Crisis media management: Hotel’s failure to respond allows 'Scrooge' crisis to grow

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Hotel’s failure to respond allows 'Scrooge' crisis to grow

The media loves a Scrooge-type story at this time of year.

And this December it is The Royal Hotel in Hull which has captured the attention of journalists.

The hotel has been at the centre of a media storm in the past 24 hours since it emerged that it had cancelled ‘without warning or explanation’ a Christmas booking for 28 homeless people.

It is a story which has made the headlines across many newspapers, and is being discussed at regular intervals on the 24 hour news channels. It is also, at the time of writing, the most read article on the BBC news website.

Here is a selection of the headlines it has generated:

Hotel cancels charity's Christmas booking for 28 homeless people without warning or explanation Daily Mail

HEARTLESS 28 homeless people were looking forward to spending Christmas in a hotel – until their booking was cancelled without an explanation The Sun

Hotel cancels Christmas booking for 28 homeless people sparking uproar The Mirror

Hull hotel cancels booking made by charity for homeless to have shelter over Christmas The Independent

 

A pretty grim set of headlines. And all these stories have one key thing in common – they all report that no one at the hotel was available for comment.

In fact, 24 hours after the story first broke there is still no response from the hotel. It is generally considered that an organisation has around 15 minutes to respond to a crisis media management incident.

Now, this is clearly a difficult story to manage, but a radio silence approach is not the answer.

The refusal to engage with the media is only making the situation worse and is allowing others to control the narrative.

Take the BBC News story, for example. As well as comments from the charity that made the booking, it has used locals residents and an MP to fill the void left by the lack of a response from the hotel. 

Other stories have used comments by social media users.

This brings us nicely to social media because here too, the hotel has remained completely silent despite the backlash.

The original post from the Raise The Roof Hull Homeless Project has been shared more than 1,000 times.

 

And there are a lot of angry responses to the story on Twitter with some users vowing not to use the hotel or the wider chain again.  

 

 

So what can other organisations learn from this?

The key lesson is that a crisis media management incident can hit an organisation of any size at any time.

A hotel in Hull may seem like an unlikely place for the media’s attention in the run-up to Christmas, but a damaging social media post has propelled it firmly into the spotlight.

All organisations should have an understanding of what could trigger a crisis for them, and how they would respond if it happened.

Clearly, the importance of responding in a timely manner is also crucial. Organisations cannot afford to allow outrage to build and others to fill the void left by their silence.

This story obviously broke outside of normal office hours. Good crisis media management involves planning for events that happen outside of the 9-5, because crises – and those who report on them - have an annoying habit of not sticking to normal work patterns.

And those plans should involve identifying people who can update the media, respond on social media and make changes to the website out of hours.

Simply saying that ‘no-one is available for comment’ will not stop journalists reporting the story.

Such has been the damage to The Royal Hotel, it may need a Christmas miracle to restore its battered reputation.

 

*Update: Britannia Hotels, which owns The Royal Hotel, finally broke its silence on Monday evening with a statement. It said the decision to cancel had been made because it had heard reports of bad behaviour at a hotel where the charity had organised people to stay last year.

It said: “Among the issues last year were trashing of rooms, fires, theft of hotel goods and property and damage to property.

"The hotel has a number of families and tours staying at the hotel over the Christmas period which we feel would suffer if the booking was taken."

 

*Download our FREE eBook to find out more about planning for a crisis. It includes a checklist to helping you identify the right spokesperson, messaging templates and a risk register to help you identify your organisation’s vulnerabilities.

 

Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers. 

Click here to find out more about our journalist-led crisis communication and media training courses.

 

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