Recently I took an 11-day trip from New York to Seattle to St. Louis to Chicago and back home again. I attended a wedding and five baseball games in three cities. I even took time to do a little business in between sightseeing, eating, and drinking. I was also on the lookout for public relations winners and losers in the various cities I visited. I was surprised by some of the PR winners and even more surprised by some of the PR losers.
PR Winner: American Airlines.
Amazing, right? Consider the fact that I flew five flights into four airports over 11 days and I encountered zero problems. An equipment issue delayed one flight by about 30 minutes, but the pilot quickly and clearly communicated the issue to passengers. Employees were helpful, courteous, and compassionate as they let my overweight baggage slide without additional fees at three airports. My luggage was undamaged and arrived without a problem. Throw in the fact that I upgraded to first class very cheaply on the last flight segment and I’m happy to say that all of my anxiety about flying so much over a short period and on a tight schedule quickly dissipated. Did I get lucky? Perhaps, but this is the second time in a row that I’ve had an above-average experience flying with American Airlines, a good example of first-rate customer service acting as a first-rate public relations tool.
PR Loser: Seattle
The Emerald City is a wonderful place. At least I think so. Seattlites, however, apparently have a different take on their hometown. Casual acquaintances, an old friend, cab drivers, bartenders, baseball fans, and salespeople were among those who dissed their city after they found out I was from New York. I’ve honestly never been to a place with such a self-esteem problem, and I’m still not sure if it was all part of some ploy to East Coasters from migrating. People apologized for the weather, “boring” nightlife, lack of culture, traffic, public transportation, and just about everything else. The odd thing is that the weather was absolutely beautiful for most of my visit, the nightlife was fun, the Seattle Art Museum is a great institution, traffic is mild compared to most major cities, and I rode the bus for free most of the time. Blame it on the rain, perhaps. Seattle’s civic, business and cultural leaders–and public relations firms–would do well to remind people that they live in a great city and that residents should spread such a message.
PR Winner: Starwood Hotels
I stayed at the Westin Seattle and Sheraton St. Louis City Center, hotels owned by Starwood hotels. Staff at the Westin were exceptional and both of my stays were great. I was able to check in early at both properties and they even let my father, who beat me to the Sheraton by four hours, check in without me despite the fact that he wasn’t on the reservation. I’m a member of the Starwood Preferred program and the company has treated me very well. My experiences with Starwood hotels went a long way towards building customer loyalty, another example of customer service doing a public relations department’s heavy lifting.
PR Loser: Hyatt Hotels
When I think of Hyatt I generally think of high-quality hotels in the four-star arena. The Hyatt Regency Chicago would be one such a hotel if not for the fact that it resembles a drunk tank at Mardi Gras. I’ve never been in a hotel populated by so many drunks. One woman threw up in the lobby, another woman screamed “fire” in the hallway at 4:45 AM, and three guys used an elevator as a wrestling ring. The hotel staff was ill-informed, twice badly misquoting prices offered by third-party services but booked through the hotel. The experience really sullied the Hyatt from a public relations standpoint as far as I’m concerned, and my father took some grief from me for booking us into what seemed like a perpetual prom night.
PR Winners: Restaurants
Be it Samurai Noodle in Seattle, Tucker’s in St. Louis, or Hopleaf in Chicago, every restaurant experience during my trip lived up to my expectations. I mixed in a smattering of “must eat” places with some local joints and came away impressed. I read about these businesses online and it was nice to see businesses deliver the promised experience, a bit of public relations synergy between web site developers and ground staff. The best meal of the trip was the Italian sausage and peppers at Harry Caray’s in Chicago. (We were skeptical about eating there, but my cousin’s husband, a local, suggested it.)
PR Loser: MetroLink
The light rail system in St. Louis is great because you can basically ride for free. There are places to purchase tickets, but there are no ticket-takers or machines to process tickets. Apparently you’re supposed to validate your ticket at a punch machine on the train platform, but you wouldn’t know this unless you spent a lot of time studying the system. I bought a $4.50 one-day pass and used it for three days, riding the train to and from the airport and area attractions. I think I could have gotten away without buying a single ticket, pressing my luck that no transit worker or police officer would ask to see one. The Metro’s public relations department needs to do a better job of explaining the ticketing process.
This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.