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 - /