Meetings Canada


Industry Insider: Why does it take a PR disaster to focus on the client

Les Selby, CMM, CMPEveryone in our industry has heard the expression “duty of care.” Wikipedia defines a duty of care as “a legal obligation which is imposed on an individual requiring adherence to a standard of reasonable care while performing any acts that could foreseeably harm others.” In our business, that means that all of us have a responsibility to take all reasonable steps to identify any risks that might impact our attendees, mitigate those risks as much as possible, and then explain the remaining risks to the people in our care.

The challenge for us is that the definition of what is “reasonable” is not well defined.  Once when I worked at another company, one of the incentive groups offered activity options that attendees could sign up for.  We had decided our duty of care meant we had to inform every one of the risks involved, ensure the protective equipment usually used in each activity was worn by the participants, and have all partakers sign a waiver.  Unfortunately, an attendee was severely injured during one activity.  The injured party sued, and a judge ruled that our actions were intelligent and responsible, but he also ruled that although our legal responsibility was severely limited it could not be totally abrogated.

It not just about services we include in an event.  Last year, our company ensured that anyone who was travelling to a destination that was impacted by the Zika virus was informed of the risk assessment provided by the U.S. and Canadian governments and any steps being taken in the destination to control the spread of the virus.  Travellers were kept conversant so each person could decide if they wanted to travel to the destinations in question.  We felt giving attendees information about the issue and allowing them to decide was the only responsible action.

Last week United Airlines forcibly removed a passenger from a flight to make room for crew that needed to be repositioned.  The videos made by passengers went viral, and the issue became a publicity nightmare.  To make matters worse, CEO Oscar Munoz sent out an internal email that stated the passenger was disruptive and belligerent and saying Munoz stood behind all employees.

The leaked email demonstrated how lacking in customer focus the upper management was and was perceived by the public as an example of why United Airlines’ culture was open to criticism.  The immediate public outcry forced Munoz to retract his position and admit that the “incident that took place aboard Flight 3411 has been a humbling experience and I take full responsibility.” In the past week, both United and Delta have changed their policies regarding passengers’ treatment and the offering of alternative arrangements.

Why, when all of us have a duty of care for those who entrust us with their business, do some companies forget the customer in their drive for efficiency and increased profits?  Surely we should always keep our attendees safety and wellbeing top of mind.  Isn’t that what real customer service means in our industry?

– Les Selby is the director of Meetings & Events for Aimia’s Channel and Employee division in Canada.  He has been a corporate, third party and independent event professional for over 25 years.  Les has earned both his Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) designation and his Global Certification in Meeting Management (CMM). Inducted into Meeting + Incentive Travel Magazine’s Industry Hall of Fame in 2009, he is an active member of Meeting Professionals International (MPI). He served on the Toronto chapter’s Board of Directors, and was the 2000-2001 chapter president. In 1997, Les was recognized as Planner of the Year by the MPI Toronto chapter, and received the President’s Award for 2009. He can be reached at