This past Friday, I met a conference organizer at the Grand Hyatt in New York City to shoot a quick, two-minute promo video for his upcoming event. (I'll hold off on saying which organizer and which conference at this point -- not really relevant to the post and he hasn't announced the lineup for his event yet.) He lives out of town and figured the Hyatt is centrally located -- plus he was staying at the hotel as a guest that evening and has a long history of renting Hyatt facilities for his events. A little loyalty goes a long way, but as you'll see in a minute loyalty is a two way street.
Rather than set up in his actual hotel room (which would have been weird and creepy) we found an empty conference room where we thought we could do our quick shoot without disturbing anyone. It clearly wasn't rented for the day; for that matter it didn't seem any of the conference rooms were rented for the day. No harm, no foul. Right?
Wrong -- while we were checking sound and lighting, the hotel's Director of Security entered the room and began giving us the third degree, in much the manner you might expect from a C student who has been dressed in a shark skin suit and vested with a bit of authority.
Who were we? What were we doing? Why were we in the room? Was one of us really staying at the hotel that night?So hey you've booked events at Hyatt before, so who's your contact? I'll call him to check out your story.
Simple enough questions -- with simple enough answers, which we delivered calmly and professionally while asking the security guy to (quite simply) consider that my cohort was (1) a guest and (2) a professional meeting planner who has done business with Hyatt, then grant us the favor of five minutes in the meeting room. His manner: an obnoxious mix of confrontation and condescension. His response: only if we wanted to rent the room for the day... Barring that, he asked us to leave and shoot our video elsewhere.
Don't get me wrong. I understand that the man was simply doing his job and he was well within his rights to ask us to leave the room. But he was well outside his comfort zone when it came to creative problem solving -- and ignorant of the fact that even the security guy creates a brand impression (a bad one in this case) and that even the security guy must work to serve the customer (maybe even more so than to serve the hotel.)
Nonetheless, we left the room without any more fuss and found a quiet spot in the Grand Hyatt's open space. Just as we were ready to roll, the Director of Security rolled up and, while he didn't quite drop the f-bomb, essentially asked "what the fuck do you think you're doing now?" (yep, with the f-bomb clearly implied by his tone of voice and body language.) He then went on to tell us we couldn't shoot video anywhere on the hotel property - that it quite simply is not permitted, period. Now, I've stayed in plenty of hotels and if it is forbidden to shoot video in a hotel's public space I've certainly never heard it before. No more vacation memories? Bah. I should point out we were shooting with a decidedly consumer- grade camera (a Kodak Zi8) and not some fancy professional rig. (In other words, he can't have mistaken us for a pro crew shooting for tv or theaters...) We might have tried to argue with him, but it was clear he wasn't about to budge.
So we took our gear and shot our video outside, across the street from the Grand Hyatt but facing so that neither the property nor its logo appeared in the shot - after all, if Hyatt (and yes, I mean "Hyatt" not "some guy who works for Hyatt" because at the end of the day that Director of Security is nothing more than an ambassador for the brand) couldn't extend us the simple courtesy of a few minutes in a quiet room, we certainly weren't going to extend the courtesy of promoting their hotel with free product placement in a video with will most likely be viewed by several thousand senior business executives (read: frequent business travelers.)
I haven't seen the finished video yet but I think the raw footage turned out pretty well. We took an awkward situation, overcame it by going with the flow and doing things differently than we thought we would do them when we started.
As for Hyatt - well, at the deft hands of their security director (I asked his name but would you be surprised to learn he declined to tell me?) took what could have been a positive situation -- just one more micro-interaction that would make two business travelers feel good about doing business with their company -- and turned it into something awkward and negative by sticking with a "this is how we do things" attitude and an "our property, our rules" mindset.
I'm not exactly looking to blow this out of proportion a la Dell Hell or Delta Skelter. Besides, I can't think of a good rhyme for Hyatt. But if nothing else, I think that my recent experience at the Grand Hyatt hints at the importance of infusing new thinking throughout an organization. It's not enough that the marketing department secured some funds for a Facebook page or got corporate buy-in for Twitter if the people who interact with customers day-to-day and face-to-face aren't prepared to help.
So after that long set-up, I'd like to hand it over to you. If you were Hyatt -- the company, the corporate communications team, or even the security director in New York -- what would you have done differently?