The paint was dry, the beds were made and the employees were hired. At Colwood’s first-ever hotel, the Holiday Inn Express, almost everything was ready to go. It was November of 2015, and the owners of the 80-room franchise hotel even had a ribbon-cutting ceremony planned for the coming days, complete with a media release ready for distribution.
For developer Lloyd Wansbrough and his family, this was the culmination of an $11-million labour of love. But by news standards, the project risked being another forgettable, run-of-the-mill item, along the lines of a cheque presentation or walk-a-thon.
Then something happened that thrust the hotel into the daily news cycle — and into the hearts of local residents.
Days before opening, torrential autumn rains caused flooding at the nearby West Shore Lodge, a supportive living residence for seniors. Emergency officials scrambled to deal with the rising water while attempting to evacuate all 64 vulnerable residents.
Wansbrough immediately recognized an opportunity to support his community while also boosting his brand. He offered to open the hotel, days earlier than planned, to the displaced residents. It meant a flurry of activity, including a final safety inspection, corporate approvals and notification to staff to report to work earlier than expected.
“We didn’t turn to our communications guy and say, ‘What do you think?’ We just did it because it was the right thing to do,” Wansbrough says now.
“A lot of this was just timing. If the water problem had happened the month before, there would have been nothing I could have done. We were still under construction.”
And yet, in an instant, it was a masterful stroke of communications and community relations. More than a dozen frail seniors relocated to the unopened hotel, and the goodwill gesture scored more media coverage than the ribbon-cutting ceremony ever would have.
“Holiday Inn Express offers emergency shelter to Colwood seniors before opening,” screamed the CBC News headline.
For the Right Reasons
How many other businesses would have moved with such speed, forethought and consideration to leverage a bad-news event into a feel-good moment for residents and business alike?
“We didn’t expect to get all the coverage,” says Wansbrough. “But people do care and people do react to those kinds of things. Are they at my hotel for that reason? I don’t know, but I feel good about what we did.”
The way he describes it, this was merely a case of good timing. But too few companies think about the importance of communications to the vitality of their business. They painstakingly consider their product, service and business plan, but communications is often overlooked.
It’s not just about external communications, to the media, community or customers. It is also communicating directly to employees, ensuring they are aware of a new product, launch date or management issue.
Preparing for the Unexpected
Communications planning is essential to success. It’s a business tool that outlines how you intend to share your story, how you will advance your corporate goals and how you will interact with external and internal audiences. All of these things can impact your reputation, brand, sales, marketing and more.
Without a strong communications plan, your business might be unprepared for challenges and change, or you may miss opportunities to reach new customers.
When you have good news to share, such as a new location or product, a strategic communications plan will ensure you are delivering the right messages to the right people. And when something goes wrong, such as a product recall, a fire or employee misconduct, a plan can ensure you are reacting quickly, effectively and with consistent messaging.
The early hotel opening in Colwood was the marriage of a smart business decision and strong communication. Lloyd Wansbrough has some advice for other new businesses.
“Support the community and the community will come back and support you. Sometimes you may not see it immediately, but you will succeed, and you will feel good about your contributions.”
Jim Beatty is a communications consultant who spent more than 25 years in journalism. He is the principal at Jim Beatty Communications specializing in strategic communications, media training and crisis communications.
This article is from the April/May 2019 issue of Douglas.