Sunday, February 13, 2011

Planet Of New Orleans

Editor's Note: In the first of hopefully many future retrospectives in GonzoKaleidescope (the feature promised in a press release in this space almost a year ago), the following was a review of Gonzo's first trip to New Orleans during Halloween Week in 2003. In anticipation of the culmination of Mardi Gras on Fat Tuesday, March 8, here's a reprise of an article originally written for the UO PRSSA newsletter.

After the six-hour flight from Portland, my goal was to get to my room at the Radisson New Orleans, which doubled as the 2003 Public Relations Student Society of America National Conference Headquarters, as expeditiously as possible. Little did I know that my wait in line at the hotel registration desk would rival my flight time from the City of Roses to "The Big Easy," as it has come to be known.

Arriving at the Radisson on Canal Street in the French Quarter, a smartly-dressed bell-hop in full uniform, complete with matching hat, shirt and short pants greeted my with a jovial "may I carry your bags, sir?"

Since the doors were glass, it was clear that the line for the registration desk extended all the way to the hotel entrance. "No thanks," I replied. "I think I have everything under control."

What transpired next was very likely my longest wait ever to secure a hotel room. After two hours of waiting alongside increasingly disgruntled students, some of whom were left without a room despite having reservations, I finally received a key card to my room.

Our student contingent from the University of Oregon was less fortunate than I. After a long wait, they finally did receive key cards to their room. There was just one problem. When they went to their room, another group of students were already there. "You're the second group they've sent up here," they were informed.

Who would have thought life could be so hard in "The Big Easy?"

The problem, we ascertained, was twofold: overbooking and a major hotel remodeling project virtually guaranteed chaos in this highrise adjacent to the French Quarter.

In hindsight, I was lucky I only needed a room for myself.

My UO students persevered and prevailed, checking into a nearby Comfort Inn. However, their new berth would cost more, which could be an issue when reconciling expenses.


The next morning, at a conference session entitled "effective crises communications," we collectively took note when the speaker told the group of young public relations professionals that they need to "stay out in front of a crisis."

"Did the Radisson believe that a lack of available rooms, slow banquet service and various other problems would go unnoticed among the hundreds of public relations students from across America?" I asked myself. "Didn't the management realize that these very same students would someday become public relations professionals with a choice of where they might want to stay during a business trip or vacation, and that they not only likely wouldn't choose to stay at the Radisson, but that would tell all their friends about their experience?"

Later that day at noon, after dealing with yet another tediously long wait for lunch, we pointed out the hotel's "public relations problem" to the PRSSA organizers. "We just wanted you to be apprised of our situation," noted Taraneh Foster, the most vocal in the group of UO students, "just in case PRSSA is named in any lawsuits over our failure to secure a room when we had reservations."

To its credit, the PRSSA National Conference Committee -- noting that it was indeed a public relations problem for the hotel -- agreed to cover the extra expense for the room at the Comfort Inn, and said the hotel would publicly acknowledge the problems.

The whole issue provided a real-life case study in crisis communications, with good news on two fronts. The UO PRSSA students could be assured that they wouldn't have to dig deeper for the extra dough for their room during the conference. And the Radisson would offer its regrets to all the PRSSA delegates at one of the general sessions, though none actually witnessed the "mea culpa."

I think we were all down in the French Quarter checking out the planet of New Orleans.

Standin' on the corner of Toulouse and Dauphine, waitin' on Marie-Ondine. I'm tryin' to place a tune under a Louisiana moonbeam on the planet of New Orleans.

In a bar they call The Saturn, and in her eyes of green, and somethin' that she said in a dream. Inside of my suit, I got my mojo root and a true love figurine for the planet of New Orleans.

New Orleans, the other planet, with other life upon it, and everything that's shakin' in between. If you should ever land upon it, you better know what's on it, the planet of New Orleans.

-- Dire Straits, On Every Street