Rio Requires Personal Due Diligence – Of Swim Teams, Photographers and PR

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A good deal of conversation during the Rio 2016 Olympics — other than the games themselves — has been the rate of crime in Rio. Prior to the story of four US Olympic Swim Team members being robbed at gunpoint emerged, the story of Stratos Safioleas the CEO of an International Media Relations, Campaign Communications, Social Media, and Media Crisis Management company, and the official Social Media advisor for the 2018 games was shared heavily by Mr. Safioleas and others. (see

From the UK’s DailyMail:

The crime wave scarring Rio’s troubled Olympics has included Greek Stratos Safioleas, a public relations bid specialist, having £6,000 worth of camera and computer equipment stolen while he was having a meal in the Marriott Hotel next to the Olympic Park. The hotel refused to show him CCTV, so he called the police.

As a result, the hotel will no longer deal with him, so he has hired a lawyer to take legal action against them

Planning for a broadcast negative customer service issue should now be Standard Operating Procedure. It does no good to say “Well, the customer is being unreasonable” or to in any way imply that the customer may be at fault. Planning for an unreasonable situation is much more realistic and should be a standard part of message mapping exercises. Also, while this response from this particular Marriott may work during a quieter travel time, it is on a global, world stage and that is the most likely time for a communication fail to go viral.

Firestorm Partner Ken O’Dell of MHP Structural Engineers is a occasional world traveler himself, and has the following observations to share:

Ken ODellTaking our old mantra of “Everything you learn in the first 24-hours is probably wrong…” and converting it to the social media world, I’d suggest that “Everything you learn from Social Media is likely out of context…” Trying to read between the lines of a one-sided story of frustration is like trying to read a novel with every other page missing. Since we don’t have the other pages we allow our minds to make up the actions and dialogue to fill the gaps.

With that in mind I offer up the “Ken O’Dell Axiom on Social Conversations”: “Conversations without context are like an imagined ailment without treatment … they come on quickly, can be uncomfortable, are vague in symptomatic detail, often leave you feeling out of sorts, but even when untreated eventually go away and are forgotten.”

Related:  Olympic Photographer Robbed in Rio, $40K of Gear Stolen in 10 …

We recently traveled to Spain where my 11-year old daughter learned very quickly that you don’t leave your purse (or anything of value) on the back of a chair in a restaurant’s open patio seating area. Fortunately, a waiter caught her attention and suggested she move it to her lap. For the rest of the trip, whenever she sat down, she wrapped the strap around her leg once and kept the purse at her feet or in her lap. Her mom and I then made it a learning experience when we checked into hotels; we had her read the fine print of the check-in forms that almost always read that the hotel “…is not responsible for lost or stolen items,” but that we were welcome to use the hotel room safe or front desk safe to store any valuables we wished.  I don’t travel internationally much, but even I, and now my 11-year old, know that you don’t leave valuables unattended or in easy reach regardless of where you are, hotel lobby, hotel restaurant or back of a cab.

Taking the Rio situation at face value:  All we know is that an individual had a camera and computer equipment valued at £6,000 stolen while he was eating at a hotel’s restaurant. The story doesn’t actually say it but let’s assume the camera and computer where with him at the time in the restaurant… (but could they have been up in his room?). The hotel refused to show him the CCTV (tape or feed?), so he called the police… once the police were called the hotel Rio rio0 Rio1  Rio3notified the individual that they could no longer assist, but they did offer that he could contact them for further assistance… (this appears to be a poorly worded way of saying the police are in a better position to handle this). With the Hotel’s apparent continued refusal to take responsibility or assist, the individual sought legal representation. With lawyers now involved the hotel staff were no longer able to discuss the matter with the individual.

Taking what we know and playing the game of “Out of Context” let’s see what we don’t know:

In requesting the CCTV information did the individual present themselves as a qualified security specialist that could actually do something with the information gained from the CCTV feed? I don’t see the story telling us that he had the resources to track down the perpetrator in a city of millions.

In asking for the CCTV we have to assume that cameras where visible, but we can’t assume we have knowledge as to their function. Perhaps the hotel did not wish to disclose that the cameras were dummies for deterrent, or that they were just installed for the Games, but were not fully functioning yet. There are plenty of examples of cameras having live feeds only but no tape, or just being for “show.” But, I’m going to go with the guy just wasn’t qualified to “see the back office security operations of an international hotel” no matter how distraught he was about losing 9K worth of personal items.

From Stratos Safioleas Facebook Page:

The night of August the 4th, the police has placed an URGENT request to the hotel to turn in the footage from the cameras that have captured the moment that my bag was stolen behind my back, while I was sitting at the Marriott’s restaurant for a meeting with my team. The shift manager has confirmed to me that night, that they saw in the security cameras a guy behind my back leaning and lifting my bag.

The marketing manager of the hotel has accompanied me to the police station, and he has received the document with the police’s request for an immediate release of the footage.

Yet, the manager of the hotel tells the lawyer who is helping me with this mess, that they have NOT received any such request, which of course is, how to put it mildly, a lie.

In the course of the discussion, the management suggested that they don’t know if my claim for this particular type of camera and lenses is true. May be I didn’t own these equipment. So here it is:

On July 31, my colleague Roberta Guaschino shot this photo with her cell-phone as I was taking pictures during the dress rehearsal of the Opening Ceremony. I am using a Canon 5DSr camera and a Canon 100 – 400 zoom lens, inside the Maracan Stadium.

For added injury, I am wearing this red jacket, that I always carried with me, as at night the weather can turn unpredictably cold. This jacket, together with my other lens, bag, electronic gear etc. was lifted while I was sitting at the restaurant, and all Marriott International, a global hotel chain, is doing is stalling and pretending to cooperate, hoping that the two next weeks will pass and as I flyi out of Rio, I will simply have to give up, and be forced to take a loss of 9,000 US dollars, plus the damage incurred from my inability to work here in Rio, which could be much higher.

Rio2Once the police are involved in a situation, most, if not all, reasonable international corporations are going to cooperate with the police, and who better to address the theft than the organization most capable of tracking down the thieves…i.e. the police. The hotel staff should say, “Sir, let’s call the police, or if you would like, please call the police and we will help them try to recover your items, but we can’t just release our tapes to you.”

Of course with the city police focused on security for the Olympics it is probably a safe bet to say the camera/ computer gear is long gone.

Related: Ryan Lochte, other US swimmers robbed in Rio

Well, now the theft victim is probably really upset and he jumps the shark to bring in legal counsel. I’m not a lawyer, so those of you who are, please forgive me, but the few times I have needed legal counsel I’ve been asked to direct all correspondence/communication through their office only. By bringing in his own legal team, the distraught individual forced the hand of the hotel, an international corporation with fantastic brand reputation and a huge legal department…even my daughter can connect those dots.

While not in the story, I can only read between the lines and arrive at the assumption that the individual was distraught and very demanding, or at least became more demanding as the situation developed. In my limited experience from both sides of the coin, I have found that a demanding individual tends to push the other side into the corner and onto the defensive.

Training employees, and then retraining and practicing, and simulating challenging situations and role-playing in those situations is an imperative for any organization.

Here’s a simple customer service training 101 blueprint:

Training Session No. 1

Teach staff how to defuse a situation. This does not mean giving in to every demand – it means working with the victim to inform them of next actions; be the authority.

Should the Hotel have yielded to the demand of “take responsibility” for my loss? Successful implementation of Training Session No.1 would help defuse the situation, but if the hotel has a policy of not being responsible for lost or stolen items, they need to have the ability to defend the policy. Giving in to the demands of an unreasonable person sets the tone that everyone that yells gets paid off.

Training Session No. 2

Manage a demanding client. The customer is not always right, but should feel as if they are. This training should concentrate on how to take care of the client but not pay “Anger Ransom” just to get them to go away.

Training Session No. 3 (especially pertinent in the Social Media/Millennial footprint)

Do not use Social Media or electronic communication when face-to-face or voice-to-voice is possible and appropriate. Never, never use Twitter, Texts, email, or other modes of written communication when verbal communication is possible. Perhaps the real message is that it actually is “OK to say the customer is being unrealistic” just don’t try to do it in 140 characters.

Training Session No. 4

Know your Reputation Risk Exposure. I’m willing to bet that Marriott stock and reservations will not see a big blip as a result of this incident. There may be a small impact but I’d be shocked if it was lasting. Perhaps the staff knew that this was not the incident that was going to break the bank, and/or they just don’t care. That should be OK if you know your Risk Exposure.

Training Session No. 5

Knowing when to respond and when to remain silent. Sometimes, responding fans the flames. The session should focus on knowing the trigger points of a conversation and recognizing when it is important to respond and when it is OK to be silent. “Marriott responds to Rio de Janeiro complaints” Google search yields nothing of significance on the first page… perhaps they know this already.

In a similarly publicized case, an official photographer was robbed of more than 40k worth of equipment; his rolling equipment case placed behind him as he ate breakfast.

Yahoo Sports reports that while Brett Costello was entering Sambodromo stadium for the men’s archery competition, he noticed another man entering behind him wearing an official photo vest. But not just any vest: Costello’s stolen photo vest.

Costello noticed that the number on the front of the vest was his number, and it dawned on him that the man was wearing the same vest that had been taken from him at the Rio cafe the day before.

After being confronted by Costello and security personnel, the man took off the stolen vest and began to walk away. He was quickly detained by police for questioning.

When planning any travel, foreign or domestic, do a quick check of the lay of the land. A visit to the 2016 Crime and Safety Report for Brazil from the United States Department of State well outlines the risks:

Foreign tourists are likely to be targeted for petty street crime. Although the risk for petty crime is greater at night, it does occur during the day. Expensive watches, high profile jewelry, and all electronic devices may attract attention from criminals. The incidence of crime against tourists is greater near the airport, hotels, bars, nightclubs, Recife Antigo, and other establishments that cater to visitors. Visitors should be alert while on the beaches or other gathering places, as robberies may occur in daylight, including in the Boa Viagem beachfront neighborhood. Public transportation hubs and tourist areas have high criminal activity. Incidents of theft on city buses are frequent. However, taxis are not immune from crime. Criminals often strike in an organized manner and will use a motorcycle to evade police.

For Businesses and Brands, a bit of common sense and some great training go a long way to diffusing upsetting and potentially dangerous situations.

Learn more – Crisis Management

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