Shut off the 'spin' cycle
by Melissa Barreca
Shut off the 'spin' cycleBeing open and proactively forthcoming can solidify your good standing in the community, public eye
Public Relations by Melissa Barreca & Kathy Callahan
Melissa Barreca is public relations manager at Ameristar Casino St. Charles in St. Charles, Mo.
She can be reached at (800) 325-7777, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kathy Callahan is director of communications for Ameristar's corporate office in Las Vegas.
She can be reached at (702) 567-7053, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
A common perception may be that PR is all about putting a "spin" on a story-presenting it in a positive light. Or according to Dictionary.com: "to provide an interpretation of (a statement or event, for example), especially in a way meant to sway public opinion." But say the word "spin" and most public relations professionals cringe.
Getting your company's message across in a meaningful way is not about spin. It's about trust.
Last month, our column focused on how highly employees rate trust and how to foster that through internal communications. This month, we look at trust from the point of view of external audiences.
Without fail, the brands that succeed in building trust with constituents enjoy greater success in every dimension of their business. Consumer loyalty is
higher. Employee retention is greater. Regulatory constrictions are more manageable. Resistance from interest groups is lower. In general, they do business in an environment of relative advantage-and that impacts the bottom line.
Creating this value position is a strategic effort. It's not nearly enough just to say the words "trust me." Building trust with external constituents takes commitment and planning, and it takes time to take hold.
Are you with me or against me?Start by recognizing that your business has a number of external stakeholders, each of which has a unique relationship with you. These stakeholders may include the general public, customers, prospective and future employees, retirees, suppliers, the local government officials, local neighborhood businesses, regulators, competitors, media and perhaps even social activists like anti-gaming groups.
Some of their interests may overlap, and some may be opposed to one another. For example, the city may be delighted that you plan to add rooms to your hotel and therefore generate additional tax revenues, but area hotel owners may feel less-than-enthusiastic about increased competition.
It pays to run through a checklist of these groups when planning and implementing external communications programs.
Think pyramid shape, with trust at the pinnacleBuilding a broad, strong foundation across multiple dimensions supports your ultimate goal of creating trust. Demonstrate your property's commitment to the community by charitable giving and volunteering time on boards or in community activities. Solicit speaking engagements with local civic or business groups that can become advocates for your business. Form a community advisory board to engage influential community leaders on issues related to your property.
And of course, work with the media. Continue building relationships with the media through good times and bad. On important stories, take the time to provide them with substance and background.
Obviously, this isn't a job for one person-not for the general manager, head of human resources or the PR representative. Which is why it's vital first to build an environment of trust within your property, so that all employees can support and work toward your goal of building trust. Once you have established trust on the inside, it's much easier to transfer it to outside constituents.
Anticipate vulnerabilitiesEven with the most trusted products or services, issues happen. A slot machine payout malfunctions. A celebrity goes public about their gambling problem. Concerned citizens protest gaming expansion in their community. A company is challenged on its minority purchasing practices.
If you identify potential vulnerabilities for your property before they happen, you're already ahead of the curve. Hopefully, you're already proactively communicating on "hot button" issues and letting your constituents know about the good things your company is doing in each potential area.
In addition, working to address these issues head on when they flare up can minimize their potential impact. For example, you have responsible gaming programs in place, or you can point to facts about the positive economic impact our industry has brought to markets across the country. If you have really done your homework, you have developed a strategy for communicating on these issues as well as developed an initial message that's ready to flesh out further.
When asked about how he would advise companies on communicating bad news, a senior PR practitioner succinctly said, "Tell the truth. Tell it all. Tell it now." Not a mention of the word "spin." It may not be easy to do, but it's the right thing to do to build trust for your company or your property.
For more on the subject, check out Trust or Consequences: Build Trust Today or Lose your Market Tomorrow, by Al Golin, founder of Golin/Harris International, a leading PR firm. CJ