For Hilton, Crisis Planning and Flexibility Prove Key in Uncertain Times

Hilton hotel being cleaned by man in mask
Cleaning of Canopy Hilton Hotel, April, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Will Newton.


With PRNEWS’ Crisis Management Virtual Event coming March 24-25, we’re getting to know some presenters. Every speaker on the roster is a communication leader. Perhaps no other time has tested communicators' crisis management chops more than the last 12 months.

In this installment, we hear from Nigel Glennie, VP, global communications at Hilton, who offers insight into the communication issues in the hard-hit travel and tourism industry and a preview of what he’ll be sharing at the conference. 

PRN: What is your role at Hilton?

Nigel Glennie: I am honored to lead the global corporate communications function. This is a smart and talented group of professionals who deliver executive, owner, financial and crisis communications for the enterprise, and provide PR and communications support for Hilton's 5,400 hotels across North, Central and South America.

Nigel Glennie, VP, Corporate Communications, Hilton
Nigel Glennie

PRN: As a leader in a sector the pandemic has hit hard, please share examples of campaigns or initiatives you’ve rolled out over the year to respond to issues from various stakeholder groups?

Glennie: The global pandemic has had an outsized impact on the travel and tourism industry. Unfortunately, our hotel and corporate teams have not been spared. Even as we wait for travel to return to pre-pandemic levels, I am proud of what our communications and corporate responsibility teams have been able to achieve.

We supported first-to-market programs delivering on the guest experience with the launch of Hilton CleanStay, worked with our partners to support first responders with the donation of one million rooms, and managed the most significant business and personnel challenges in our company’s 101-year history.

My favorite announcement was from our consumer PR team, who kept Hilton front of mind with our guests, even when they weren’t traveling, with the release of the DoubleTree by Hilton bake-at-home chocolate chip cookie recipe.

Despite the most challenging of years, Hilton achieved much in 2020.

PRN: How would you describe your core philosophy around crisis communication? Has it changed during this unprecedented year we’ve had?

Glennie: I believe that the best professional communications, especially crisis communications, are values-led. Each letter of our company name (H-I-L-T-O-N) represents one of our core values, and it all starts with hospitality and integrity. Even as our smaller communications team has adapted to a new environment and a range of difficult issues, we know that if we lead with hospitality and always do the right thing, we’ll be on the right path.

PRN: Your team is no stranger to strategic crisis communications. How has the team applied their expertise in the face of global crisis? Any core competencies, skill sets or approaches you felt came in particularly handy?

Glennie: A core skill of any crisis communicator is scenario planning, and yet 2020 proved to be a year that was completely unpredictable. In January, the global travel industry was thinking about another H1N1 or SARS, but by the time February rolled around, we knew from our Asia Pacific colleagues that we had something different on our hands. Still, the ability to predict what might happen next, remain flexible, and respond accordingly was important–even when our usual time horizons had shortened dramatically.

PRN: PR pros often carry the burden of being always on to respond at the pace of social media and the news cycle. Have you picked up tips for work-life balance given so many of us are working full-time remote for the first time?

Glennie: The importance of having a great team and a tried-and-true response process in place was critical to us managing through 2020. Without these, members of our team would not have had the confidence to step away from the laptop to recharge. Personally, my wife and I maintained the practice of 'sanity walks' each evening. We’re on a treadmill now during the winter months, but the chance to leave the laptop behind, talk about the day, and get some fresh air continued to be important.

Register for PRNEWS’ Crisis Management Virtual Event (March 24-25) here.