#Luxury Venues require Luxury Customer Service

May 3rd, 2017   •   no comments   

I have had the pleasure of working with some luxury service organizations over my career as well as frequent them as a paying customer. There is an art to a certain type of communication that is pervasive in the most successful businesses. Whether it’s a spa, a luxury hotel, a fine dining establishment, or even a gym–your services are wanted but not necessarily needed. They are a “nice to have option” –sometimes for the wealthy–or, like me–the working girl who puts away money in a rainy day fund for such occasions. Recently, I went on a girls trip to DC and stayed one night in the Trump Hotel (the old U.S. Post Office) and one night at the historic Hay Adams hotel. Both very high end and pricey (3 of us split the cost of 1 room). The trip was planned in advance so we got decently priced airfare on a non-stop from Memphis to DC.

Today I went to the gym–an “Anytime Fitness” near my house that we have used for years. It’s not really “luxury” but we do pay for it monthly and our whole family uses it. It is not a “must have” venue as I could easily workout at home if I wanted or in my neighborhood or a public park nearby. When I entered the gym, someone who works there said, “Haven’t seen you in a bit….” Hmmm. Got me thinking!

It does not matter if you own or run the Trump Hotel, a day spa or a gym: What you say to your customers and how you treat them is critical. I have worked for many people in the “service” business and have been amazed at the missed opportunities to make someone’s visit really special. Here are some pointers:

  • When someone walks into your gym–instead of pointing out that you haven’t been there of late–(Do  I look fat? What does that mean? Are you counting?…) you might should tell them you are happy to see them and to have a great workout. Also, I don’t know about you but when I get to the gym, I’m usually there on a schedule and I don’t want to chat to people there. Be considerate of their time and perhaps consider that they go to the gym to get AWAY from people (and talking) to have some personal time. I also don’t like talking to other patrons at the gym. Thankfully headphones have helped deter the chatty-gymrats from approaching people.
  • Customers are parting with precious, hard-earned dollars to come to your venue. How you greet them will set the tone and expectation for the experience. At the Trump Hotel we were literally not allowed to touch our bags as the doormen and hotel staff joked that it was their job to take care of us. I felt like they treated everyone like a queen or king. Across the board the service was so good that I would go back and say it’s worth the cost. The same goes with The Hay Adams Hotel.  And be sure to tip those people well while you are there, too.
  • To waiters and servers in restaurants: Please ask if I want my tea glass or wine glass refilled. I don’t like large pours of chilled wine because it gets hot faster and I would rather pour it when I want it. I was in one place recently where the waiter told us to put our menu in a chair once we were ready to order to signal her so she didn’t interrupt our business. Great server!
  • If you are a spa our massage therapy venue, please refrain from talking to your patrons while they are getting their treatment unless they initiate a conversation or want one. I have a massage therapist that I see less frequently than my gynecologist (THAT needs to change) and he is fantastic. He is quiet and only talks to me if I ask him something. It is a precious and much needed hour of total solitude, and I do believe in the health benefits of massage therapy.
  • If you are a luxury car dealer, you know how your customers like to be treated–especially when there is a problem or service issue. My car dealer (Lexus of Memphis) knows how to treat customers. I can brag on them if I want to because this is my blog and they have been clients and friends for years. They hold Saturday workshops for their new car owners and go above and beyond to serve their customers–most of whom are lifelong ones. One day I was in a meeting at Lexus and the service manager had to leave our meeting to go personally pick up a customer’s car that was somewhere in Arkansas. He dropped everything and took care of it. That’s what keeps buyers coming back to Lexus. Great product and maybe even greater service. That is truthfully why I will likely always drive a Lexus–even if I have a previously owned or used one….the service is worth it.

Customers have lots of choices where to spend their money. I think service can make or break any organization especially when the cost of that service classifies it as “luxury.” I have never taken any hotel management training but I have known people in the hotel industry who talk about the intense training the staff go through in attempts to earn the top “star ratings.” With yelp, trip advisor and social media sites, most luxury businesses cannot afford to be off their game and my guess is that most are not.

Viral Vulgarity: Our New Normal #PR #SocialMedia

April 20th, 2017   •   no comments   

It has been a few weeks since we all watched a man be assaulted and dragged off of a United Airlines airplane. This week, we have seen a Facebook Live murder of an innocent elderly man–clearly a terror attack caught on video and posted for the world to see. And here, in my hometown of Memphis, TN, a recording of a racist rant (taken in Turks & Caicos) has gone viral putting Memphis–once again–in the race crosshairs of global media. Unreal.

As I have watched these events unfold, I cannot help but have this nagging feeling in my gut that says, “what is going on?”  What used to seem like normal “scandals” (love affairs, theft, etc) are being replaced with horrendous acts of violence and assault on others. Be it verbal or physical, the bar is raising for the level of vulgarity we all see online and in the news. Is this acceptable? Does a civilized country or community (or industry) sit back and dismiss it as the new normal? I hope not.

My career in public relations (mostly corporate) has taught me a lot about people and how the media actually works. I have been in the middle of some really turbulent storms and worked side by side with some of the best in the business. Crisis PR is not for the faint of heart or inexperienced newbie. It is some of the hardest work there is and often you are “damned if you do” and “damned if you don’t.” So in today’s new world of global PR–served up with a heaping dose of viral, social media platforms–we are seeing a new level of vulgarity. We are seeing it because there are cameras and recorders all around us. And I cannot help but wonder this: Are we getting worse and allowing (accepting) more bad things in our world, or do we just see more of it? Gone are the days when something bad happened, but nobody had to witness it and often times, it went unreported.

I am glad I am not just beginning in a career of PR or media. I am grateful for my 30 years of being in the trenches working and learning. That experience cannot be replaced or manufactured. Every crisis endured teaches you more and you apply it to the next one. I can spot a crisis brewing like a my German Shepard can spot a four-legged trespasser in our yard. Experience is the best teacher and there is no substitute.

As I reflect on the past week and each “crisis of the day,” I think we have crossed into a new era of accepting vulgarity and passing it around like snacks on a tray. It’s wrong. It needs to stop. We need to go back to teaching our kids how to be civil to others if not kind. We need to teach our college kids this as well. People need to feel bad when they do bad. It’s not acceptable to beat another human being–verbally or physically. It’s not acceptable to assault innocent people for having differing views. Enough is enough. If we don’t return to being civil and kind to one another–especially when we disagree–what type of society are we becoming? What type of culture is brewing at United Airlines for it to get to the point where an innocent passenger is assaulted, knocked unconscious and dragged off a plane? What type of CEO would initially try and reject any wrongdoing?

The PR lesson here is this: If you do something wrong (and maybe we should even go back to defining the difference between right and wrong) you will be caught. There is more than a good chance you will even be recorded and taped. You will land on You-Tube with thousands or millions of views and your heat-of-the-moment vulgarity will be on display for the world to see. There are lots of different ways to handle it, spin it, deflect it, etc. but deep down, there is really only one way.

I have always told my employees and my children that it’s not always what happens to you but more importantly how you handle it. Vulgarity is for the uncivilized. We need to get back to understanding of doing the right thing(s) and better PR will follow.

 

United Airlines: Worst PR Case Study I have ever seen

April 11th, 2017   •   7 comments   

I have worked in a PR career for 30 years–that is a long time! If experience is the best teacher (and I think it is), I have learned much about corporate PR strategies over my career and I have concluded that this United Airlines story of a passenger being dragged off a plane is the worst I have seen in a long time. Maybe ever.

How does United recover from this unfortunate incident? They won’t. My best guess is that by now, the world has seen the video–it has garnered national media attention and lit up Twitter and Facebook with graphic footage of awful mistreatment of a passenger being assaulted and dragged off the plane.

There are, of course, many things wrong with this situation. For United, they are going to be boycotted and sued by the passenger who was assaulted and maybe others who witnessed it all. The airline will spend millions defending itself in the court of law but more importantly, in the court of public opinion.

Assaulting paying passengers and treating them in the way that the Chicago security/police officer did is wrong. I think criminal. Why do airlines overbook? Corporate greed is why. They make money banking on selling more seats as many passengers miss connections or don’t show up for a flight. Rather than reserve those seats, they re-sell them in advance. And somewhere, written in their policy is their right to kick a paid customer off a flight. This has to change. How many businesses do you know that could sell you something, you pay for it, and then it gets taken away legally. Not right at all.

Next, comes the airlines terrible response. The CEO actually apologized for having to “re-accommodate” passengers. What type of PR person wrote that? After I read his response–which was too late by the way–I wondered if he actually saw the video before he approved what copy the PR team prepared for him to approve and release.

What REALLY happens in big, public companies like United when there is a PR crisis? The lawyers and PR team huddle up to look at policy and decide what to do. The PR team drafts what they THINK should be the right response (many times they are so out of touch they cannot possibly get it right) and they run it by the legal team–sometimes this takes hours–for final approval by the C-suite or CEO in this case and it gets released.  In this case–the response was so bad that I truly wondered if the CEO saw the video before his response was issued. Even worse if he did see it and approved that response!

It was the wrong response. You only get ONE chance to come out with the right response. United’s CEO, Mr. Oscar Munoz, will likely be fired over this entire event. And he probably should be. The PR team should be replaced as well. It seems United has not learned from the past (remember “United Breaks Guitars?”). Just a few weeks ago they had a “legging” attire issue where a gate agent made some passengers change clothes due to some policy United has about non-rev passengers attire policy. This blew up social media as well but was a much different issue. You would think United would get it. They don’t.

So the bottom line is that no amount of “good PR” can help United now. They had a small window to make this right and they missed it completely. Nothing could be more important than dropping everything to correct this horrible incident. Was the CEO too busy to mess with a really smart response? Did the PR team think it would just go away? PR is 24/7 now and Twitter is the trip wire for news. PR teams don’t have the luxury of time in a case like this. That’s why brands need experienced PR professionals who can make good and right decisions on the fly (pun intended). And social media has CLEARLY changed traditional PR. If you are going to do PR, you must be ready for the viral backlash. Pepsi learned a lot this week–one would hope. One thing I think about and I tweeted yesterday is that we’ve had social media now for 10 years. Why do brands keep missing the mark when it comes to PR? (Target, Pepsi, United…)

United’s Twitter account is comical in light of yesterday’s incident. Tweets about “feeling blue” when flying over the Bahamas will only set the airline up for the satire and harpooning it deserves. In a real crisis, a company like United needs a unified strategy and Twitter would certainly be a part of that strategy. As I write this I note that 21 hours ago they finally pinned a tweet with the CEO’s written statement–the one that missed the mark completely. Adding fuel to the fire, that statement.

United made the first mistake by overbooking. The next mistake was to kick people off the plane AFTER they had ALREADY boarded. Then to do what they allowed and ordered as seen in the video is almost surreal to me. Given these happened (they shouldn’t have happened in the first place), the ONLY thing to have done was admit guilt, apologize for the truth–the video is correct–and not try and blame the passenger. I think the passenger was fully within his rights to not want to leave the plane. United had a choice at this critical point and they really messed it up. You cannot reverse what happened, but you can own up and try and sincerely make it right. The CEO should have written a far different statement and followed it up with actionable steps. A single statement isn’t a PR strategy. Next thing they’ll do is ban cell phones with cameras from the plane. That is not the solution either.

They’ll find out soon enough that the cost of doing all the wrong things far outweighs the cost of doing the right things.

Updated #PR Guidelines for using Twitter

January 23rd, 2017   •   no comments   

 

If Twitter needed a “boost” to the brand, it is certainly getting it with the Trump’s tweets being watched 24/7 and the media constantly referring to his Twitter stream. As we have heard, it has allowed him to take his message directly to his audience. Politics aside, there can be much learned from one of the world’s most powerful users.

For years I have told clients that Twitter is a great platform for telling your story. I have written blogs on the subject and once appeared on a national Fox news segment for using Twitter for good. When used properly, it can be very powerful. As we watch the world engage with media and Trump (like him or not) we should think about how we can use Twitter to further our own cause, brand or campaign.

As Twitter has evolved–and many are asking where it is going–I believe it is one of the absolute best platforms for news and events. Watching a sports team and following along in the conversation using the hashtag is a prime example. When there were earthquakes in Italy last week, the world turns to Twitter for live information. It has tremendous news value. Therefore, anyone in PR or media must also be using and watching what is happening on Twitter. Here are some updated and refreshed observations and “guidelines” for you to think about in your own use of this powerful platform.

  • Twitter is a global platform: I like Twitter for its open platform. Anyone can find information and the public nature of tweets means the media can find what you are saying, screen shot it and use it in their stories. Sources don’t even have to talk to reporters now because their Twitter feed is their voice, their words. Very powerful and Trump has certainly been a prime example of this.
  • News breaks on Twitter first: I have long said that “Twitter is the tripwire for news.” If anything happens, you are likely to see it on Twitter first. Everyone has a smart phone and everyone is reporting what is happening with video, photos, etc. What this means for journalists is that PR is 24/7 and viral–everyone has to work a lot faster.
  • Best practices have evolved and are here to stay: We are no longer in the “test” phase. Corporate guidelines have been established and companies now have policies in place for using Twitter.
  • Lawsuits now have their place in Twitter history: People have been sued for saying certain things on Twitter as it is a powerful data source for brands. Don’t tweet false information and use a valid source if you are arguing a point.
  • Corporations don’t want Twitter controversy: Just as big brands use Twitter for customer service they also steer clear of negativity.
  • Your internal message is also your external message: the internet has merged your personal information with your professional information. Gone are the days of having a “personal” page–your name ties you to all that you do and Google has it all. And if you are a reporter or in the media, putting “my tweets are my own” does not necessarily absolve you from accountability. The old rule of verification prior to posting still applies. So although citizens can certainly “report” (and do), media must continue to verify and be the “gatekeepers” of the facts.
  • “Stalkers of Talkers” is what I call people who join Twitter for the sole purpose of listening. Older professionals (me included) who grew up in the “traditional PR” days know that Twitter is a great place to take a look at what people are saying. Twitter also gives people insight into how others may be thinking. If you are in a position of public service or government service, you already know that you must be careful of what you say online (not just Twitter).
  • Twitter is classified by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) as a “Mico-blogging” site. Under this classification many guidelines apply for brands and here is a link to the newest FTC guidelines for 2016 http://mediakix.com/2016/09/ftc-social-media-guidelines-2016/#gs.EtTXlkU
  • Twitter causes more “crisis PR” for brands: PR and Twitter especially go hand in hand now. If you are in PR, you are on Twitter. Clients need their PR pros to understand Twitter, know how to monitor and engage to solve problems. Although there may be more issues for brands, they do seem to have a shorter lifespan.

I hope you liked this and if you did, you might like other posts on my blog at www.howell-marketing.com.

Trump: America’s New CEO: Not Business as Usual

November 12th, 2016   •   no comments   

If you don’t like all of the continuing conversation about this election, it might be a good idea to take a long sabbatical to the Bahamas. It’s going to be a long transition.

It seems like many people I know are just glad this election is over. Actually, I think it is just now beginning. It will take some time—maybe more than we want or expect—for our nation to heal. This has been a long, hard fought battle on both sides and although the results were ‘shocking’ for many, there were many who secretly hoped and prayed for change. I believe Trump will bring positive and needed change to our country and her people. You don’t have to look further than the voluminous Wikileaks to realize the level of runway corruption existing in our government. It is difficult to fathom that we have more workers on the government payroll than we have in manufacturing. It’s time to bring our jobs home. It’s time to reward (not over tax) small businesses—the backbone of American ingenuity. Americans have spoken and the map is red. The founding fathers knew what they were doing with they created the electoral college—preventing tyranny and two states controlling our election.

But healing is going to take awhile. It’s not easy to accept it when both sides have fought with unbridled passion—sometimes cruelty—for their candidate of choice. It is emotional. Even more, it’s personal. Here are the reasons I think it will be awhile—beyond the reactionary protests — before we heal, shake hands, agree to disagree and stop the “mean tweets.”

This election was personal—many people are hurting financially, working hard jobs just to make ends meet and watching DC squander their money. They are using the “power of the purse” to ensure change.
The media missed it and had false hopes and propped up, delusional reporting about why Trump would lose. The ‘shock’ hit many with a force too strong to snap out of quickly. Too many people just cannot seem to face the reality that they lost and this will echo for awhile across all media platforms as we watch them scramble to change, redirect, pivot.
The FBI and NYPD and others will continue to investigate the many criminal acts that have been exposed. We’ll be hearing about it daily so this will drag it out and remind us of this election almost daily.
This corruption and exposure of these crimes will dominate the news, social media and emphasize it continuously, which in my opinion, will ensure Trump’s continued victory as more exposure of corruption unfolds.
Americans who voted for Trump are highly angered by the massive spending and inefficiency in our government—they are determined to do better and they will be talking about it as Trump puts his leadership team together (which he has not wasted any time doing).
Social media is the ‘new media’ now and the election has exposed collusion and corruption in our mainstream media—there will be a shift-a sea change-in how we view news as new media emerges. I think Twitter and Facebook have a lot to gain if they can put their obvious bias aside and view their organizations as businesses. Americans have the power of the purse—media outlets who have been dishonest will likely lose viewers, helping fuel these new media—even through crowdsourcing. There is already evidence of it being reported in financial publications online.
Trump is an outsider, out of the box, thinker and man of action—he will be committed to proving he can build the wall and meet his campaign promises to the people—he’s that determined. I believe he will do it all and more. He will work harder than any recent Presidents and his sheer determination will propel many of his supporters to rally behind him.
Trump will be communicating his victories and using his massive PR team to celebrate his wins as President—just as a good CEO should. He will not be employing the traditional mainstream media as he has already demonstrated by not inviting them along his plane ride to DC to meet with Obama–something that has been a “shocker” to the media. And why should he? He has 14.7 million Twitter followers and even more Facebook fans. His team can just tweet out what they are doing and the media will be forced to cover it. His supporters will carry his messages far and wide and if the mainstream media is smart, they will swallow their pride and get on the Trump train!

It’s not a transition. I think we are entering into a revolution of new media, sea change in government and a new, energized ‘silent majority’ who came to vote. 5 million African Americans voted Trump. 11 million Latin Americans voted Trump. They want a better way of life, closed borders and enhanced job security.

Can Target Survive the Bad PR on the Transgender Bathroom Issue?

May 4th, 2016   •   2 comments   

Time and politics will tell if Target Corp. can survive the bad press they are getting and the stock decline on the recent controversial “transgender bathroom” policy—which in my opinion, they didn’t need to address.

If you are doing public relations and communications for brands like Target, you are likely trained to view all policy strategies from multiple views. I am wondering if Target really took the time to do this. If studies are correct, the “transgender” community is less than .004% of the population. Consider that statistic for a minute. read more

Amy Howell Keynote Speaker to the Missouri Bankers Association at the Women’s Banking Conference

April 24th, 2015   •   no comments   

If you don’t tell your story, somebody else will. This morning Amy Howell delivered a keynote speech “Promoting Your Brand Through Social Media And How Social Media Has Changed The Way We Do Business” to the Missouri Bankers Association at the Women’s Banking Conference. Amy Howell, founder and CEO of Howell Marketing Strategies, has been recognized for her social media expertise as well as her advocacy for women in business as co-author of Women in High Gear.IMG_9341

Giving insight into duel subjects, the power of social media for business as well as high gear women in business, Amy shared her personal experience from her firm’s activity for a multitude of clients. She was able to share what works and what doesn’t, as well as the secrets to building your brand online. In her presentation, she shared how social media has forever changed public relations and media and how traditional marketing and digital marketing must co-exist.

If you’re interested in having Amy speak at an upcoming event or conference, contact Howell Marketing at info@howell-marketing.com

Here are some photos Amy shared from her fun time speaking with group! #MBA #banking #ABA

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Prepare for “Mobile-geddon”

April 20th, 2015   •   no comments   

In business, you have to stay on top of your game. Small things can sometimes make a big difference. For example, tomorrow, Tuesday, April 21st Google is making a change to its mobile search algorithm that will change the order in which websites are displayed when users search for something from a phone or tablet. This change will enable the algorithm to favor mobile-friendly websites and demote websites that to not cater to the mobile users.

As someone who regularly utilizes technology and social media and understands the importance of accessibility of information on your reputation, I encourage businesses to invest in making their websites mobile-friendly in order to keep your number of website visitors up. This is even more critical for smaller businesses that rely on localized searches. Businesses that have mobile-friendly websites will not only be favored through the update to Google’s search engine but also improve user experience. If a visitor is able to easily navigate your pages and the content is written mobile friendly, you increase the chance of converting visitors into customers.

I would encourage business owners to reach out to their current provider to discuss these changes. If you do not have a website/SEO provider that you are currently satisfied with, please contact us today and we’d be more than happy to help.

For more information on Google’s changes check on this article on Business Insider

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50 Viral Experts on Twitter

March 27th, 2015   •   no comments   

 

Epic Presence, intelligent internet marketing company, has released their list of the 50 experts on twitter that best understand the process of making a message go viral on Twitter. I am excited to be included in these 50 individuals who have been named the go-to people whenever there is a piece of content or an idea that needs to reach thousands of targeted people in a hurry!

Check out the full list here!

 

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Follow My Lead–Important Advice from a National Recruiter

October 30th, 2014   •   no comments   

Williams-Sonoma

Pictured left to right: Tammy Gilbert, Cindy Pruss, Amy Howell, Patti Clauss

This week I had the pleasure of meeting with Patti Clauss and her HR team, Tammy Gilbert & Cindy Pruss, about leadership, social media best practices and “high gear” thinking and doing that makes them an elite and effective hiring team. Patti is the Director of Global & Executive Talent Acquisition for brands Williams-Sonoma Inc., Pottery Barn and West Elm. She is also a woman in high gear and a great friend to those who know her.

During our team meeting we were discussing the importance of good communications and she said, “One strategy is to follow my lead. If I email you, email me back. If I call you, call me back. Don’t call me if I have already emailed you.” This struck a chord with me. I know it sounds basic but it is really great advice for job seekers and business people in general.

Another thing we discussed is the need for clear, concise communications–on the phone, in person, in an email, text, etc. Our texting days are likely an obstacle to some for learning better communication styles. Texts and emails do not replace face to face interaction. There is so much that is left out or missed in a text vs. a real life conversation. I doubt I’d have any clients if I had to capture attention through texting.

Whether you are job hunting or working in a job, remember to think about how those around you communicate. If your boss emails you, email back. If she calls you, call her back. If your business associate sends a text, text him back. Sometimes the exception to this rule for me is when I’m driving in my car and I can’t text but I can talk. Or, if I see an important email that has a long tail for response, I will pick up the phone and discuss the issues.

Do you think about how you communicate? What can you add to this list? Do you follow your client’s lead?

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