The Many Faces of Public Relations

Despite its importance in any marketing program, public relations seldom gets the attention it deserves. This may stem from confusion about what it is. The dictionary defines public relations as “the gaining and maintaining of public support and understanding.” One way to look at public relations is to divide it into target groups: community relations, press relations and customer relations.

But what about competitor relations, purveyor relations and employee relations? Look at the marketing plans of hotel company after hotel company, and you won't find one word to suggest these publics receive any attention at all.

Competitor relations

Many companies believe their competitors' attitude toward them is insignificant. Still, I can name instance after instance where a competitor's goodwill resulted in the booking of business.

At the Capital Hilton in Washington, D.C. scarcely a week went by when our friendly competitors didn't refer group business to us because of our excellent relationship, nurtured over the years. Oh, we loved to outperform them, but we maintained a relationship that ensured a referral when they couldn't handle a particular piece of business. We invited every new salesperson for lunch and a tour of our facility to get the relationship off to a good start.

Purveyor relations

A great many salespersons sold to our competitors and us, especially in large cities. We often proved this ‘public’ could swing business our way and established marketing programs to solicit business from them and other programs for those who didn't. We knew it would help our sales efforts if our employees treated all salespersons with friendliness and respect.

Purveyors would often say, “Those guys at Hilton go out of their way to be nice to us even if they don't give us much business.” We solicited their group and individual rooms business, as well as their catering business.

Employee relations

Happy employees contribute to a better product. When employees feel management is in their corner, they treat guests better.

One front-office manager would practically come to blows with his staff. I remember thinking it would take at least an hour before one of his employees could possibly smile at a guest. You couldn't escape one of the donnybrooks in his office and possibly treat guests the way you should. Sales should encourage employee-relations programs that have a positive impact on employees' attitudes.

Other publics

A California hotel used public relations to solve a security program; it provided free coffee 24 hours a day to encourage police to visit the property. The practice almost brought crime to a halt (Think what a few donuts might have done.)

At another hotel, a taxi-relations program offered special meal prices, 24-hour coffee and an annual party to increase the availability of taxis. That's public relations at work.

Tom McCarthy, CHME, CHA, spent half his career with Hilton and Marriott in sales, advertising and public relations and half in his own training and consulting business, Hotel Professional Education and Consulting of Falls Church, VA. He is a past president of Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI) and a member of the HSMAI Hall of Fame. Reach him at or 703-931-0757.

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