Sunday, 11 December 2011


There has always been a debate between the goodness of Old – the time-tested, comfortable set of practices that have proven their mettle time and again and the value of New – a precocious kid on the block that struts its stuff with vigour and confidence of having been received with open arms. With the former, you have an immense sense of familiarity, a pronounced comfort zone but for the latter you must welcome change and rise up to meet new challenges in the area of work and knowledge.

As any Public Relations expert – Hospitality specialist or any other – knows, media is the veritable best man, the strongest ally and one of the most powerful tools in the PR toolkit. Nobody can deny the usefulness and power that the media mix holds over a PR person’s overall role. So much so that in many companies and PR agencies, the efficacy of a PR person’s performance is measured by media presence garnered for the company represented.

Today, a PR person is spoiled for choice, between the old and new media and within their ambits. Some like me, are from the old school of thought and still hold the old media in a prominent place while warming up to the idea and prospects of the New Media. There are others who are fans of PR 2.0 so much that they make the mistake of ignoring the traditional media, of course at their own risk. But the wisest are those who hold both kinds in esteem and continue to reap benefits out of the two.

Yet, there are distinct qualities that set one apart from the other and enjoy brownie points over the second when brought to comparisons.
One of the best arguments in favour of the old media is that it provides credible Third Party endorsement. To be endorsed by media such as eHotelier, Hotels, Food & Wine, Gourmet, Washington Post, The Guardian, National Geographic, BBC, CNN, Travel & Living, Condé Nast and several others – all giants in their own genré – is a prominent yardstick that assesses your level of success, your quotient of acceptance or degree of aspiration amidst your consumer and is also a scale that measures a PR person’s effectiveness and deliverability in performance. To appear in such publications means you have arrived, are worthy of being talked about in these pages and are sought after as a Brand. To get coverage in such publications proves that the PR person knows his or her job and is a performer.

The second important point is that sizeable coverage in the traditional Press-of-prestige immediately ups the profile of the Brand featured. Isn’t it a fact that hotels frame recognition from high profile publications (especially awards & certifications) or share such information with their guests via vehicles such as the Hotel newsletter?

The third point of significance is that coverage in the old world media-of-might ensures that the Brand manages to reach its target audience effectively. It is a given that your current and potential guests read such publications and it brings in guest loyalty by being featured in these publications.
Having said that, it is today’s reality that under the onslaught of rapidly evolving technology and with scores of possibilities being presented by Web 2.0, even the traditional media has gone online, interactive and viral.

This brings us to the virtues of the New Media. While it offers several opportunities, it also expects you to acquire and own new set of skills. This in itself – the need to be a better writer, or to be more technology savvy, or to learn new methods of communication or to become such a manager who learns to handle the media mix well and judiciously – is ample scope for keeping one’s role challenged and exciting as it provides a plank for horizontal growth in the area of PR work.
Sites such as Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube herald the coming in of Web 2.0 – a whole new world that provides excellent chances and opens up new vistas for a Media Manager. With the onset of Social Media in the arena of media coverage and planning, a PR Professional must be adept at handling each of these avenues. While Social Media is expanding career options by introducing such positions as a Social Media Manager or an Online Reputation Management Expert, not many companies have the finance or inclination to bifurcate responsibilities and hire separate individuals to handle such posts. Hence a role such as this has landed itself in the kitty of the Communications or PR Professional who needs to learn, unlearn and relearn to become a master of both the traditional and new age media. This, to my mind, is an extremely welcome change that encourages you to shape up for the New Media defined roles otherwise you may be shipped out by those who are more adept and trained.
Come to think of it, as PR experts with our strong skill base in writing, media handling, planning, website management and marketing communications, we are the naturally skilled workforce who should be entrusted with the responsibility of managing the New Media.

The real-time value of New Media is unsurpassed. Everything in it happens in the realm of “here and now.” Your news is as new or old as your last post or blog or tweet.

A lot of the power has shifted to you – the Communications specialist – from those on the journalistic side. If you have proved your worth and your Brand is considered of significance, then even the journalists are becoming fans of your Facebook page, following you on Twitter or linking up with you on LinkedIn.
You get to decide what, when and how much you wish to share with your target audience through your blog posts that link neatly with your parent website (thereby also increasing footfalls on your website), your Facebook updates, your tweets and YouTube plug-ins.

You get to learn instantly whether your Brand is ‘trending’ or is being given the cold shoulder by the online traffic.
With the old media it was difficult to measure the reach and penetration of your story – the only measure being the circulation figures which often failed to tell you whether the information on your company was actually read by the key audience or not. In the New Media, you can actually count up the “likes,” “views,” “shares” and “follows” to define how much a sub-product has been liked and whether a marketing idea will fly or fall with the end consumer.

While the old media and your story in it had the misfortune of being retired to the waste paper basket or sold to the ‘Raddi recyclist’ (Scrap paper dealer) or of reappearing as a wrap for snacks sold by the street vendor, there is no such danger with the New Media. Of course the biggest fear in the New Media is to go completely unnoticed by those very eye balls that you wish to catch as news and information flash by in high speed across the information freeway, yet the New Media has this great propensity to go Viral in the biggest way possible. Imagine the circuitry your story can create – from your company website or blog to LinkedIn to YouTube to Facebook to Twitter – with innumerable swaps in between - to a large river of search engines on which your story continues to appear.

And often with proper Search Engine Optimization it would appear in the initial few searches itself. This brings us to the importance of skills such as business writing for technology driven platforms as verbose as blogs or as crypt and concise as the 140 character Twitter. The other skills to be polished would be intelligent use of keywords, learning to link up well, using such tools as hash tags, bing, klouts, RSS, Social media alerts, tickers, Feedjits and the like. But this is a subject matter of another article which we may get into another time.

With New Media, you have the advantage of creating your own community that follows you, likes you and becomes a fan or a member. Your article that is liked or viewed by ‘X’ number of people has actually been read by those numbers without any wastage in the count and as a bonus has also been shared with their respective networks. Your Brand that is followed by a certain number of people enjoys loyalty from this number which has the potential to grow into a large population. Think about the online hits that certain features / stories invite on the internet and you will instantly know that this population can grow to a size of millions or more.

The New or Social Media is also an excellent platform for networking widely with larger demographics or pointedly with chosen focus groups. The networking and linking up chances with the like-minded groups on sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook help you increase your audience base taking you beyond the geographical boundaries within which your company exists. There are hundreds of Groups for Hoteliers, Travel professionals and other such defined categories with which you can network and share your information.

With an avenue like Wikipedia you can be your own Editor and create a User page or article for your Company. If it has universal significance then you will be easily inducted into the Wiki pages and enjoy easy searchability and wide readership.
With Social Media everything happens in the present so much so that the stories are listed every second and every minute of the day and through the night. The World Wide Web never sleeps and to make matters worse the Social Media keeps it on its toes at all times, there are no lunch breaks or pit stops on this information highway. Hence you need to be consistent and constant with your messaging. The rise in the relevance of New Media has caused a decline in the attention spans, therefore there is a greater need now than ever before to be pertinent and prime in your ‘newsability,’ otherwise your input will remain popular only amongst employees, family and friends.

With New Media you can reinforce your message with the ease of clicking a button. Simply press share or retweet and your story comes alive once again. But you must learn to do this prudently and in the right time span lest you become a social media outcast. With so much of information threatening to deluge their mind space your guests do not wish to be bored with old news or annoyed with repetitive nuisance.

All forms of New Media present wonderful options for inter-linkages. So your official blog piece or website page can be tweeted or shared on LinkedIn, Facebook etc. simultaneously with just a couple of clicks and you get to showcase your product amidst a large number of users of these sites with so much ease that it makes a kid’s play appear difficult.

One of the biggest boons of New Media is that it is absolutely free and adds admirably to your profit protection strategy. View this point in the light of big dollars earmarked for the annual media plan covering advertising and other media spend including Press FAMs and individual Press Trips for media coverage on your Company. Virtual Property Tours with exciting 360 degree views that have been traditionally put up on the website can now be uploaded on You Tube or tweeted or shared through LinkedIn, Facebook and the like for free and to multitudes who just need to have an access to a machine and the medium of Net. This, however, does not reduce the importance of the human touch, the impact of relationships with the media and the power of experiencing a property for real.

With these huge benefits come the bad lemons too as is a given with almost anything in life; with everything there always being two sides. Opening up to a wide readership and onto instant news platforms such as these also calls for immediate feedback. Your guests are at free will to tweet back or post a negative comment or deride your new sub-product or product in the same open, world-wide medium that you use. The onus lies on you – the Newsmaker - and your Company to be more responsible, meaningful and noteworthy.

With you as the Communications Chief, New Media also allows for much greater engaging and involvement of the employee base that can be part of the news making process, thereby developing a stronger bond and belongingness with the Company they represent. While not everybody can be allowed to post or tweet – given the crucial baseline of adhering to the Company profile and Brand Standard, but they can send their submissions to you, who as the Chief Brand Custodian can play the editor to the hilt and include the appropriate ones on to the forums. Seeing one’s tweet or post feature in the virtual world, gives almost the same high as seeing one’s article in print, well almost, and is especially true for the non-writers.

While the importance and significance of the old Media cannot be ever denied, the New Media is all too powerful, in your face, productive and result-oriented so as not to be taken lightly. It is not a fad and needs to be fashioned out sensibly into your media strategy.

Here is a quick snapshot of the Top Five pluses and minuses of both kinds of media –


TOP FIVE +es –

1. It is the best form of credible and creditable Third Party Endorsement.
2. To appear in a top notch publication immediately ups or reinforces the profile of your Brand in the minds of the significant publics. Think Condé Nast, WSJ, New York Times, The Guardian and you get the picture.
3. To be written about by the renowned reviewers / writers of these publications is a major achievement in media presence. Imagine getting first class rating by the likes of Mary Gostelow, Lynn Middlehurst, Jeff Weinstein and see how proud and pleased the owners, management and the guests are.
4. Mention in traditional media has a sense of permanence to it. The news report can be filed and archived and can easily be dug into when it needs to be referenced again.
5. It is easier to control what is being written about you (either through your Press Release or on account of your established relationship with the media representative) and form opinions in the traditional media as compared to the information circus that exists in the New Media.

TOP FIVE –es –

1. It faces the danger of getting dated and being lost in the annals of time.
2. The negative review hits the Brand hard, going by the same logic of appearing in a top notch publication and written by the high profile reviewer.
3. In today’s times of excessive information being delivered to your desktop, laptop or palmtop every second, it may face the risk of getting lost in the deluge.
4. With new information coming up every second, your article in traditional media can become old news sooner than you think.
5. Because of the timelines it adheres to and the inherent gap that exists between sending of your press release or a journalist reviewing your product and the actual appearance of the story on account of a backlog of stories in hand with the media or something of more importance coming up at short notice, many a times your news report gets printed as a post event publicity and that is half the battle lost.


TOP FIVE +es –

1. You can control what is being said about you through your blog, pages, updates and tweets.
2. You have a direct access to your guests and reach them with ease in relation to your news, offers and promotions.
3. Instead of just one media platform, you have the ability to turn your news into a viral phenomenon and see it appear in several media planks simultaneously.
4. You have the opportunity to send out more information about yourself. There is no restriction on how much you want to or can share.
5. The power publications and the publicists that pack a punch are also on the New Media and can not only continue to write about you in the online editions but can also do so in their personal spaces of blogs, twitter page etc. which also enjoy additionally huge following.

TOP FIVE –es –

1. You have less control on what people say about your product through their blogs, pages, updates and tweets.
2. In the New Media, just about anybody can turn a writer or opinion maker and send their comment into the Social Media whirlpool. This can and does include your guests who can make direct comments on their experience. The realm of news does not just belong to the journalists any more.
3. You must ensure that your news is meaningful and useful to the guest for it to be lapped up and for it to be something that your guests look forward to. Otherwise, it is very easy for you to become an irritant and face the risk of being unfriended, unfan-ed or unfollowed.
4. It is difficult for you to control the vehicles where you wish to appear, keeping in mind your Brand personality and profile. Through the channels of New Media, your brand can find presence even in those media outlets in which you do not wish to appear.
5. It is hugely difficult to grab the attention and enjoy readership penetration as the window of appearance and presence has been sizeably shortened in the flux of all that information that floats in the world of Social Media World be it Blogosphere, Twitterdom, Facebook zone, LinkedIn Groups, YouTube or innumerable others.

And a final comparison – to have my piece or property featured in a publication of repute is a prominent feather in my cap. But then the Social Media opens up a whole new world with its wide reach, focused penetration, advantages of “viralability” with sharing and re-sharing and being followed by the key groups of audience that we wish to address. Going by this measure, Social Media is several notches up as compared to the traditional tactical vehicle of Direct Marketing, wherein companies often lamented whether the expensive mailer was being read by the CEO or his secretary and if the pricey, glossy flyer was managing to hold the interest of the end user for the right amount of time, ensuring grasping of the offer that you wished to sell.

I am from that group of people who believes that we will always get to hold and feel the crispiness of newspaper with our morning cuppa, that we will still leaf through glossies and not just at salons or clinics and that in spite of the up surge in the demand for Kindles we will still get to hold and smell the mustiness of paperbacks and hardbounds, at least in our lifetime. I also belong to the set that uses the Socially relevant New Media optimally, intelligently and with such mastery that it reaps rich dividends for the Company we represent.

In my PR scheme of things, both the media have their place, position and prevalence and both need to be used effectively in order to enable me to stay on top of my game and you on yours.


Picture courtesy - Google Images.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011


I entered the hospitality industry in the Summer of ’97. I remember being selected majorly on the basis of my strong media contacts. Of course the other bits and pieces of qualification mattered too, but this was the most important clinching factor. And I was nervous as hell. I was coming from the hardcore nuts and bolts PR background with strong foundation in media strategies and practices and had been frequenting hotels as a restaurants and room guest but now I was going to be entering the world of glitz and glamour and all that sparkle and shine as an insider. The first person I called for help and guidance was a friend who was at that time the Head of PR for the Australian Tourist Commission in Singapore but had been an old hotel hand. And the first lesson she imparted was about MARCOM and Brand Management. She was absolutely right about her advice that a Hotel PR responsibility encapsulated the area of Brand Management and Marketing Communications with strong shades of Marketing within its fold. Hence, to my base of Corporate Communications and Public Relations skills, I had to add the aspects of Marketing Communications and Marketing and thereby began my tryst with producing internal and external publications, hotel brochures and sales collateral. With hotels I got into conceiving and seeing through marketing alliances with like-minded partners for a win-win outcome that directly impacted the bottomline.

My years of experience in the Public Affairs department of a Diplomatic Mission concretized the knack of dealing with and pitching for a wide array of media talents. On one day I may have been the Media manager for an aboriginal artist or historian, on the other I would be on the media team of the Foreign Minister visiting the country and on yet another occasion I would be devising a media plan for a scientist from the Health industry. This trained me to look at anybody in a niche position with their unique skills as a prospective media talent. This hands on experience also enabled me to transport this attribute to the hotels and I began looking at not just the General Manager and the Chefs – often the usual suspects, but also Housekeeping, Engineering and Security Heads, Horticulture Managers, Sommeliers and Technology Team Leads as wonderful media talents who I could effectively leverage in order to garner extensive media coverage for the hotel I worked for.
While at the High Commission, some days the only guest I had visiting was the sparrow on my sill, at hotels I am in the heart of wining and dining a checkered mix of guests ranging from editors & feature writers, bureaucrats, corporate chiefs, ambassadors to film stars, musicians, artists and sports personalities. Hence, Guest Relations gets intertwined with Public Relations as I go about cementing the hotel’s bond with these special guests. This has brought in the need to be a good conversationalist, in step with the ongoing trends, to have several interests while being a shrewd Brand Ambassador who seldom passes on a chance to ensnare the mindspace of the relevant publics. And if I am asked to pick out the single most important trait in my PR quiver then it has to be the skill of writing – plain speak documents, fancy guest letters, creative content for newsletters, business writing for press releases, manuals etc. So, it would be useful for you to practice your writing skills in diverse ways and bring it to effective use every time an opportunity presents itself, of which there will be many I assure you.

Working in international hotel chains of repute adds the aspect of celebrity management to the PR person’s portfolio. We must know how to be an integral part of the briefing that involves the security issues and larger mandate about the dos and don’ts while hosting the high profile guest. As a PR person, the most important thing is to be the perfect foil and know when to be graciously tight lipped about the hush-hush stay or be gung-ho and manage the media interest well in the case of a willing guest. This, indeed, is a tight rope walk that you need to balance yourself well on; as you cannot afford to annoy the special guest or put off the media either; hence delicate, judicious and intelligent handling of the visit is paramount.
The above is, often, in the case of famous guests who are on a private visit or on a pre-scheduled media plan with Z level security. But being in hotels brings in the exciting opportunity to work with wonderful celebrities at close quarters. I remember getting legends like Paul Simon and Goldie Hawn to pose for the Newsletter pages. I have also enjoyed putting on the Chef’s apron and toque on guests such as eminent writer Khushwant Singh and respected danseuse Sonal Mansingh for Celeb cookouts. Then there have been celebrity tennis clinics, cricket matches and golf tournaments that have not only been excellent branding and marketing exercises but have also presented the fabulous opportunity for the other hotel guests to mingle around with the star guest.

With respect to dealing with external publics in an industry like hotels, there is a wide spectrum of people you deal with and they range from a perfectly coiffeured and haute coutured Society Star to the brusque son-of-the soil vendor, both important and integral to the PR playfield. Hence, it becomes imperative to understand the fine cultural nuances and relate with people at their level to, not just take out optimum work, but also establish strong relationships.

You will often hear Management Gurus and Life coaches telling you to dress the part you want to play in work and life. As a PR Professional with any kind of organization, you ARE the brand
custodian for the company whose personality you represent through yours and whose profile you work endlessly to up in the minds of its significant partners. Hence, learning to dress in accordance with my work milieu with appropriate representation of the Brand traits has also been an invaluable lesson in the course of my career.

With hotels, a very very important (cannot stress enough how important it is and hence the usage of the redundant double word) aspect of your responsibility area centers around Crisis Communications and Issues Management. Each industry type brings in its own brand of crises and they deal with it in their time-tested methodology, either through a specialized in-house cell or through an outsourced Agency or both. In hotels, you are the pivotal point in the Crisis Communications team and often, along with your CEO, the face that addresses and the voice that responds to such a situation. In my decade and a half long experience with the Hotel industry so far, I have had the opportunity to handle a disparate bunch of crises ranging from a staple pin stuck in the crab cake of a food writer to the untrained housekeeping attendant leaving the dust cloth along with dust in the suite reserved for a renowned Hospitality Editor who was coming to do a special feature on the hotel for an international publication of repute to a well-known TV personality jumping to his death from the tenth floor terrace. The key here has been to devise the most appropriate crisis communications strategy, put together the right team, issue out the most effective press statement and be available 24X7 to answer questions and corollaries, dispel rumours and rectify incorrect grasping of the case.
In my professional journey from High Commission to hotels as I strode over from the Australian Embassy on to the turf of Hyatt International, the best trait that I came with was the “Fresh pair of eyes.” Hyatt took a chance with me to bring in an outsider into its team of hoteliers and what I brought with me was a deep sense of curiosity about everything around me, an eagerness to learn all the ropes of the new trade I had entered and keen interest to acquire new set of skills in order to deliver my best shot in the defined KRA’s. As such, a lot of people and situations presented themselves as great media stories that I could pitch the media with. The GM who was also an excellent cook and an avid motor enthusiast, the Director of Marketing who was a national level Trap-shooting champion too, the Landscaping Manager who had learned Ikebana in Japan, the Food & Beverage Director who was a travel junkie and a comic books collector, the much-feted and awarded chef who painted his plates with culinary art and came to be called Chef Picasso by the team, the Executive Housekeeper who loved to devour management books as if they were the latest bestseller and always came up with fantastic sound bytes – the hotels have been a hotbed for a trained media professional like me who has been happy to cajole reticent talent into speaking out, gently nudge shy but talented colleagues under the arc light and thrust the mike under the nose of a super-achiever of few words.

Even when I was in college and University I was naturally veered towards interests that involved people. So, whether it was being a Quiz master for a handful of seasons or running a weekly column in and sub-editing a Regional Newspaper I was always engaging with people from diverse backgrounds and walks of life. Later on, as a freelance Feature Writer with several mainline dailies, I got to meet really interesting people who had carved a niche for themselves. Besides being exciting assignments, what all this pointed out strongly to me was that I had a natural affinity towards dealing with people and through my well-honed communication skills – written and verbal – I was easily forging strong relationships and getting the task done in the most effective manner. I guess that’s where the idea of getting into Public Relations germinated. Anybody who is a somebody in Public Relations will tell you that a liking for people and the ability to communicate with them are the two most relevant prerequisites for a career in Public Relations. Though not just it, as there is a lot more to Public Relations, these two do form the basis of a good foundation.

As a pleasant offshoot, the multicultural environment I have been working in has helped me to assimilate some of the best practices from different corners of the world. Besides the advantage of having worked with some of the strongest hotel brands, I have had the distinct challenge and privilege to reposition an old Hotel brand as a contemporary, top of the line hotel in India and Asia. This by far has been one of the best experiences in my eclectic career path that has enabled me to develop a 360 degree view of the PR & Communications profession and span out my learnings, skill and knowledge to the utmost optimum level. The point I would like to drive home is that you should welcome professional challenges and tasks that are high up on the difficulty quotient with open arms and be open to change management; adding to your professional weaponry quite admirably in the process.
What is fascinating about a Hotel PR role is that it turns you into a first-rate multi-tasker. In a day’s work you could be addressing a press briefing in the morning, working on a Newsletter or Advertising Campaign, getting involved in the organizing of a food festival with the Food & Beverage team or thrashing out the details of a Marketing Campaign with the Sales colleagues during the day, hosting a Lifestyle Editor for lunch, organizing a couple of press one-on-ones in late afternoon, catching a quick drink with a hotel guest in the evening and then getting ready to present a hotel event in the late hours. It is a checkered palate, all the elements of which you must handle dexterously and with optimum results. A tall order but one that keeps you excitedly involved and is highly satisfying at the end of the day.

With hotels you work with a lot of different departments and therefore different functions and business units much more closely than I would think in any other industry. Hence learning about these other functions will also stand you in good stead. One important lesson is to never pass up an opportunity for internal or external training, whether it is a Sales or Guest Services module being presented by the in-house training manager or attending a Summer University being put together by a panel comprising faculty from established institutes. The academic and learning interlude is not just a pleasant breather but also equips you with attributes to be an emerging professional in a global work environment.

Having enjoyed, thus far, every moment of a more than 15 year long breathtaking roller coaster ride with nail-biting challenges and pleasant-as-a-pie experiences, may I take this chance to share some of the fine things I have picked up in the course of working with great brands and a greater set of minds and present herewith my 25 golden rules of Public Relations -
1. Upfront attitude - a high level of honesty, integrity and transparency go a long way, a very long way in your career.

2. Easy accessibility - with technology in your palm and on your fingertips, there is really no excuse.

3. Reliability - you owe it to yourself, to the identity you have carved for yourself and to the brand you represent.

4. Exchange information relevant to new ideas - nurture the media, be nurtured by their exposure to a wide range of issues and develop a winsome two-way information & knowledge sharing street.

5. Give complete information - Tailor make it and often go beyond the brief.

6. From reporter to senior editor, treat everyone with respect - Today's cub reporter will be tomorrow's editor.

7. Adhere to timelines, however acute they may be - this may just be the single most important reason that keeps you in news and your competition out of it.

8. Be genuinely friendly and not falsely flattering - believe me when I say that people can see through the sham.

9. Be professional - would you like to be any other way!

10. Always be interested - in people, in issues, in the news, in your job. The six inquisitive men are, then, your best friends for life.
11. Out of the box – Bring a sense of uniqueness to your role, put forth new ideas, look at things and issues from a new angle, develop new approaches – all, mind you, within the overall Company Profile and the defined set of P&Ps; for that is what defines your brand.
12. Brand Image - In all aspects that define you – your physical personality, your ideation, your work ethics and professionalism, your communication skills – be the best brand ambassador of your Company that you can be.
13. Idolize - Develop mentors along the way – your immediate boss, a person you have a dotted line to, the Company CEO, an industry champion, an international whiz kid in your chosen field and keep on injecting doses of inspiration in the course of your work day.
14. Mentor others - Be a mentor to the people you manage or who are junior to you in experience. Be a friend, guide and philosopher to others. Set fine examples and get emulated. You will be remembered for years and in the most positive fashion.
15. Become tech-savvy – Today we live as much in the virtual world as in the real. Every day some other new technology or a gadget is added to the already exhaustive list. Learn new software, befriend a new gadget. Stay on top of the game.
16. Web 2.0 – Make this one of your strongest ally. Be seen, be heard, be read 24/7 and what’s more, be able to control what is seen, heard or read about you. Tailor-make, monitor, regulate and police what appears about your Company on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Blogs, YouTube etc.
17. The written word – Learn to write well. Being in Public Relations, you are often the in-house writer of Press Releases, Speeches, Backgrounders, Talking points, Newsletters etc.
18. The spoken word – Hone your oratorical skills. Blossom out behind the mike. There will be several occasions where you will be asked to present yourself on the podium. Make yourself and your company proud by shining out there.
19. Be a perpetual learner – Graphic designing for those in-house design jobs, photography or styling or power point presentations or more – keep adding to your skill set.
20. Become a part of the larger pie – somebody wants a business letter written or needs help with their resume, offer your services; the telephone operators need training on English language skills, pronunciation and pre-set statements, get out there and help; another department needs a hand on their manuals or presentations, be that hand and so on.
21. Tune in the Trainer in you – Media train and nurture the media talent within your organization – your CEO, the chef, the F&B Head, even the Chief Engineer, the Executive Housekeeper and the Security Head. When media come calling for a wide range of stories, guess who gets asked for the perfect sound bytes!
22. Need for Knowledge – know your industry well; learn about the functioning of the other departments. Being in PR all this information comes in handy when developing your communication capsules.
23. Network – Take part in Industry seminars, forums, panel discussions. Become part of Public Relations Societies, network with relevant trade bodies, club out with Alumni or Ex-employee associations.
24. Get buck-savvy – Learn to understand the balance sheets, study the annual reports, bring in element of profit protection in your area, negotiate well with the outside agencies when contracting them for PR work.
25. Superman-ly – learn to multi-task (that’s the exact nature of your role after all), wear different hats, learn to beat the stress without allowing it to impact on your efficacy, deliver under pressure and be a positive team-player. The sub-title is misleading – this is not superman-ly at all. It is all in a day’s work.
These 25 Rules have stood me in good stead regardless of the fact that I worked in Indian or International companies and had the opportunity to interact with a multicultural, multiethnic and multinational workforce that brought its novelty and work practices to the arena.
I am of the contention that, added to your unique set of experience in your defined work area, these 25 golden rules will at best be guiding factors in your work or at the least be pertinent points to ponder over.


PS - Picture courtesy - Google Images

Thursday, 11 August 2011


In Part Two of my Communications’ Checklist follow the remainder of the alphabets each hoping to enjoy a place in your mind space and get reflected upon on several thought-provoked occasions. Read on -

I mentioned this briefly in the FOOD head, but you need to have a big yen for photography. That a picture says more than a thousand words is so much more pertinent for hotels. There are guest room, Lobby, Spa, Pool, Banqueting, restaurant images to be shot for use in brochures and other collateral, food shots to be organized for marketing literature and the press and images to be developed for the virtual tours on the website.

Not only do you need to have a good panel of photographers you work with but you must also have a keen eye for angles, lighting, subjects, props, backgrounds, image size, clarity etc. and most of all a strong focus on the fact that the images define your brand personality and they must be within those boundaries.
Like for any other creative part of your portfolio, surf around for inspiration and do a competition check. You can also learn a great deal – at least where food photos are concerned - from your Kitchen’s and F&B teams.

It is often said that a PR person is as good as his or her lists. And this is largely true. You need lists to work through for a large chunk of your portfolio. Media lists being the most prime among the lot. And within Media there is the Top Editors list, Electronic Media List, Lifestyle Media, General Media, Food Critics, Restaurant Reviewers, Hotel Specialists, Travel Media, Business Media, Features Writers, Art Critics………….it is as wide as the network you wish to ensnare and work with.

Then there are the other lists that you need to keep in your top drawer at all times – List of local and international celebrities you invite to your events, list of PR Agencies, Event Management Agencies, Printers, Graphic Designers, Photographers, Merchandisers……….again the extent covers the scope of your work.
Keep your lists updated, weeded out and dynamic. Additionally, from a purely professional perspective, there should be a synergy between the key agenda and structure of your Social Media Lists be it your professional Facebook Friends, LinkedIn contacts, Blog Followers, Fans or Group Members.

As a Hotel PR Head you end up handling a large part of the Marketing pie too. This may not be true with large FMCG firms or big Real Estate companies or some other sectors where there are designated departments handling collateral design and production, direct marketing, direct mail etc. But in hotels, it is you who are responsible for a lot of this work.

So, please understand the 4 Ps of Marketing and 7 Cs of Communication and all that lies in between rather well and in the soundest manner.

As a PR & Communications Head of your hotel, you are also the Head of Marketing Communications. Therefore, you are responsible for devising a lot of marketing strategies in tandem with the Head of Sales & Marketing, initiating many a marketing alliances with like-minded companies such as Credit card companies, travel companies, Airlines, Car Rental companies etc. You also have to develop a lot of promotional material and at times represent your hotel in the international travel & trade shows such as WTM, ITB, ILTM.

With Marcom as a significant part of your portfolio, you are the person who has to plan, visualize and create all the Sales and Marketing Communications collateral required by the Hotel at large and by the Sales & Marketing, Front Office and Food & Beverage departments in particular.
Of course you will have the advantage of working with a panel of creative people ranging from graphic designers to printers to even paper companies but always remember that you are the TEAM LEAD.

I cannot lay enough stress on the importance, depth and broad spectrum of your media relationship. Sadly, even now, a PR person’s job is often thought to be limited to media relations, press release writing and dissemination and coverage in the press and electronic medium. Of course, you and I know that the scope of your work is much more than this and is consummately communications driven in all its aspects. But because media relations is the most important, result oriented and visible work that brings in the hugely important Third Party Endorsement that people often mistake your role for just that.

On the positive side, you are the one who gets your company in the news. You are the one who ensures that there is positive coverage of your hotel and its products - be it rooms, spa or restaurants. And what an important role this is, as you go about getting noteworthy column-cm space or sound bites on the media platforms as against paid advertising which is really bought over publicity.

Given the importance of this part of the overall communications cake, it is imperative that you know the media well. And this entails national, international, regional and local media. You need to know the senior editors and international journalists just as well as you know the beat correspondents. Your media list should span the range from business, corporate and news media to features, food, lifestyle and the arts. For you, both print and electronic media hold a lot of importance and you bring them into play depending on the assignment at hand.

And since media is one of your strongest allies, you must develop a long term and strong relationship with them that is based on mutual trust, respect and two-way information sharing. You must also be accessible at most times, even the odd hours. You must understand how media works, how they work on steep deadlines and the demands of ‘here and now;’ more importantly because you don’t want your prize press releases to be linings of the News office bin.

Finally, knowing the Foreign Correspondents based in your region is also as important. As a hotel, your establishment may not churn out newsworthy piece of information, but there are times when the Foreign Correspondent will be working on a feature piece and your hotel will have a top of the mind recall.

This is a very interesting part of your portfolio. I have had the privilege of not just working with an exciting lot of merchandise manufacturers and suppliers but have also had the opportunity to develop some of the nicest hotel merchandise by myself. From picture postcards, note cards, Seasons’ Greeting cards to golf balls, match box sets and silver cuff links, it has been highly satisfying to see the self-developed product range in the Hotel’s Boutique collection, guest give-aways list or the guest catalogue.

This forms the core of what you do and how you are supposed to be. As a PR Expert, you must be a people’s person. You must have good internal and external relationships. You must be able to communicate with and relate to a wide gamut of people ranging from the doorman to the hotel owner, from a socialite to a social activist, from an editor from India’s Fleet Street to a printer from the old world of Chandni Chowk.

As the Public Relations Officer, you meet an interesting array of publics, all in a day’s work – from artists, dancers, musicians, film stars to activists, scientists and sports stars. It adds a lot of spice, glamour, drama and high energy to your role and provides you with a lot of staple for interesting anecdotes, stories and pieces of information that could be used in your PR communication at times.

Yours is a very visible role. You organize and attend press conferences. You give interviews. You wine and dine with the media, guests and other important hotel contacts. More importantly, with a strong focus on external publics relationships, you are one of the most significant brand ambassadors of your organization along with being the chief guardian of the brand. With all this observable performance at play, you must have a pleasing personality both in terms of demeanour and the picture perfectness of the outward look.

You don’t need to be a high street brands slave or overly conscious of your look but you must carry yourself well, be perfectly groomed and embody the personality of your hotel brand.

There is something particularly distasteful about clothes horses who are flashy and show off their collection. Be understated like the quintessential hotelier who is a global citizen representing his brand within the cultural sensitivity of the local region his brand is situated in.

Be proper, perfect in your mannerisms and personable in your appearance and you are onto a winning start every time you need to make an introduction for yourself or your brand.

Public Relations need not only be a spending department – spending on collateral, events, media, merchandise, advertising, coverage and so on.
If you are a smart PR person with S.M.A.R.T tactical objectives and well thought out strategy, then you do not stress on a lot of monetary outlay to justify your work. Even when you handle a big PR budget, profit protection keeps at the core of your planning.

While advertising is important and more focused, media coverage is more feel-good, believable and notable.

Since yours is a Hotel, it is not always important to hire an event management agency. Your banqueting team is also quite qualified to organize the hotel events along with you.

With your years of experience in working with designers and getting collateral developed, at one stage you become extremely adept at doing things on your own, especially if you have a creative bent and have a penchant for designing. The same applies to all the writing work that you must do for the organization.
As part of your profit protection plan, get your website to do a lot of work for you in terms of publicity, newsletter dissemination and getting the good word out about your company.

You will find that the nature of your work relies heavily on research. You need to search for information each time you want to make your press release and backgrounders loaded.

You also want to be a research expert if you present reports to your Company’s Board, write manuals, conduct focus groups and surveys for specifically Communications or general hotel assignments.

I once had to work on an “Image Study and Positioning Analysis” for the New Delhi unit of the Oberoi hotel. It involved spot interviews, broad questionnaire based surveys, focus groups, guest interaction and a whole lot of research to make the Study composite and benchmarked.

As a Hotel PR person you are part of the Hospitality and Travel Trade. Hence know the Travel industry, its people and its workings well. Learn about Trade events and explore widely what is required from the PR front for representing your Hotel brand in these trade shows. Is there a Media Cell which has worked out a charter of things required to keep the publicity machinery actively pumping pre, during and post the event? Are there customized collateral required for certain markets? How much stock is needed of the standard collateral? Are you in a position to organize interviews and Press meets of your General Manager with the international media at these Travel Marts? The opportunities are endless.

A French boss I once worked with, certainly one of my mentors, urged me to acquire wings and travel to see the world. He said that as a Hospitality professional I should love travelling and have an inclination towards exploring other hotel brands during my stays abroad. What a fine and practical lesson there! You can’t get a more real and useful tutorial than experiencing places and hotels first hand.

The Hotel website is your baby, you know that. You have helped develop it or are responsible for keeping it clean and dynamic with up to date information. You are the one that feeds it with new information streaming in from other departments or the Company per se. You work with the IT admin, the SEO consultants and Web designers to make sure that your website remains the best selling tool for the Company and materializes real time sale for it.

In today’s world of Social Media deluge you have to be on top of the game of internet PR, Web 2.0 and Viral Marketing. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube are then your new friends on the technology driven media block. Keep abreast of the latest trends and developments and employ them effectively and optimally.

A PR person’s professional life, if it is really filled with something concrete and tangible then it is words – written, spoken, said, unsaid. As the PR expert you write releases, reports, newsletters, backgrounders, briefing notes. You speak at events, training sessions, interviews, conferences.

With such a large portion of your portfolio relying on words – in all their elements – you have to be a wordsmith who can spin the magic with your language and not only grab attention but also garner sales with your writing. A tall order that. But something that you need to master.

One of the most visible and significant part of my work across the various hotel brands I have worked with have been the body of writing I have left behind. It has been ego boosting to see the Press Releases I wrote appear again and again, each time with minor tweaking. It has also been highly satisfying to create and leave behind a rich resource of documentation, reports, manuals and other reference material that has proved to be a great bank of archival data and training material for those who have followed.

The Hyatts had ‘Feel The Hyatt Touch’ for a long time. And who has not heard of Mandarin Oriental’s ‘I am a Fan.’ During my tenure at The Imperial I had the unique distinction and first time honour to create these, I would like to think, immortal and unmatched marketing buzz lines– ‘The Imperial Experience,’ AND ‘The Imperial – Elegant, Exclusive, Exceptional.’

As a Hotel PRO, because you are part of an international Hospitality and Travel industry, because your guests come from all over the globe and because you work in a multicultural / multinational environment, it is imperative that you have an international outlook, be in step with the international PR agencies & the Foreign Media and be abreast with the global trends.

Global approach with the local essence should be your method of work and process of thought and you should be glocally savvy. Have a comprehensive world view and comprehensive outside-in thinking.

Finally, with a juggler like task with several elemental balls up in the air that you must not drop at any time, you have to a JACK OR JILL OF ALL TRADES and perhaps a master of few.

Enjoy the professional roller coaster ride!


Note 2 - Pictures courtesy - &

Monday, 1 August 2011


With 14 years of experience in the Hospitality Industry and having worked with a handful of market leaders and game changers, I find myself in an enviable position to impart some Gyan to those who are starting up in this fascinating industry or are wishful entrants into the world of Hospitality Public Relations.

What makes my experience so remarkable? I worked with Hyatt Regency, in the mid to late 90s, at the height of its glory when the Hyatt was singularly known to introduce exciting, never-tried-before food & beverage concepts to India:– Oasis - the rocking discotheque, TK’s – the teppanyaki oriental diner, Djinns – the first of its kind club / nightspot in India with its novel theme and concept dining & entertainment, India’s first Truffle promotion at La Piazza, Hyatt & Fashion – with its David Shilling, Ravi Bajaj shows. From late 90s to early 2000 I got onto the Oberoi bandwagon and got introduced to the epitomical concept of hoteliering. The Oberoi was and is the grand daddy of the Indian Hotel landscape. In my time with them I witnessed the launch of the Vilases in India and the opening of the Spa scene. While at The Oberoi, I conducted an Image Study and Positioning Analysis of their unit in New Delhi, organized Focus Groups for market research, brought about Graphic Consistency and Standardization of Business Communication to The Oberoi, New Delhi and became a part of the hotel team that saw the introduction of B.O.S.S – Brand Oberoi Service Standards. Then came the biggie. In 2002 I helped re-launch The Imperial in Delhi as India and Asia’s finest luxury hotel of historic relevance; wherein I got my hands dirty creating a Brand, establishing the Brand Identity and reinforcing the Brand Image. The mandate involved setting up the PR Department from scratch (yes, even the printer and the scanner), developing PR training modules, writing out an array of PR specific manuals, establishing synergies between the PR department and all the other departments – the entire nine yards. And the best part - my very small team and I did it alone, without any external help of agencies, consultancies et. al.
Additionally, while on a Cultural Ambassadorship to the United States, I enjoyed the privilege of either a professional orientation or an insider’s look at some of the finest international hotel brands – Ritz Carlton in Pasadena, L.A., The Pierre – then a Four Seasons Hotel in New York, Marriott in Washington D.C, Loews L'Enfant in Annapolis, Fairmont and Campton Place in San Francisco.

Putting to use this rich body of experience, I have in the past developed and given out my Success Tips ( /, my PR Mantras ( / and my Golden Rules for Public Relations ( /
Hotel PR is, obviously, different from PR in other industries. Understandably so, as the brand, its image and the product you are selling here are completely different from what is on the plate in FMCG, Diplomatic, Government, Finance, Automobile, Insurance, Health, Pharmaceuticals, Real Estate and other industries. The other places may, variedly, have elements of Investor Relations, Corporate Affairs, IPO announcements, Lobbyism and the like woven into the broad Communications or Public Relations role. Public Relations in the Hospitality industry is significantly different and specific to the industry form.

With this interesting baggage, I would like to complete my Trilogy of PR Pointers and summarize the key traits that should make for a noteworthy Hotel PRO.

To be safe and so as not to show any bias, I present my list in an alphabetical order.

More often than not, the aspect of brand advertising is part of your portfolio. So, on one hand you will need to understand the need from your top boss or the Sales & Marketing Head or the Director of Food & Beverage, develop a brief and then have an interface with your advertising agency so as to convey the company’s expectation in terms of creatives and the main idea. You must, then, know all about pegs, pitches, 4 Ps of Marketing, artworks, positives, final proofs, colour separations, media buying and the annual media plan.

On the other hand, you may be required to write out and develop the advertisements all by yourself. Just as I did at The Imperial. Of course, it is back-breaking work but who said Hotel PR would be a smooth ride, all fun & games, wining & dining. The huge reward – the pride and satisfaction of seeing my “The Imperial Experience” advertisements splashed in media as far and wide as The Times of India, International Herald Tribune, Condé Nast Traveller, Travel & Leisure.

As the Head of PR of your hotel or hotel chain, you have a host of agencies reporting to you – PR Agency, Advertising Agency, Market Research Agency, Database Agency and so on.

Please understand that you are on the same page with them and are not, in any way, in competition with them. Even if they are on the other side of the fence, they are, still, your extended team members. Pool in, assimilate and bring in different talents into the common area to devise strategies, solve problems, generate solutions, ideate and co-create.

Being in Communications you are the chief custodian of the Brand. And with direct access to the media, you are the key Brand Ambassador.

With all the Communication tools and PR strategies at your disposal, you are in that enviable position to build a brand and reinforce its image consistently in the minds of the relevant publics.

Apologies for the offbeat pun, but at least I managed to grab your eyeballs.

By virtue of your position, you end up hobnobbing with celebrities all the time – you plan events around famous artists and musicians, you lunch with a film star or dine with a famous author.

Also, on account of your role, you are in that unique place, unlike most others, where you actually get to build personalities and create celebrities. Think your General Manager, Executive Chef, Spa Manager, the much awarded Head Concierge, Sommelier, Horticulture Manager; even the Chief Engineer or Head of Security at times.

But please, under no circumstances, be under the false assumption that you are a celebrity yourself. Always the king maker but never the king. Be proud of your work, unique set of skills, your remarkable contribution but do not harbour any affectations about your power and position.

Sadly, I have seen Indian Hotel PR Managers have a huge attitude stemming out of their Hotel’s brand reputation and their position in the hotel and PR industry. From Rome to Paris, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to the United States - spanning both east and west coasts, I have interacted with PR people from these regions. And they all have been polite, practical and professional. So do yourself and your official significant others a favour and drop that attitude.

By that I mean Corporate Social Citizenship. As the PR Head of your hotel or hotel chain, the onus of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) lies with you. Along with the top boss, it is you who has to develop the CSR plan and budget. You need to focus on the kind of charities you think your organization should associate with in sync with its brand personality – so it could be environment, disabilities, AIDS Awareness, Slum Children, Education for the under-privileged etc. As a CSR team lead then, it is you who is responsible for the implementation of the CSR Plan.

On account of your media associations, of being a spokesperson for your organisation and because of the linkages with other visible publics and their forums, you are a prominent figure in your own right. Use this privileged position to cultivate your own leaning towards personal causes and lend your support, as an individual, to the causes you espouse. At Hyatt Regency I created the Hyatt Environment Brigade along with the Training Director. At The Oberoi, I stretched out to the Walk for AIDS campaign and volunteered with the Blind Relief Society. This is to say that along with the CSR, develop a strong focus and commitment towards PSR – Personal Social Responsibility.

From finding a staple pin in the Crab lunch of a Food Writer, high society escorts conducting business from your hotel lobby, Restaurant Manager failing to recognize the big-headed and irrepressible Restaurant Critic, Housekeeping staff leaving dust and dusters in the suite of a renowned Hotel Reviewer to finding a depressed, Page Three figure trying to drown herself in the Presidential Suite Jacuzzi or a Celebrity TV Personality jumping off the eighth floor terrace to his untimely death – you have handled all this and more.

And this wide range of situations is what makes you a Pro at handling crisis at work and being at the helm of Issues Management.

Develop a Crisis Handling Program and a Crisis Management Manual during peace time and bring them to effective use in times of crises. Be astute, be quick on your toes, be accessible, communicate and be responsive (NO “no comments” line; at least as far as possible, otherwise you let the contradictory viewpoint go to print uncontested), be practical and wisely honest, bring together the key handlers on the same page, cut out grapevine as much as you can and centralize information dissemination.

Databases are the lungs of a Hotel PR Pro, as much as they are of any other PR expert. Since your job entails organization of events, sending out of invites, posting out Direct Mail and mailing Newsletters and other marketing literature, you must keep the Hotel Database clean, updated and dynamic.

There are two ways of doing this – If you are responsible for the Hotel chain then you must employ a good Database Management Agency. And they must be bloody good and responsible set of people who collect, maintain, clean and mine your data. If you have a smaller database for your Company then handling it yourself with your own team and the extended teams from Sales & Marketing and Food & Beverage is the way to go. Also, please make sure that all sets of teams are integrated well and understand the importance of keeping clean and up-to-date database at all times. Otherwise, imagine the downside – the cost incurred and the embarrassment drawn in for dispatching newsletters to corporate clients who have long moved on to a different organization.

And yes, this aspect takes into account intelligent and effective maintenance of the electronic database too. A lot more so now, when we all seem to exist in a virtual world and everyone is just a click away.

As a Communications Crusader, your work involves documentation, filing, maintaining archival backgrounders and reportage. You not only organize the publicity for your organization but must also share the coverage with the significant publics through media reports. Then, there are manuals and SOPs to be documented; collateral to be archived for future reference; press and general events to be kept record of; Best Practices to be chronicled. In fact, most of your work is such that it needs to be systematically filed and documented for reference, training and as record management.

The Hotel PR Head is also the Chief Events Manager. There are hotel events that you plan either by yourself or with your Food & Beverage and Banqueting teams or with an Event Management Agency that you employ for a said event; all depending on the size and importance of the event. Then there are certain internal events that you helm with the HR Department and as part of your Internal Communications Strategy.

So, there would be art exhibitions, music concerts, sports days, golf tournaments, celebrity tennis matches or cook-ins, supper theatres, book launches, specialty speaker engagements, Children’s day, charity auctions………….the palette is as checkered and vibrant as your imagination, creativity and your organization’s stance.

About 50 % of your work centers on Food & Beverage Marketing. There are Press lunches and dinners to organize, F&B newsletters to produce, marketing collateral to develop, media talents such as chefs, sommeliers, bartending showmen to get interviewed, Press Releases and backgrounders to write, innovative food events to create along with the Kitchen’s and F&B team – be it Progressive Dinners, Wine Dinners, Exotic Food Promotions or Country specific Food Festivals. Which means that you need to like the subject of food – not just as something that sustains you or that you relish in it’s out of the ordinary avatar but also in its pedagogical relevance; understand the culinary nuances; know a sizeable amount about different kinds of foods, ingredients and cuisines. This knowledge should also encompass drinks and wines as an additional area of interest.

Additionally, you need to cultivate shades of a food stylist and hone your photographic eye so as to ensure that your food shots are special, uniquely shot and good enough to eat; because it is your food shots bank that will assist you in a whole lot of your marketing and PR initiatives.

In my career, I have had to develop websites and newsletters – external, internal and special, visualize promotional material, create invites, build up business communication manuals and develop standardization of communication and graphics used by the Hotel. This has helped me hone my designing skills and bond strongly with the design team, data operators, graphic specialists and the like.

I have been fortunate to have worked with Brands that gave me a freehand for creativity and graphic representation so much so that I, often, wore a twin hat of an in-house Graphic Designer.

Recently, a job description for a Communications position with an international hotel giant significantly stated Photoshop as part of the key skill set in the desired candidate. So, inclination towards designing and graphics is something that will always stand you in good stead; either to do things on your own or even to be able to get the best out of your creative guys.

Guests are one of the key stakeholders for you. They stay in your rooms, they eat in your restaurants, they use your spas and fitness centers and they are your loyalty club members. So you must meet them frequently and get to know them.

Every hotel has mini events such as GM’s cocktails or one-on-one dinners planned for the long-stays, Annual parties for another set of guests, Year-end galas for yet another set and so on. You must be an integral component of it and be a part of the matrix known well by your guests. One of the finest tricks I have learnt from the international General Managers I have worked with (and it is true that the foreign GMs, even South-east Asian for that matter, engage far more in this than their Indian counterparts) is to do Lobby duty. Just be in the Lobby during meal times or at the beginning of important events or in the evenings when guests return to their rooms and see how easily you begin to recognize guests, develop a rapport and seal a bond with them.

I hope you enjoy my ABC of PR. I will run through the gamut of the remaining traits in Part Two of this article.

Picture courtesy - /