One day in the mid 90’s, working as the public relations manager for an un-named hotel casino, I received an afternoon call from the newsroom of the local paper. I was surprised to hear his voice, as he was the city editor with a reputation for being tough as nails. Typically, I was far from his radar, as I mainly dabbled in dining and entertainment.
As I cheerily said, “Oh hello Mr. X.” he sharply snapped, “Why are there naked ladies on the public golf course?”
I can only imagine the long pause of utter shock on my end of the phone. We’re a hotel casino, what on earth would we have to do with naked ladies on a public golf course?
With a touch of dread and a great deal of curiosity, I asked if he could elaborate. Mr. X quickly sneered that he’d received calls from residents living on the golf course that there was naked women running around. Even worse, they said they were a part of our (no name hotel casino) golf tournament.
No, we weren’t hosting a golf tournament. I would certainly know, heck, I would’ve been heavily involved with the promotion. I kindly explained that his informant must have been mistaken, we weren’t hosting an event that particular day at that particular course.
He barked again, “You go ask the owner, I’ll hold on the phone until you get back. I want answers, now!”
I figured I’d just put him on hold for a few moments, and then get back on the phone to reassure him again. Then, suddenly, a sinking feeling took over my stomach. This particular hotel casino did have a reputation for keeping my predecessors in the dark, perhaps I was falling victim to the same fate.
I strolled into the general managers office who looked at me at though I’d broken the golden rule (the one where I needed an appointment to enter) but knew it was too important to ignore. I explained the accusations and that the city editor was waiting, unhappily, for an immediate response.
Without a moment to consider, she asked her assistant to call one of the casino hosts. She quickly mumbled something about a VIP golf tournament and pursued her quest to scold this host as opposed to “deal with” the pr situation at-hand.
As I turned back toward my desk and the blinking phone, I could only imagine what the families on this golf course were being exposed to. Forget the birds and the bees, drinking, women for hire, all on a hot sunny day? There isn’t a parenting manual to cover this show.
Without any direction from the general manager, I had seconds to strategize our approach. Pass no comment? Clearly that would be the kiss of death. Try to convince the editor that we were still looking into it? Then I lose the opportunity to control the info being provided, as he’ll drive right down to the golf course to “look into it” for us.
I knew what to do, trust my instincts (as any good communications professional would) – tell the truth.
I picked up the phone and did my best to appease an unhappy editor. Yes, it was a VIP tournament hosted by our hotel casino. Yes, these men and women we’re behaving in a highly appropriate manner. Yes, we will make sure everyone involved is reprimanded and yes, we will issue a public apology to the city.
I bet your wondering if an unfavorable article ran, the answer, of course, is yes. It was one of the front-page stories. Could it have been worse, definitely. Although I suspect it could’ve been better had our general manager or owner directly given the editor the attention he deserved (nothing like an apology from the person in charge).
Moral of this story:
- Make sure you know who is representing you, both on and off campus.
- Inform your communications representative of all / any activities taking place.
- If something goes awry, get ready to grovel. Don’t have someone else do the dirty work, it never pays off.