How a stupid mistake makes great Public Relations

venice crowne plaza hotel
©IHG
I have never been to Venice (at least, not yet...) and I'd never heard of the Crowne Plaza hotel there. Not until now that is. And the fact that I am now aware of it is a good example of how online communication has a profound effect on Public Relations. Somebody in their organisation made a silly mistake. A mistake that has huge (financial) consequences for the hotel, very negative on the first impression, but possibly great consequences in the long run. Read on to see how and what:

The story behind the mistake

With the current economic recession, times are tough for travel agencies, airlines and also hotels. So, many of these companies try to get some extra business through special offers. The InterContinental Hotels Group, owner of many hotels is no exception to this. In an effort to augment the number of bookings at the Venice Crowne Plaza, they decided to reduce the rate of a two-night stay by 50% for a limited amount of time. But instead of this, for about 6 hours, their website erroneously quoted a price of € 0.01. During this time, 1,400 room-nights were booked at this "reduced rate". Compared to their regular prices, this mistake could cost them something in excess of € 90,000.- (£ 77.800,-).

As this is an obvious pricing error, the hotel could have argued that these bookings were invalid. Perhaps offering the people that used it an extra discount, such as a stay at cost-price. That would have made sense and would have been perfectly acceptable. However, they decided to honour all the reservations and let the people stay at this € 0.01 rate. From a Public Relations perspective that was a brilliant decision, given the online communication of today.

Why this is good Public Relations

I don't know if anybody within IHG realised that instead of a costly mistake it is actually a € 90,000.- Public Relations campaign. Because the first positive effect is that they breed familiarity: the story of both the mistake and the way they handled it is all over the internet, making people aware of their existence in a positive manner. It brings attention to their name in a positive sense through a number of 'personal channels', without any additional effort on their side. Secondly, the message that is conveyed is "Crowne Plaza hotels honour their agreements", or in other words: this organisation is trustworthy.

That second effect is particularly important from a Public Relations point of view. Imagine having people all over the world spreading the message that you are trustworthy. That you will honour your agreements with your clients even though it is obvious that you are losing on the deal. This sends the very powerful message that for you, your clients are important! This has exactly the opposite effect as my previous example where a simple customer complaint turned into a Public Relations nightmare because of the possibilities of online communication.

Why this is not so good Public Relations online

Visit the sites of either the IHG or the Crowne Plaza Venice and you won't find a single mention of all this. I think this is a missed opportunity. From a management point of view it is understandable that you don't like to see "errors" showing up in your communication channels. But in this case the error has been turned into an assett. By mentioning the whole story on their own websites, from their own point of view, they could have added even more credibility to the message. So changing this point of view in management is in my opinion the primary responsibility of a Public Relations manager. Chances are your mistakes will show up online anyway, so why not take a more active approach in handling this? This is something business owners and managers need to be aware of.

What does this mean to you?

The lesson here is obvious: it matters how you handle individual events, regardless whether they are positive or negative. Regardless whether they seem small or large. Of course this has always been the case, but in the interconnected world of today, the impact of these events is magnified. And while large organisations usually attract more attention, the effect for smaller organisations is similar, albeit on a smaller scale.

You can't control how people "talk" about you. And you have to realise that many of those conversations take place on a global stage. You can control your reactions to events however. And as the example above points out: even errors can have very beneficial Public Relations results. It is all about the attitude with which you handle things. We'll explore that aspect in future articles. For now, if you have any thoughts about this or have similar examples, please share them in the comments.

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