Culture

How Shangri-La Should've Handled that PR Cat-astrophe

Three public relations experts weigh in.
IMAGE Cats of BGC (facebook.com/bgccatsph)
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Over the past week, Shangri-La at the Fort has landed in hot water for hiring a pest control agency to relocate the stray cats residing on its property, as well as the adjacent park. Angry cat lovers flooded the hotel’s Facebook page with scathing one-star reviews, many of which quoted Republic Act No. 8485, or the Animal Welfare Act of 1998.

To make matters worse, many of those who left one-star reviews found that their Facebook accounts were suddenly suspended. Many believed that Shangri-La’s social media team was reporting their comments to Facebook. When asked for comment, the hotel management sent Esquire Philippines this response:

“Due to the recent unusual level of activity on our Facebook Page (Shangri-la at the Fort Manila), we have observed that Facebook has been automatically flagging posts as spam.

We would like to categorically and absolutely deny that our social media administrator has anything to do with the flagging, nor with deliberately blocking users.

This issue is an automated function of Facebook and is beyond the control of our social media administrator. It should not be misconstrued as a deliberate action on our part to censor comments and reviews being made on [our page].

Our research showed that Facebook, in a past post, had previously explained its Spam Prevention Systems. This could very well explain as well what is happening to our page.

Rest assured that we are taking the feedback very seriously and are looking into this matter with Facebook Asia Pacific. We shall update you on the matter as well.”

The situation is a PR nightmare, if ever there was one.

So what should Shangri-La do to gain back the public’s trust and goodwill? We asked several PR experts (some of whom asked to remain anonymous) to weigh in.

 

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AMOR MACLANG
Founding partner, GeiserMaclang; ISO 31000 certified risk, issues, and crisis management practitioner

Her Take:
Everyone’s talking about the #CatsOfBGC, and what this unexpected controversy is, is primarily a failure of stakeholder engagement.

What is stakeholder management? It is the necessary process wherein a business or organization involves people who may be affected by the decisions it makes, or who can influence the implementation of its decisions. 

For example, it can be the government, regulatory bodies, the estate management arm of BGC, and in this case, pet groups, communities, or even animal activist groups.

In an era of technology and social media, the stakeholder base has grown wider and wider. The Internet has created the imperative for stakeholder management.

The heightened awareness for not just civil but also animal rights has created a milieu wherein businesses are not just accountable to the SHAREholders but also their STAKEholders.

There need not be an exchange of money for a relationship to take place. Say for instance, a cursory scrape of the online sphere would have easily shown a high regard and fondness for what I term as the Cats of BGC. Even the chairman of the subsidiary of a bank I advise promotes heartily the care for these cats.

How could have they turned a blind eye? Maybe [by] not (social) listening?

The fact that we are talking of a third space, the parks, makes the issue not just a matter for a private corporation to deal with.

We were part of the communications team when treeballing was done on Ayala Avenue and the issue barely raised a peep because of the exhaustive efforts towards stakeholder management. As opposed to the very same act done in Baguio by another developer.

Never at any time has there been a demand from companies to be more transparent than ever before.

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Transparency is the new integrity. 

What Shangri-La Could Have Done Differently:
For Shangri-La: Consultation with the local pet groups and clubs and even a thoughtleader [such] as PAWS. A simple consultation could have yielded other means to care for the cats and manage the issue. 

They could have even done an adoption drive and made the community rally around the Cats and even around Shangri-La.

For PestBusters: If what they say is true, that no cats were harmed, the process could have been made more transparent and documented, thus making it easier for them to explain to the public. Silence on this issue will not save them; transparency will, if indeed the cats were properly cared for.

An official statement informing the public what was done for the cats is in order. Moreover, even if you’re a B2B Organization (business to business) you need to act like you have accountabilities like a B2C Organization (business to consumer).

Stakeholder engagement is done prior to the fact and after the fact. Transparency is the new integrity and the public demands to know what happened to the Cats of BGC.

What Shangri-La Should Do Now:
Shangri-La's apology needs to include an admission of their shortcomings. Something like:

"Clearly, we need to be more sensitive towards the animals of our locale. Moving forward we will conduct animal sensitivity training with CARA, mandatory for all operations personnel.

Additionally, we were not very communicative or collaborative with our local community. From here on out we will make it a point to keep open lines of communication with the rest of our community, and let people know when we are doing something that could affect them.

We are very sorry for our shortcomings here. We will make it a point to do right next time."

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PR EXECUTIVE A 

What Shangri-La Could Have Done Differently:
[A] thorough environment scan of the impact of such a move would have given management crucial information to make an informed decision. Either they did not have this information or they chose to ignore said information.

The positive thing that can come out of this incident is that it can become a teaching moment for all of us, cat lover or not, to be more aware of our surroundings and community and to know how to properly care for street animals.

What Shangri-La Should Do Now:
Control the narrative within 24 hours. This is done by being transparent to the public. If there was mishandling, then an apology should be given and the course of action be revealed. If there was a good reason unknown to the public, then this can be explained as well. For example, do the cats pose any threat to humans? To kids? Is it a temporary move with the end objective of giving them a final home? 

By showing genuine contriteness and honesty, this incident can be turned into a teaching moment for the public on the caring of street animals and an opportunity to gain positive feedback for the hotel.

Should They Comply with Public Demand to Show Photos of the Adopted Cats?
At this point, they need to assuage the public and regain public trust, so showing photos as proof is almost a necessity.

(They can wait it out until the public forgets—because Filipinos can be quick to switch to a new issue. But when this will happen, and how long before the public forgets is anyone's guess, and within this period they would've lost control of the narrative again, so this is not recommended)


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PR EXECUTIVE B

What Shangri-La Could Have Done Differently:
Think, think, think. They were not thinking, and should have asked a proper PR [team] before calling a pest control company. They should realize the power of social media!

What Shangri-La Should Do Now:
Harm has been done, but moving forward, the hotel has to work hard to rebuild [their] lost reputation as a caring corporate citizen. Highlight all positive initiatives they are doing.

Should They Comply with Public Demand to Show Photos of the Adopted Cats?
Yes, show the staff with the cats. Little stories of the employees [about] why they adopted the cats even before the unfortunate incident. Furthermore, to show sincerity, the hotel should start feeding all the cats in the world! (Joke but as punishment they should do that!)

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