a PR campaign, due to misinterpretation of campaign’s intention by the target audience groups, thereby creating unexpected circumstances. Ineffectiveness of communication approach, as part of the PR campaign, is mainly responsible for creating a perception gap, which in turn, might pose a threat to the existing brand image of a hotel. The importance of service recovery, in this case, can be essentially observed to achieve customer satisfaction, leading the hospitality provider to implement a thoughtful, planned process for pulling aggrieved or dissatisfied customers to a position of satisfaction (Cheng et al. 2018). With its focus on compensating the interest groups and enable a damage recovery, service recovery eliminates tensions caused by service failure to contribute positively to the PR strategy and achieve guest satisfaction.
Considering the overall aim of this essay in determining the importance of public relations in the accommodation sector as part of the global hospitality industry, scholarly works are evaluated to acknowledge the necessity of the process for organisations, which directly involve with customers for doing business. While the example of Hilton Hotel or Warner Leisure Hotels justifies the importance of PR campaigns to explore new target markets and encourage more guests to use accommodation facilities, the example of Beverly Hills suggests lack of implementing and communicating PR strategy might create significant woes for hoteliers, thereby degrading overall brand image and reputation. It is ascertained that perception gap acts as one of the underlying reasons for the failure of PR campaigns around the world, necessitating the need for systematic implementation of service recovery steps to achieve desired level of guest satisfaction by the hospitality operators.